ACTIVIST: Desmond Jaddoo
A PUBLIC consultation exercise to thrash out Birmingham City Council’s enforced multi million pound budget cuts for the next financial year has been branded a joke by a leading community activist in the city.
Desmond Jaddoo, of the Birmingham Empowerment Forum says the council’s decision to hold just four public meetings before Christmas for a city of more than £1.2 million was ridiculous.
And he also hit out at the fact that none of the meetings were held in areas with a high ethnic population such as Aston, Handsworth, Ladywood, Sparkhill or Sparkbrook.
The consultations were held in Erdington, Cotteridge, South Yardley and a final one at Birmingham Council House, where people attending the meeting had to walk through revellers attending the German Christmas Market.
“I think the Council House venue was wholly inappropriate in the midst of the German market,” said Jaddoo, who is part of a national campaign involving Operation Black Vote to encourage black voters to be registered to vote in time for the next General Election in two years time.
“To be holding some of the council’s most important meetings on the state of the budget with people outside chatting and drinking was simply not right.”
The city council faces having to cut at least £110 million from its budget following spending reduction plans made in London.
The average reduction in Government funding for the country as a whole has amounted to £74 per person, while Birmingham’s reduction has been more than doubled the national average to £149 per person.
Jaddoo also criticised Birmingham City Council leader Sir Albert Bore for chairing the meetings, claiming the leader was at times ‘too controlling,’ deciding who would speak.
“Many politically active young people such as those involved in the UK Youth Parliament and Birmingham’s Voice is Power group felt excluded and snubbed,” added Jaddoo.
“So much so that at one point during the city centre meeting, 20 of them got up and walked out, thanking Bore for ignoring them. I think the consultation meetings have just been a ‘tick box’ exercise and why was the council’s Chief Executive officer Stephen Hughes not present at the city centre session – one of the council’s most important meetings of the year?”
A Birmingham City Council spokesperson said the meeting venues had been chosen simply on a geographical basis. She said Sir Albert had gone to great lengths to raise awareness of the meetings to the city’s BME communities by going on programmes such as New Style Radio, the city’s African Caribbean radio station.
She added that Sir Albert had insisted on chairing meetings himself because he wanted to be ‘up front’ and transparent with the public about the cuts.
“Sir Albert felt that young people at the city centre meeting were included in the debate and he was surprised when some of them chose to leave as they had been involved in the discussion,” she said.
“We realise that the German Market was operating outside, but we had up to 300 people attending the meeting which shows it was a convenient venue for everyone.”
She added that Chief Executive Stephen Hughes was on annual leave at the time of the meeting.
“These consultations are a new process for the council and we are continually developing better ways of communicating with everyone, such as getting involved in social media and web chats.”