Birmingham imposes a 'rat tax' to get out of ruin

Birmingham imposes a 'rat tax' to get out of ruin

LondonThe intensity of public lighting will be reduced, garbage will be collected only once every two weeks, 25 of the city's 35 municipal libraries will be closed, transportation for teenagers aged 16 to 18 with special needs will be cancelled, and 50% of cultural services will be cancelled. . The budget will be reduced in 2024 and 100% in 2025, burial prices will increase, eleven community centers will be put up for sale and furniture collection fees, old scrap and household appliances will also be increased. Another more surprising fact, which rather recalls the scenes of Birmingham in the famous BBC series Slim masks(years after the end of World War I), not the 21st century: it will present what is already popularly called Spleen varieties,€28 per month per household to help pay for pest control, especially rodents.

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But the misfortunes do not end there. Over the next two years, residents of the UK's second-largest city, with a population of 1.14 million, will see how local tax ( Council tax, which all households in the country have to deal with) will rise by 21%. All this in order to deal with the most dramatic and serious bankruptcy of a municipal authority in the country, and to make it possible to return the €1,460 million that the City Council has urgently requested from London, and which is currently still under discussion. .

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Less than two years ago, the city of Birmingham celebrated with great fanfare the Commonwealth Games, a second-tier sporting event in which countries and territories – now 56 in number – joined in resurrecting the ashes of the former British Empire to the world. Two successive waves of expansion after its founding, at the end of the 1920s.

The capital of the West Midlands, located 194 kilometers north-east of London, with a metropolitan area that includes seven other cities plus Birmingham, and a population of six million, seems set to finally become a dynamic pole that will compete with the capital of the United Kingdom, and is well prepared for a central confrontation. Paranoia in the city, Westminster and all that surrounds it. In the wave of optimism unleashed by the celebration of these Games, bets were also placed on the World Championships in Athletics in 2026, a competition that is now hanging by a thread, precisely because of all the economic difficulties mentioned above.

Known issue

In September last year, Birmingham City Council announced that it was unable to balance its general accounts – there was an actual and immediate gap of €101m – and, in effect, had no other choice but to declare bankruptcy. The statement issued by the Council held a series of “financial commitments related to equal pay demands” responsible.

In this sense, the announcement emphasized that these demands for equal pay among female municipal workers mean “between 760 and 890 million euros” to deal with. In addition, this amount generated between 5.85 and 16.40 million euros per month from what he called “cumulative continuing liability.” In other words, interests. Two weeks ago, the Municipal Government Council was forced to approve some cuts worth 350 million euros, starting next April, when the financial year begins in the United Kingdom.

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The case of Birmingham City Council is not the only one, but it is the most famous. At the end of 2023, there were six cities that declared bankruptcy, including Nottingham. At the beginning of January, about forty Conservative MPs asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to bail them out, a request that went unheeded when the Budgets were presented on 6 March.

The Sunak government insists on talking about mismanagement, and therefore it is necessary to pay the penalty: financial aid yes, but in exchange for cuts, which recalls those of 2010 and David Cameron's first government. The fact that local elections will be held on May 2, and that Birmingham will have a Labor leader – the city has no mayor, for that matter – is also no stranger to a tug-of-war between Downing Street and the city hall.

The gender issue: another way to look at it

The explanation for the financial problems chosen by Birmingham Labor leader John Cotton did not satisfy the feminist sectors of society, adding another element of distortion to the issue. To say that bankruptcy stems from the need to pay men and women the same wage is, in the words of author and columnist Samira Shakel, to assume “that women should accept lower wages for the greater good.”

The issue of equal pay between male and female public sector workers in Birmingham – and other UK cities – has been stalemate since 2005, when the first court case was brought.

In 2012, the municipal council lost an appeal to the Supreme Court, and ended up paying €1.29 billion in damages. To finance this, assets had to be sold, including the National Exhibition Centre. But following the 2012 ruling, the local government failed to re-evaluate the job duties of its employees to ensure they were compliant with the Equality Act and the High Court ruling. This has opened the door to new discrimination lawsuits.

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The baby is crying here, but also of course because of the cuts being made by conservative governments. Grants provided by London to councils have decreased by 40% in real terms since 2010, while the demand for social services of all kinds has increased, in a fish that bites its own tail. The upcoming local elections and the upcoming general election will shape the future of Birmingham and the country. However, debts must be repaid one way or another.

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