Following the declaration of bankruptcy by the Birmingham City Council in September, local residents have begun to notice changes in their day-to-day lives because of the council’s deteriorating performance in maintaining services and re-development. Going out into the street to interview them has made it clear that living in Birmingham has become harder over time.
Two months into bankruptcy and the first round of issues are coming to the surface, as people complain about higher council tax, minimal bus services, street cleanliness – and they are feeling neglected.
The deterioration of Birmingham City
For many visiting the big city, Birmingham may seem unaffected by a rundown council, but digging a bit deeper and asking those who live here, things have been going downhill for a while now.
One of those people is mother of two, Ranjit, who moved to Birmingham in 1992 searching for a better life in the UK’s second biggest city. She told me: “It’s worse now. I came here a while ago and it has changed a lot since. It’s not clean streets anymore and the sewage smell is everywhere.”
This comment comes despite Birmingham Councillor Ian Ward’s statement in 2021 about the need for a £7.1mn investment in cleaner streets by the Birmingham Council. He said: “Cleaner, greener streets are an understandable expectation of the people of Birmingham.”
Other locals such as Steve, who has been living in Birmingham for his whole life commented on the state of the city centre area: “I love Birmingham and I am very sad to see where it has come to.”
Bankrupt Birmingham buses
A common complaint amongst the locals seems to be feeling neglected by their council. They feel the problems they are facing are being overlooked, as local Brummie Dave said: “The councillors are ignoring issues that don’t affect them.”
One of those issues is the city’s buses. They’re becoming worse on timing and overcrowding, something residents believe do not affect the councillors as much as themselves. Eros is one of those who currently has to travel into town from Small Heath. He said: “Bus services have become worse, buses have gone to trash, fix the buses, because they used to come quick.”
City centre local Alicia seems to have the same opinion as she said: “I’ve seen an increase in the demand of people waiting for buses, which is definitely directly affected by the council going bankrupt.”
Research into the West Midland’s public transport budget showed that funding into public transport has dropped by almost £70mn in the last four years. In 2019, £429mn (including inflation) was spent on public transport, compared to the £359mn expected expenditure for 2023.
Council tax woes
But for people with higher expenses such as Ranjit, who has to take care of her two children, her main issue is the rise in council tax. She said: “They [the council] have annoyed me so much. I have two kids and the council tax is too much now.”
Currently, the lowest council tax in Birmingham city centre costs £1,270 per year, an increase of 4.99% from the £1,205 amount which was charged last year, as Birmingham commissioner Max Caller said residents will pay increased council tax to help the council get back on its feet, in his first interview as lead commissioner.
Ranjit expressed her frustration by saying: “They need to change the rules; the council tax run ups are affecting everyone.”
It’s no longer the people’s city
With Birmingham locals being frustrated with the current city council and the bankruptcy holding the council back from fixing the problems, people are beginning to feel like this isn’t their city anymore.
Sareena is a 26-year-old Brummie, who lives in the city centre but recently she said: “I don’t feel like being here. Birmingham has been neglected a lot – they don’t take care of the area.”
Despite the council going bankrupt, the UK Government is still following through with their ‘levelling up’ agenda, the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, in which £88mn is being invested in the West Midlands Combined Authority in hopes of new business investments.
Locals feel that funding should be spent on the problems raised by them. Sareena said: “They’re okay to spend money on tall buildings but the main priority of the city centre is not being looked at by the council, it’s awful.”
Agreeing with Sareena’s views, Ranjit also feels the council is neglecting people’s voices as she added: “They’re not asking the people; the council is doing what they think is best and not asking the people what they think. I think people need to protest.”
This thought is recurrent throughout these interviews, as Alicia addressed the council by saying: “Please listen to the public’s opinion and what they need, please act upon on it and don’t say you’re going to do something if you’re not.”
Neglected but still supportive
The declaration of bankruptcy on 5 September this year was not the start of the deterioration of Birmingham city centre. Ever since 2010, the council has been struggling for money, with massive budget cuts and spending constraints, making the recent £760mn Equal Pay Bill the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Brummies are feeling neglected. They feel as though their city is not theirs anymore, as Alicia said: “Brum is not the same no more” – but that does not mean they don’t want their council to get back on its feet.
Steve is one of those people, as he said: “There is evidence of more poverty and people seem to be discouraged as this thing has broken the community’s spirit but I want the council to prosper and get out of this mess.”
With thanks to the people who contributed their opinions for this article.
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