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'2022 GAMES WON'T BE A MIRACLE CURE' but city finance chief says commonwealths will bring level of excitement and interest to brum not seen since euro 96.

Byline: JANE HAYNES Politics & People Editor

THE Commonwealth Games won't be a 'miracle cure-all pill' for the city's woes - but will bring an international buzz not seen since Euro 96.

That was the upbeat verdict of Birmingham's finance chief Councillor Tristan Chatfield during a candid interview about the state of the city's coffers amid mounting criticism.

He defended the council's finance team despite an unprecedented third Section 24 notice from independent auditors, a red flag device used very sparingly by experts to highlight serious concerns in local authorities.

No other council has ever received three.

The uncertain cost of putting on the 2022 Games was one of five key risks identified in the notice.

In his first interview with the Birmingham Mail since taking up the role of Cabinet member for finance in January, Coun Chatfield mounted a rousing defence of the city's handling of its money.

He strongly disputed the city was on the verge of financial disarray.

"We are facing some particularly significant challenges but also doing some pretty exciting things that involve a high level of financial commitment.

"It's to the credit of our officers that they are unpicking the complexities of financial arrangements and mitigating those risks that were identified by the auditors."

"I don't accept a narrative that we (our finances) are on a negative trajectory.

The auditor has recognised we are making progress and that's not happened by accident - it's the result of a huge amount of work by officers of this council."

The city has been a victim of austerity cuts to local government funding since 2010, losing around PS700 million from its budgets over that time, he said.

"I believe the Government has misunderstood the impact of what it has been doing.

"They have cut policing, local government, schools, community grants - and the cumulative impact is huge. Put it all together and the impact has been devastating.

"We need to innovate our way through it and try and be as efficient as possible but there is a limit to that - we cannot cut our way out of every problem.

He added: "We all want to make this work, we won't give up - we want to find ways to be a dynamic, forceful presence in communities.

"We are working to deliver our manifesto, and to deliver on our promises to our electorate.

"But there are things that are outside our control.

"We have the challenge of homelessness and rising demand for social care and SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) services and we have to be creative in finding ways to offset those demands.

"Overall we are getting to a position where the positives outweigh the negatives; we are making progress and heading in the right direction.

"The memory of thousands of excited orange-clad Dutch fans and patriotic Scots linking arms and singing together as they walked through the city during Euro 96 remains to this day - and that's exactly the spirit that Birmingham's Commonwealth Games 2022 will generate, said Coun Chatfield.

At the same time an often overlooked part of the city - Perry Barr - will undergo a massive revamp and regeneration, creating hundreds of new homes and improved transport links.

He added: "The Games will not be a miraculous cure-all pill but it will create a level of excitement and interest not often seen."

WHO PAYS? | | The cost of the Games is estimated in the region of PS750 million, though this is likely to increase as the opening ceremony draws closer. | The Government has pledged to pay 75 per cent of the costs. Its commitment has included PS165 million for the Athletes Village in Perry Barr, which will then be sold to developers and converted into homes for sale or rent.

| Birmingham will be expected to cover the remaining 25 per cent of costs of the Games and infrastructure projects, at a total cost of around PS185 million. | It is hoped this will include around PS75 million partnership funding from three Local Enterprise Partnerships and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) - though even here we understand there is currently a PS30 million shortfall.

| Around PS19.7 million has been earmarked from existing city council capital resources, as well as the PS50 million loan. | The next milestone will come when the Government's Major Projects Authority announces the full central funding agreement, expected in May. That will remove any lingering uncertainty about the Government's commitment to the project.
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Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 30, 2019
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