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Cash-strapped council in budget ideas appeal.

BIRMINGHAM City Council has been ridiculed for asking taxpayers how it should save pounds 4.5 million from its budget.

Officials say they have to reduce the pounds 2 billion annual expenditure next year to avoid a council tax rise.

And now the Labour-run authority has taken the unique step of using its official website to ask the public for money-saving solutions. Opposition leaders have attacked the surprise appeal and accused council leaders of failing to tackle their own problems.

They claim they were kept in the dark about the budget shortfall until they surfed the net themselves.

Birmingham Assist is the council's official website and contains information on services, city events, and organisations.

By selecting the option "Budget For Birmingham" council taxpayers can "Put Your Mouth Where Your Money Is" and e-mail possible economies.

But Coun David Roy, the city's Conservative group leader, said: "This is no way to run a council.

"Councillors are elected by the public to make the kind of decisions this authority now seems unable or unwilling to take.

"Asking taxpayers to identify areas of saving is basically forcing ordinary people to accept responsibility for the council's spendthrift policies.

"We have been assured by the Labour group that it believes in consensus politics.

"Yet the first time this pounds 4.5 million overspend was brought to our attention was when we looked at the website.

"We are very concerned that we have not been consulted about the difficult savings that may now have to be made.

"It is an issue we intend to take up with Labour leaders at the first possible opportunity."

However, Birmingham Council's finance director, Sarah Wood, said: "The public has a right to tell us how to spend its money.

"The pounds 4.5 million savings identified represents less than one per cent of our annual gross budget.

"Before we take a decision on possible savings - which we are confident will not affect services - we feel it is right for the public to have its say.

"As far as I know, the Conservative group should have been aware of the need for savings at previous finance meetings."
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Author:Larner, Tony
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Oct 24, 1999
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