Birmingham City Council Public Question Time

This Tuesday, June 12th, saw the first Birmingham City Council (BCC) ‘Public Question Time‘ launched. The  initiative was forwarded by Sir Albert Bore, the new Labour head of the BCC. 


I was intrigued by the idea so I forwarded a question about disability and the effects of the cuts. To my great surprise it actually was one of the 7 selected, so this Tuesday I took myself down to the BCC chambers to ask it. 

On arrival I was taken up to the chambers which are not really designed for wheelchairs but they found me somewhere to park and had a non-fixed microphone available. The room was beautiful, but at the same time I couldn’t help feeling like I didn’t really belong in a different world as all of the rather well heeled councillors entered the opulent hall. In a time of austerity this kind of old world grandeur seemed a bit too ostentatious for my tastes. I also couldn’t help but reflect on what a huge pity it was that one of the more beautiful rooms in Birmingham City Centre was generally off limits to the general public. Just one more display of the divide between many in the ‘political class’ and the rest of us.

The meeting started with a Christian prayer, something I didn’t think was really necessary and I felt rather uncomfortable abstaining but that’s the way it goes. The Lord Mayor quickly explained the format, we would have 1 minute to ask our question and a relevant member of the council would have 2 minutes to reply, then it would be onto the next.

The questions began and I soon realised the councillors sat in front of myself and another disabled questioner were Conservative & Liberal Democrats. I was shocked when they decided to talk amongst themselves as members of the public, potentially their constituents, voiced their questions and concerns. I assumed they would stop, but they didn’t. Laughing, passing notes and showing complete contempt for not only the Labour councillors responding to questions, but the questioners and any people in the hall trying to listen to the meeting. One question about human rights violating council contractors seemed to really rile them up. The gentleman sat next to me lent forwards to ask them to stop being so rude but they decided not to listen. Eventually I asked my question;

“The previous administration slashed services to disabled adults.As an example; I was left trapped in my house because budgeting restraints wouldn’t pay for a simple wheelchair ramp. I was told that because I could step out of my door – even though I’m virtually unable to walk nor could I carry either of my chairs with me – my needs were not high enough. I simply do not think this state of affairs is good enough at all.  

“To make it worse, in February the council is quoted as having said “We have sought to identify the things that people value the most” when discussing it’s consultation on a new £62m of cuts. It transpired that the vulnerable were not deemed as valued so the brunt of that £62m fell on Adults & Communities, the people who provide much needed help, support & equipment for disabled adults. 

“I believe it is a council’s duty to protect the vulnerable and promote independence over dependence, will this council work to undo the damage done by the previous administration?” 

I didn’t hear the majority of the reply because of the rudeness of ConDem councillors showing a complete lack of respect for the person replying and for myself. The gist seemed to be that the council was upset that they were not receiving their fair share of financial support from Westminster, I believe a comparison with Woking was made to illustrate a large discrepancy. The implication was that with more funding they would be able to do more for the disabled. They reiterated that they would make sure they provided appropriate care for those who were deemed in need of it, but there was no mention of the fact that they choose who is in need and the unfair way BCC has historically redefined disability so that only those who are critically at risk are able to receive direct payments. They also didn’t touch on the issue that left me trapped in my own home, the fact BCC won’t pay for wheelchair ramps for those without NHS electric wheelchairs. The only people in this area that can receive NHS electric wheelchairs are those that can’t walk a step without support. As I can manage a few metres, even though it causes severe pain to do so, I can’t have one. It does not mean that I don’t need a wheelchair ramp.


I left the meeting feeling pretty disgruntled to say the least. Not because I didn’t get the reply I wanted, I expected that but because of the way certain members of the council treated the question time. I can’t believe that humans with any empathy or care about the people they represent would treat constituents raising valid concerns in that manner. I believe one of those councillors will be my local councillor when we move, I will be sure to take myself down to one of her meetings to ask her why she treated me in that manner.


If you want to watch the council meeting you can watch it by following this link to birminghamnewsroom.com 
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