Residents of a bankrupt borough issued a stark warning to families after Birmingham city council went bust insisting their lives will be ‘plunged into misery’.
People living in Slough in Berks told how they have been left suffering after their council racked up debts of a staggering £760 million.
Cash-strapped residents struggling during the cost-of-living crisis say they are facing record council tax hikes while services have dramatically declined.
They say it has a huge impact on their lives and the once thriving town centre is now ‘a run-down ghost town’.
Cash-strapped residents of Slough say they are facing record council tax hikes while services have dramatically declined and the town centre has become a ‘ghost town’
Former chef Paul Lampard, 57, (pictured) said: ‘The people of Birmingham are in for a shock – and a lot of misery. When I heard about it though I wasn’t shocked’
‘There a lot of charity shops and these slot machine casinos. It used to be a vibrant town centre and now it’s very run down.
‘The council went bust and everything is run down now. It’s very sad.’
Residents told how services had been slashed leading to fortnightly bin collections, while bus services had been hit.
Locals told how they are afraid to go out at night after street lights have been dimmed and switched off after midnight to cut the council’s electricity bill.
Even fridges at the council’s headquarters have been switched off to save cash.
Meanwhile householders have been hit by council tax rises of nearly 10 per cent.
The authority is one of three in England given dispensation by the government to increase bills above the 4.99 per cap cap without holding a referendum.
Things went downhill after Slough’s Labour-run council declared itself bankrupt in July 2021 when a ‘catastrophic’ £100 million black hole in its budget was discovered.
The council admitted going bust due to years of poor financial management and mishandling of commercial investments.
When auditors went through the books it emerged the council had racked up a £760 million borrowing debt and a £357 million deficit.
The authority went a year without producing accounts and had borrowed millions from other councils.
Retired Geoff Salt, 73, (pictured) has lived in Slough for 10 years but was born in Birmingham. He said: ‘I don’t know how it will affect the people of Birmingham. They are very resilient so I hope they will find a way through’
As well as raising taxes the council is selling off £600 million of public assets.
Buildings sold off include a leisure centre, cinema, DIY store, supermarket and warehouse which were not bringing in strong rental income.
Residents say this has just added to the run down feel of the town.
The council is making cuts of £22 million and is hoping to save nearly £600,000 by cutting school transport as well as £750,000 through cuts to council building repairs.
Reduced bin collections could save nearly £425,000.
Rayeel Akhtar, 38, who has lived in Slough all his life, said: ‘The council’s gone bust and everything’s going down the pan. It has had a massive impact on our lives.
‘The bins are only emptied every two weeks now. In this weather it smells so badly where I live – like a dead body. There are wasps and flies swarming around the bins – it’s disgusting.
‘You can’t get a council property – you can’t get anything new. All the services have declined yet they are asking people to pay more and more for it.
‘It is having an impact everywhere – shops are closing down.
‘It’s got so bad a lot of people are leaving town.’
Former chef Paul Lampard, 57, said: ‘The people of Birmingham are in for a shock – and a lot of misery.
‘When I heard about it though I wasn’t shocked as this sort of thing is happening a lot and I’m sure it’s going to happen a lot more.
Birmingham is the latest council to declare bankruptcy, following in the footsteps of Hackney, Northampton, Croydon, Thurrock, Woking and Slough
‘Things are so bad I would say I am just existing at the moment not living.
‘All our services have been cut while our council tax has gone up more than anyone else in the country.
‘I was paying £230 and now it’s over £300. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it.
‘I don’t go out at night any more because they have cut the street lights.
‘There’s a lot of anti-social behaviour where I live and it is so dark I no longer feel safe.
‘I had an incident where I was threatened by someone on a scooter who said they would ‘cut me up’.
‘I reported it to the police but they did nothing so you feel there is no one out there to help you. It’s too dangerous to be out at night.’
Mr Lampard, who is registered disabled, says he has to pay for taxis to get around as a bus which used to stop at the end of his road is no longer running.
He said: ‘They money that I do get I have to spend it on taxis because the council wouldn’t give me a bus pass.
‘Life in Slough is grim these days. It didn’t used to be.
‘Everywhere is closing because businesses can’t afford their rents and rates. The town centre is dead now. There’s nothing left and nothing to do.
‘As well as less frequent bin collections people now have to pay to have their garden waste so people are just dumping it as they can’t afford to pay. There’s a lot of fly tipping as well.
‘The library has reduced their hours. The Citizens Advice Bureau has closed so there’s nowhere to get help and advice – the list is endless.’
Retired Geoff Salt, 73, has lived in Slough for 10 years but was born in Birmingham.
He said: ‘I don’t know how it will affect the people of Birmingham. They are very resilient so I hope they will find a way through.
‘There have been cuts. There was a lovely huge Christmas tree in the town square but that stopped around the time of lockdown.
‘Slough has certainly changed beyond recognition in recent years. Before the war it was basically a country town with flowers and orchards and fruit and veg.
‘Things have changed all over the country. I used to live in Windsor and in some ways I prefer Slough.
‘There more tourists in Windsor who have taken over the place. Here there is a community spirit. People are trying to remain positive in difficult times.
‘I’m not sure if the council has got into problems because of vanity projects. The new library looks amazing. It’s an ultra modern building that was built about four or five years ago.
‘The old library was not very pretty but there was a lot inside. I’m not sure if there are as many books in the new library. It’s a bit all over the place and I don’t know whether they have the staff to keep on looking after it.
‘The new bus station is also ultra modern. It’s very dramatic looking and even more so now. There was a bus that caught fire about a year ago which may have been arson.
‘A whole section of the bus station was burned and I think they’re trying to fix it.’
In a bid to make savings it emerged earlier this yer that the council had been turning off fridges at its headquarters in a bid to save money.
Officials the council had unplugged three of its four kitchen fridges at its HQ.
Plans were considered to remove some of the fridges altogether amid concerns over high energy prices.
The council had also closed down or three days between Christmas and New Year as a further cost-cutting measure.
In February the council announced it was dimming its street lights to cut the borough’s electricity bill.
The council pledged no street lights would be turned off completely in the move which affected 950 of the boroughs 13,000 lampposts.
Despite these measures it was revealed
In January it was revealed the debt-ridden local authority was still spending millions on temporary workers.
Officials forecast a bill of up to £18 million on agency staff between 2022 and 2023 – £3 million more than the previous year.
Between July and September alone last year, it spent £4.8 million on temporary workers to fill vacant posts and specialist roles.
The council said 62 permanent employees had left the organisation for reasons such as dismissal, resignations, or retirement.
The council is also planning to move its workforce out of the headquarters it bought for £39 million just four years ago.