Councillor Anthony Harris, portfolio holder for Leisure and Culture at Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council and Conservative member for Aldridge North and Walsall Wood, is not very keen on criticism. Brace yourself Tony.
In the midst of the annual farce of council budget setting, Walsall cabinet, including public servant Harris, awarded themselves a considerable increase in their allowances. We all know that savings, efficiencies, working smarter, rationalisation or cuts as they are known to people connected with the real universe are inevitable under inept local and national government. Councillor Harris, along with his cabinet colleagues, is a fine upstanding local representative of the community he serves and does a marvellous job defending the interests of his constituents. Any other reward for this selfless democratic duty is, of course, simply a bonus that is rightly deserved.
In a rather bizarre letter emailed to a constituent who had the temerity to speak out against savage cuts to vital services, Anthony went on the offensive. The invaluable Brownhills Bob has brought to our attention the rather disturbing communication sent to a founding member of the Save Walsall`s Green Spaces and Countryside group, the remarkable Linda Mason. In the letter, Councillor Harris claims that he is: “a strong supporter of community involvement and I applaud any group working to improve our greenspaces and countryside – as your campaign group claims to do.” Clearly with an ear to the ground and a finger on the pulse, it is comforting to know that the noble councillor realises that the word “claims” has connotations beyond the entitlement to cabinet allowances. The brightest and the best that Walsall can offer continues: “However if you are going to continue to criticise the council publicly I think we are entitled to know on what basis these criticisms are made.” Obviously the councillor is working so hard for his constituents and the people of Walsall that he has not had enough time to read the evidence that forms the basis for criticism.
The honourable, worth his weight gold representative of the people is quite right to say that it is unacceptable for any member of the public to talk to the press about anything other than what a brilliant job Walsall cabinet are doing and in future any evidence or criticism should be presented to the council press office for approval and burial. Furthermore, it is totally irresponsible for Brownhills Bob to publish private correspondence that in an open democracy should remain secret in order to protect the public from false, unfounded and malicious suggestions that Councillor Harris is something other than a local hero and a treasured genius.
It is utterly superfluous and completely unnecessary to list the astonishing achievements of Councillor Harris or highlight the sacrifice and service he has given to the borough. However, if people continue to criticise then we are entitled to know the nature of his impeccable record. As cabinet member for transport, he delivered the wonderful ring road project only a tiny little bit late and a tiny little bit over budget. Such is his modesty; he expects no thanks from a grateful populous for the success of the traffic calming measure and refuses to boast over the amount of settlement clawed back from tardy contractors. Keeping to his own punishing work schedule he was still able to deliver erudite and witty responses to stupid questions at full council meetings. At one such meeting answering transport questions, it became clear to the adoring public in the gallery that his untiring devotion to civic duty had left him exhausted. The unsteady stance, the slight slurring of speech and difficulty with focusing on the document he was reading from was proof positive that all his energy was being expended on the common good of the borough.
After the triumph of transport, his colossal intellect and boundless energy took on the Leisure and Culture portfolio where he remains to this day performing hourly miracles. He achieved greatness with his masterly handling of the thorny issue of wasteful public libraries and emerged triumphant and stronger than ever. As the arbiter of good taste in Walsall, he continues to champion the most spectacular of cultural experiences available to a sophisticated public and brings us the very best in Monster Truck demonstrations and professional wrestling bouts. His track record in cabinet is exemplary and poor attendance at cabinet meetings is evidence of him unselfishly not taking part in the running of his business. Every responsible councillor must register disclosable pecuniary and other interests under the Localism Act 2011 Section 30 (3) and the Pecuniary Interests Regulation 2012. On his declaration form, Councillor Harris describes his employment as “Funfair and Event Organiser”. Later, when asked for a: “Description of any contract which is made between the relevant person (or a body in which the relevant person has a beneficial interest) and the relevant authority (a) under which goods or services are to be provided or works to be executed; and (b) which has not been fully discharged” Councillor Harris has written “None”. Later still, after crossing out the word “None”, he enters the business address of Pat Collins Funfair and helpfully adds in his own hand: “Whilst in the WBC. I have no financial interest. Of which I have declared an interest. And take no part in running the business.” It is good to know then that every time his funfair is plonked onto the Arboretum Extension, no money has changed hands and all the rides are free.
Councillor Harris might not like criticism but he might like to consider these words: “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
You have to admit, that there Winston Churchill had a way with words.