There is much to be admired when a nifty bit of lateral thinking neatly side-steps an obviously embarrassing problem. In the strange world of Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council, the invention of creative excuses is informed by a wonderful surrealism that would merit the municipal equivalent of the Turner Prize.
Even the most apathetic and innumerate Walsall council tax payer must have raised a quizzical eyebrow at the news that it costs 10 grand to move the flagpole that sits proudly atop the big house on Lichfield Street. In a moment of unusual lucidity, supreme leader Councillor Mike Bird said:
“The existing flagpole is extremely difficult to access and the decision has been taken to relocate it to ground level at the front of the Council House where it will be a permanent feature. This work, which includes the existing car park surface being overlaid, is being carried out over the next month.”
It is heartening to know that the old stand-by of blaming “health and safety” is always available when there are no obvious “other people” to point the finger at. But hang on, what is this? The existing car park surface is being overlaid? Surely the councillors private car park was re-surfaced as long ago as August 2013 to facilitate the arrival of the mayor`s lovely new limo and to allow Councillor Bird to safely travel to the front door of the Council House without coming into contact with the electorate. Eight months might be a long time in local politics but one might be forgiven for thinking that the shelf-life of a 32 grand car park might just be expected to display a little bit more longevity.
I can only imagine that on that hot Saturday August morning, some gentleman knocked on the door of the big house on Lichfield Street. In a flatbed transit with an oil drum full of bubbling bitumen, they probably explained that they just happened to be in the area and that a job had cancelled and would you like your car park covering on the cheap. Chucking down a layer of the black stuff at a depth usually associated with the covering of margarine on a budget supermarket sandwich, the enterprising contractors took the money and ran. Justifying the cost, supreme leader Bird said:
“We do get a substantial amount of people that walk across that car park thinking it is a right of way. The car park was in a dangerous condition. The law is quite clear; if it is a listed building it has to be kept to a certain standard.”
So, access to the public building at the heart of local democracy is not a public right of way, the councillors` private car park is more dangerous than the pot-holed highways of Walsall and when relocating an historic flagpole on a listed building, the law is quite clear as to certain standards. In this case, the certain standard is a flag to be flown at half-mast to mourn the passing of any credibility. It is tempting to imagine the discussion around the behind closed doors meeting of Walsall`s inept cabinet. “Quick”, bellows the supreme leader; “someone give me an excuse to explain this away. Come on, come on, run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it”. After a long silence as alpha rhythms decay before reaching the other side of the synapse, one dullard mouths the word “flagpole” in a futile attempt at cognition. “Brilliant”, screams the supreme leader; “it`s the flagpole`s fault.” Lateral thinking at its very best; how convenient.
It now seems that Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has a continuing contract with the boys from the black stuff as, without warning or consultation, fencing and equipment has been removed from a children`s play area in the leafy, non-Conservative voting suburb of Blakenall and a load of hard standing has been dumped onto the remains. The thinking this time suggests that play areas for children are too expensive to inspect or maintain. At least the supreme leader will have somewhere to park if his satnav directs him to parts of his fiefdom that he has never heard of. It is difficult to imagine a children`s play area being decommissioned and vandalised in the ghettos of Pheasey Park Farm and Streetly especial with a local election just days away.
It would be childish to go on and on and on about missing European millions, silenced whistleblowers, the dreadful ring road, Serco, Primark, the self-awarded increase in cabinet member`s allowances, the closures of care centres and the maladministration of Councillor Q`s brush with the Ombudsman but I just can`t seem to shake off my inner child. At this point, it must be stressed that the identity of the mysterious Councillor Q is not in any way linked, inferred, suggested or related to the supreme leader. No, not at all, never in a million years, strike me blind, no, unthinkable. There is much to be admired in lateral thinking but when it is employed to mask contempt and skulduggery, it is probably time to haul down the white flag, hoist the Jolly Roger and make ready the plank.
Local elections take place on Thursday 22nd May.