The Plastic Hippo

June 9, 2010

Walsall leads the way in the axe factor

Filed under: Education,Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 1:34 am

Way back in September 2009, the then Shadow Chancellor George Osborne predicted that a future Conservative government would emulate the “success” of local Tory councils in cutting front-line services. Speaking then from the safety of opposition, it is worth again repeating what he said:

“When it comes to rooting out waste and cutting costs, or improving services through innovative new policies, Conservative councils are showing it can be done.” Err…a bit like Walsall, then.

After an election campaign in which Tory tacticians seemed to keep the multi millionaire locked up in a cupboard for the duration, Osborne emerged blinking into the sunshine and was handed the keys to Number 11 and the economy. At first he had a capable Liberal Democrat deputy to do all the thinking stuff, but when David Laws was sent to stand in the corner for a year or two for fiddling his expenses, George needed to come up with a big idea. He needed to look no further than the big brains running Walsall council.

It seems we are to have a “fundamental re-assessment” of the workings of government and a “wider public engagement exercise” in which the public will have their say on what should be cut. Osborne wants to hear from “the brightest and best brains” so it is unlikely that the rest of us will be invited to the garden party and be asked to choose between care homes or schools, policing or bin collection.

Walsall knows a thing or two about consultation. Remember the consultation over the closure of Darlaston Community Science College so Conservative donor Robert Edmiston could fast track another God-bothering academy against the wishes of parents, pupils and staff? That consultation offered a straight choice between compliance and closure.

Consider too the consultation to close another secondary school abandoned and left to rot by Serco. Sneyd School suffered horribly at the hands of the private company that runs schools in Walsall and its pupils scattered to allow Serco to fulfil its contractual obligation to provide a 14 to 19 year-old apprenticeship production line for factory fodder. The results of the consultation overwhelmingly opposed the closure but such a minor factor was not allowed to interfere with the Serco business plan.

A statutory “place survey” consultation document is about to be put before the Social Care and Inclusion Scrutiny and Performance Panel and it makes for very depressing reading and so is unlikely to see the light of day. The survey shows that Walsall council is seen by its residents as being the third worst local authority in the country at making the area safe, the seventh worst at promoting the interests of local people and the eighth worst at keeping public land clear of litter and refuse. The good news is that 14% of us feel that we have been involved in decisions that affect the local area. Hooray.

For Walsall council and our new coalition government, consultations only work when they agree with a decision already made. If the evidence shows that popular opinion is against a decision, the consultation is buried or selectively reported. A great deal of effort, time and money is spent on making sure that consultation questions are worded to give the desired answer and prove that we are all delighted to go along with anything our masters decree. However, no amount of statistical spin will protect any of us from the approaching maelstrom.

David Cameron has already begun the softening up process prior to the suffering by claiming that the budget cuts will affect “our whole way of life”. That is understandably easy to say for another multi millionaire who blames the entire deficit on the previous administration. He makes no mention of the greedy bankers who got the world into this mess and who continue to receive obscene bonuses or the fact that that not a single Conservative MP or councillor complained about the level of borrowing when offered a new school, hospital, ring road or waterfront development funded by the previous Labour government.

This places Walsall council in a rather unique position. When the Building Schools for the Future project is cut after a huge amount of money has already been spent on consultants, newly appointed council officers, glossy reports and, of course, meaningless consultation without even a single minor improvement to any school, we can expect our council leadership to blame Gordon Brown. When the Gigaport is confined to the white elephant graveyard, the gnashing of teeth will be directed at the Lord Mandelson and when Tesco/Serco take full control of the town, Bruce George will be to blame.

A future survey will no doubt prove that nine out of ten vulnerable people agree that our council and coalition government are doing a wonderful job. Schoolchildren will realise that being taught under leaking roofs is character forming and the elderly will understand that dignity is less important than value for money.

So, according to Cameron, while there`s moonlight and music and love and romance, let`s face it, the honeymoon is over.

***UPDATE***
Following a “wide” consultation which resulted in overwhelming opposition to closure, Walsall cabinet has decided to close Willenhall Leisure Centre.

Following a “wide” consultation which resulted in overwhelming opposition to closure, Walsall cabinet has decided to close Bryntysilio.

Opposition to the closure of day centres, the Grange golf course and cancellation of the illuminations has been ignored. These cuts are clearly our fault. We had our chance to join a consultation on an elected mayor, shame that nobody told us about it.

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2 Comments »

  1. And all this happened before the tory government removed £3,065,000 from Walsall Council budget today (10.06.10). What will Capn Clueless say? The budget report considered in February slated the previous government for with holding money through a ‘dampening mechanism’. Well Cllrs Bird and Towe – will you complain as vigorously in official documents about this? It would be inconsitent if you did not.

    Comment by Observer — June 10, 2010 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

  2. Have a look on http://www.regen.net for the story. This site will not allow me to post a link. At the bottom of the ‘pickles’ story there is a link to a table of the cuts and there you will find the numbers.

    Comment by Observer — June 10, 2010 @ 3:53 pm | Reply


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