The Plastic Hippo

October 13, 2010

Your local council needs you

Filed under: Politics,Rights,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 3:12 pm

The powerful intellects at Walsall council are once again directing their collective genius to setting a municipal budget. Rather than be accused of repeating the imposed vandalism of this current financial year, the council will blame council tax payers in Walsall for the next slash and burn budget.

Engaging with the public in the form of “consultation” has proved to be very useful to our council in its heroic attempt to waste money and cut services. Sadly, the number of people who have actually been “consulted” is about the same as the travelling support to a Willenhall Town away game. In some of its more brutal anti-social behaviour, Walsall’s Cabinet of Dr Caligari have cited “consultation” with the public as a means of justifying stupid, unfair and vindictive decisions. Even as hundreds of people shout in the streets and wave placards opposing the the closure of Sneyd School, Darlaston School, Willenhall Leisure Centre and the Grange Golf Course, the handful of people who responded to “consultation” hold sway. The few, the very few, members of the public who completed questionnaires carefully designed to give a premeditated conclusion allow the likes of Councillor Bird to masquerade as being responsive to the public. The people have spoken and we obey, claims Bird.

The latest attempt to validate inept local government is something called “an online budget calculator”. The council has set up a “special” webpage where residents can “tell the authority where they think money should be spent”. The calculator is very clever. It identifies 17 different spending areas and asks the public to decide what budgets should be increased or decreased and to stress the obvious importance of a balanced budget, any overspend of the £207million the council has to play is displayed in red. Indeed, so clever is the calculator that it is impossible to set a balanced budget thus re-enforcing the absurd notion that our council is doing a wonderful job in difficult circumstances and provides value for money.

A balanced budget can only be achieved using this internet tool by doing nothing and accepting what the establishment have already decided. An overspend is not allowed and the dire consequences of an underspend are clearly spelt out. The really clever part is what has been included and left out of the 17 spending areas. Adult Social Care for example, is described as supporting “several thousand” vulnerable adults by getting them “back on their feet” and the Community Safety budget pays for “Reassurance Officers” who offer advice on crime and anti-social behaviour.

The calculator invites the citizen to increase or decrease these budgets by increments of five per cent and gives each spending area equal weighting. Only after an unacceptable budget has been set are the actual budgets revealed. Walsall spends £78.21million on Adult Social Care and £1.44million on Community Safety. A five per cent increase in Adult Social Care will cost a lot more than a five per cent increase in Community Safety and a five per cent cut in either will save very different amounts. There is, somewhat conveniently for our masters, no mention of the vast, inflated salaries of our anonymous chief executive and his faceless mandarins or the obscene profit margins of companies like Serco, Tarmac, Amey and other outsourced predators who maintain revenue by quietly reducing services. The omission to make a judgement on the allowances awarded to the leader of the council is, given the circumstances, understandable.

The calculator is a masterpiece of smoke and mirrors and will empower our woeful authority to do exactly what it likes. The “consultation” invites responders to submit comments and, according to financial expert Councillor Towe:

The results from the budget simulator will clearly show us where residents` priorities lie, which we will use, along with other information, to help decide our spending priorities for the year ahead.”

Far from being a time-wasting gimmick, this is the real genius of the calculator. Any response at all will tick the box marked “consultation”. A low response will be interpreted as satisfaction with current council performance, a high response of inevitably unbalanced budgets will prove that council tax payers are incapable of financial prudence and, if a single citizen budget is submitted proposing a cut in any one of the 17 spending areas, massive cuts across the board will be justified. The people have spoken and we obey.

Rather like the “consultation” on the prospect of an elected mayor, details of how to take part for those without access to a computer are available on line. The “consultation” is open to everyone regardless of age, nationality and planetary location as long as they can access the internet.

Comments already submitted talk of spending more on investigating “spongers”, the waste of money on “refugee cricket matches” and cutting expensive luxuries like libraries, road repairs and bin collections. You can see where this is going.

You have until 5 November to take part in the “consultation”. The date seems appropriate not just because it follows the Comprehensive Spending Review, but because it will coincide with the bonfire of all the services.

Instead of pressing the help button, those in need and even those who are not, might just press Ctrl Alt Delete come election day.

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3 Comments »

  1. Consultation. Interesting word. If I may refer to the writings of Mr Scott Adams, and quote Dogbert, when he becomes a consultant:

    I like to con people. And I like to insult people. If you combine con & insult, you get consult!

    .

    This would be consultations like this one then, or this one where the results of the insultation handily got lost in the website upgrade and the councillors and officer concerned with it have handily forgotten my request for the results and ignored my letters?

    I could go on. I’m sure we all have an example we could quote.

    I’d be less concerned about the money being paid in salaries and expenses if the results were worthwhile. You have to pay to get the best, after all.

    Regarding the people suggesting cuts to services, I know people just like that: short-sighted, and selfish. ‘I don’t use the libraries or schools, why should I pay for them?’. The answer is all around you: it’s what makes a civilised society and an acceptable place to live.

    One more thing:

    The “consultation” is open to everyone regardless of age, nationality and planetary location as long as they can access the internet.

    If only there was a public place you could do that for free eh? Oh, there is. If you’re quick.

    Comment by stymaster — October 13, 2010 @ 7:30 pm | Reply

  2. […] 14, 2010 by BrownhillsBob The Plastic Hippo has written an excoriating post about Walsall Council’s risible ‘Online Budget Simulator’ game, a wheedling, […]

    Pingback by Your local council needs you (via The Plastic Hippo) « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog — October 14, 2010 @ 6:31 am | Reply

  3. Hi hippo. The online comments can be viewed by click here:
    http://www.budgetsimulator.com/walsall/viewComments

    …and the simulator itself can be found here:
    http://www.budgetsimulator.com/walsall

    It’s no good old chap, we’re going to have to teach you how to do hyperlinks…

    Best wishes

    Bob

    Comment by BrownhillsBob — October 14, 2010 @ 6:37 am | Reply


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