In an uncertain and changing world, it is good to know that some things remain fixed and immutable. Walsall Council cabinet meet tonight (Wednesday) to discuss what to cut from what`s left of public services.
As the majority of the populous acquiesce in either ignorance of apathy, a few courageous folk are determined to expose the disarray and duplicity of local government in Walsall. The formidable Linda Mason and the excellent Save Walsall`s Green Spaces and Countryside Services campaign have uncovered evidence of either deception or incompetence in senior council echelons when dealing with genuine and articulate concerns from members of the public. The redoubtable Brownhills Bob details the sordid goings on in this forensic analysis. It would seem that a “consultation” makes everything better regardless of the conclusion. It is a little like asking inhabitants of a turkey farm if they prefer chestnut stuffing to sage and onion. The great Walsall public have been “consulted” on the proposed increase in the cost of school meals as part of the draft budget yet cabinet tonight will receive a report recommending that all Walsall children be given a free school meal for very sound nutritional and educational reasons. At the very least, says the report, the cost of a school meal should be capped at £1. Does anyone at the Council House or the Civic Centre have a bloody clue what they are doing? Meaningless inconsequential “consultation”, corporate deniability, concealment and contempt for the public it is supposed to serve would suggest that Walsall council is slavishly mimicking national government. Strangely, the opposite is true.
Valued supporter of this humble blog and vital West Midlands and Black Country resource The YamYam has reminded the hippo of a piece written before this humble blog existed. In terms of historical context, The YamYam published the following article eight months before the general election. Even after more than three years, it is strangely comforting to see that the lumbering prose, shrill whining, terrible sentence construction and appalling grammar have not improved. Sadly, nor has Walsall council.
Reproduced by kind permission of The YamYam:
Be careful with that axe, Eugene
The Plastic Hippo The YamYam 13 Sep 09
This week, shadow chancellor George Osborne gave us a clue as to how a future Conservative government would handle public spending. Incredibly, the inept, reckless and knee-jerk fiscal management of Walsall Council may be held up as an example of what to expect nationally.
Speaking to a seminar of Tory council leaders, Mr Osborne 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.” Clearly he has no idea of what is going on here in Walsall.
Facing a massive £13.4 million deficit in the 2009/2010 budget, our enlightened council are bullishly charging through the china shop destroying anything that is precious and expensive. Care for elderly and disabled people, schools given away to some rather dubious characters, libraries closed one day a week, Bryntysilio dumped and the Grange golf course still under threat are the first targets. This, together with the continuing mindless policy of outsourcing vital services to the cheapest cowboy contractor, is turning Walsall into a giant car boot sale. “Everything must go” scream the consultants as they head back to London with yet another fat fee stashed in the briefcase.
Now, leader of the Council Mike Bird is proposing a pay freeze and a reduction in working hours for 12,000 local authority staff in order to cut costs.
“We are looking at ways of increasing income instead of cuts” he said. “We don`t want to take out services so may look at prices.” So it seems that we will be paying more for less. He also gives a hint that his negotiation tactics are unlikely to be conciliatory by stating: “It is far better to have a job on reduced hours than not at all.” One shudders to think of the magnitude of unfair dismissal pay-outs.
It is not clear at this stage if the £30,000 basic yearly allowance paid to Councillor Bird will be part of this austerity package.
In the coming weeks, we can expect much talk of “efficiency savings, smart procurement, tough choices and best value” – all euphemisms for cuts to services vital to the most vulnerable. This process has already begun with the latest edition of Walsall Pride. This comic, funded by the public purse, usually features the rictus grins of Tory councillors, good eggs all, who tell us of the wonderful job they are doing and how we should all be grateful. This latest “Pride” – not to be confused with a celebration of diversity, humanity and community – is instead packed with inconsequential “advice” on how to survive “the recession”, redundancy, bankruptcy and home repossession. In other pages there is an image of a load of rubbish outside the Council House. Councillor Bird is not grinning.
It is true that times are hard, but key indicators published this week suggest that the downturn is over and that economic growth is likely. However, those within the Council who are determined to reduce frontline services will repeat the nonsense that “the recession” was caused by someone called Gordon Brown. Whilst Brown, Darling and Mandelson may be duplicitous and rather unpleasant, it is not their job to take the blame for local authority incompetence. Our lot, strangers to the works of Adam Smith, John Maynard Keynes and J.K.Galbraith, seem bent on a course of slash and burn economics. There is an “invisible hand” at work here.
Strange then, that the disastrous deal done with some snake-oil salesmen to provide advertising on lamp-posts was signed during a period of economic boom. Strange too, that the missing £42 million from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund and the £4 million in missing receipts have conveniently disappeared off the radar. With sublime mathematical irony, the over spend on the woeful and downright dangerous ring road almost exactly matches the £5.6 million deficit for this year. All this mismanagement took place long before any of us had heard of the Lehman brothers or Fanny Mae or Freddie Mac.
So, let us look at some of the ideas that the brightest and the best of Tory local government have come up with that have so impressed the shadow chancellor. Barnet are proposing a “no-frills” approach to services, earning them the nickname “EasyCouncil”. It seems that if you want your bins emptied more than once a year, you and your neighbours should have a whip round and pay for the service yourselves. The plan does not explain what you do if you have no income and a family member who requires care. Hammersmith and Fulham have achieved a derisory 3% reduction in Council Tax by imposing swinging cuts to front line services. Essex have founded their own bank and are handing over all administrative tasks to IBM. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, wants to take control of Housing and Transport.
All these proposals have one goal – to reduce the burden of Council Tax on households. Walsall, sadly, have missed the point. The cuts we are facing will not reduce Council Tax; we have one of the highest rates in the region. The cuts are being made to pay for a shortfall brought about by either gross incompetence – or some other reason.
One delegate at the George Osborne seminar said this: “Cuts have to be made. What we need to do is use a scalpel, not an axe.”
Unfortunately, Walsall has yet to master the use of an axe and prefers to make cuts using a sledge hammer.