The Plastic Hippo

May 15, 2013

Hanging on in quiet desperation

Filed under: Politics,Walsall,World — theplastichippo @ 1:10 am

Harold Lloyd

There was a time, long ago, when civic pride was measured by fine public buildings, the health and wellbeing of residents and the prosperity of a town. In present day Walsall, ambition and aspiration begins and ends with the opening of a shop selling cheap clothes and yet another bloody supermarket.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and the decision to “invest” £8million of public money in order to attract an exploitative bunch of bandits like Primark to Walsall is a sign of a clueless and desperate council. Given the less than heroic history of Walsall council`s financial management skills and slash and burn approach to urban regeneration, what could possibly go wrong? Setting aside the lost receipts for millions of EU funding, the overspend and over-run on the dreadful ring road, the great Serco rip off, the series of unfortunate and coincidental fires removing cherished and listed buildings in the way of non-existent redevelopment, the huge payouts to silence whistleblowers, the more recent proof of maladministration and the need for the Electoral Commission to keep a beady eye on the good aldermen after election fraud, the track record of Walsall cabinet is impeccable enough for them to award themselves a massive increase in their allowances. It is hardly surprising that the decision to bung Primark was taken behind closed doors.

By happy chance, the extraordinary meeting of full council took place on a Tuesday after a long Bank Holiday weekend and with further good fortune the agenda was not available to the public because the council`s dreadful web site was down for “essential maintenance”. The web site returned without any evidence of improvement and remains dreadful. To ensure that the few members of the public that were actually aware of the meeting stayed away, it was decided to have the meeting in secret due to “sensitive financial information” being discussed. It is not clear if any trouser legs were rolled up during the private farce because the council`s usually rather good Twitter stream was silenced for the one hour 20 minute meeting (including a 15 minute adjournment) due to “technical issues”. The report that councillors discussed is not in the public domain and now that the minutes have been published, all we know is that a weak amendment tabled by Labour asking for a delay was defeated and the motion to allocate nearly £8million to redevelop the Old Square Kasbah was carried.

So how can the simple folk of Walsall understand what is going on? Step forward into the spotlight those few, those happy few, guardians of accountability in local politics and champions of integrity, Walsall Liberal Democrats. Without them, the yokels hereabouts would have no knowledge of what was being done with their money.

A rather bizarre polemic attributed to Councillor Dan Barker and re-published by fellow Liberal Democrat councillor Ian Shires, gives us some clues about what went on behind closed doors. It seems that the financial intervention will create at least 150 jobs and, according to Walsall`s equivalent to Galton and Simpson, without Primark, both Argos and Lidl will panic and leave town throwing hundreds into unemployment, poverty and despair. It does seem odd that a provider of fine provender such as Lidl would welcome the competition from a far more ethical grocer such as the Co-op and that a retailer of top of the range quality appliances like Argos should see their business plan in ruins without the presence of Primark. The projected 150 jobs will do little to make an impression on Walsall`s woeful unemployment figures especially as the jobs will be part time, on zero hour contracts or government imposed Workfare legalised slavery.

Laurel and Hardy then helpfully inform us that the town centre will die without major employers such as Primark and “that simple fact pushes back arguments about the problems of globalisation to be debated another day when the economy is more prosperous”. The town centre is as dead as the 1,000 plus workers buried under a death trap in Bangladesh making cheap clothing for Primark. Barker and Shires should be writing scripts for Little Britain or the League of Gentlemen. Doing that, they could get away with being distasteful and offensive.

Interestingly, Del and Rodney then tell us that no less an impressive figure than that international man of mystery, The Chief Executive, “spelled out in no uncertain terms” that the likes of Primark would pull out of the deal if the contracts were not signed within 24 hours. This raises three questions; can we trust an administration that makes decisions based on the threat of a gun to the head and are Primark willing to pull out injured people from sweat shops in Dhaka as quickly as they are prepared to pull out of Walsall? Thirdly; what the bloody hell have Threadneedle, the owners, been doing for the last umpteen years other than to make Councillor Adrian Andrew look like a bigger fool than he actually is?

Shires and Barker admit that they did not have the details of the deal and are unaware of the financial risks to the council. But that did not stop them voting for this handful of magic beans along with the increasingly deranged independents that seem to think that Mike Bird and his chums are in any way something other than completely inept.

The Shires Barker comedy duo end their missive with some playground rattle throwing against an ineffectual Labour group accusing them of playground rattle throwing. There are more holes in this argument than there are holes in the Old Square roof. It is impossible, though, to disagree with the final expression from Barker and Corbett as they hang on in shrill desperation.

Walsall deserves better.


  1. Another generally smashing post.

    The Hippo is rightly critical of the Liberals. As for Labour, at least they did not abstain this time. Their amendment would have at least provided some opportunity reveal the full implications of the deal and to possibly scupper this wretched proposal once and for all. A small step forward, but nevertheless a forward step.

    But what of the 3 so-called independents? Simple arithmetic suggests that, in order for this desperate effort to be carried, they must have either abstained, absented themselves or supported it. They certainly did not oppose it.

    In any event, the walking paragon of real socialist values that is Councillor Peter Smith must have decided that the prospect of kitting himself out with Primark products prior to his next visit to the sub-continent, far outweighed any moral, ethical and civic responsibilities. That a former economics teacher should not oppose a deal, which even by the coalitions own admission, lacked detail and any sort of analysis of the financial risks to the Council is even more surprising.

    What is less shocking is the Councils now standard use of the ‘commercial confidentiality’ excuse to prevent information being given to its electorate. In this particular case, there is nothing commercially sensitive. The purchase price to be paid by the Council is known. The vendors, Threadneedle, are known. The so-called anchor tenants – Primark and the Co-Op – are known.

    Parking for a moment the Councils obsession with denying public access to decision-making and information, logic suggests that the report contained or omitted other details of the deal that were regarded as too toxic to reveal.

    Logic also suggests that such matters might have included the inherited terms to be struck with these outfits, the additional capital expenditure that the Council will have to incur in order to remodel the facility to Primarks satisfaction and the ongoing revenue obligations that will now fall to the Council rather than to Threadneedle.

    The Chief Executive seems to have partly given the game away with his Jack Bauer-like 24hour ‘ultimatum’. Of all people, he should know that decisions taken by Council are ‘fallow’ until minutes have been approved and a period of call-in allowed.

    We need to be told, but won’t be.

    The Realist

    ps Shires and Barker remind me more of Hale and Pace – unfunny, without talent, but even after 35 years, still clinging on

    Comment by The Realist — May 15, 2013 @ 9:47 am | Reply

  2. I have just been informed that Walsall Council have been using the Peter Principle within its hallowed walls. This surely explains everything. It certainly explains a lot relating to their Chief Executive and Director of Regeneration, especially the latter who has risen through the ranks.

    Comment by The Twitcher — May 21, 2013 @ 8:35 am | Reply

    • Unfortunately for the residents of Walsall, Tim Johnson, the aforementioned Director of Regeneration has departed these shores to join Wolverhampton Wanderers as Manager, no sorry, Wolverhampton City Council as Strategic Director for Education and Enterprise, watch out Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. A great loss to all of us in Walsall, as I am sure you will agree. His position at Walsall Council is now vacant, at least that is saving of £114,328 per annum plus expenses of course. I look forward to who, if anyone, will be picking up the poisoned chalice of Regeneration. Whoever it is does need to sort out his Planning and Building Control Department as soon as possible to avoid further maladministration charges.

      Comment by Phil Brown — May 21, 2013 @ 8:54 am | Reply

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