Walsall Council cuts: Deputy leader tells of agonising decisions amid criticism

“There have been agonies over it . . . it was very difficult.”

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Walsall Council finance boss James Walsh with leader Councillor Sean Coughlan, and colleagues deputy leader Councillor Lee Jeavons and the borough's Liberal Democrat leader Councillor Ian Shires

These are the words of Walsall Council’s deputy leader Lee Jeavons after the council announced its revised budget plans yesterday, with hundreds of jobs and nine libraries in line for the axe.

Councillor Sean Coughlan, the leader of the council, and Councillor Ian Shires, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Walsall who are in a coalition with the Labour group, added the process was ‘really tough’ and ‘not easy’ as council tax goes up a further one per cent and some school crossing patrols are to go.

The cuts were not as bad as first feared, with seven libraries staying open, the Leather Museum staying put and the future of the New Art Gallery all but secured.

But that did not make the process any easier, according to Walsall Council bosses.

Councillor Jeavons said: “There have been agonies over it, quite literally agonies. Lots of very, very robust discussion.

“Look at some of the services we have had to adjust and change, we are talking about services for children, for vulnerable adults and services that people love like libraries. It has been difficult to do.”

Councillor Coughlan added: “It has not been easy, it has been really tough. It has been tough in the sense that I have new cabinet members, people who have never been in this position before.

"We have only had 19 months of control of this council in 17 years so in lots of ways it was a difficult period to go through.”

The council said it listened to residents with more than a quarter of its original proposals being amended or scrapped.

Among the changes include the council pulling back on its plans to remove school transport services for children with special education needs over-16.

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Conservative group leader Councillor Mike Bird

But the proposals have been criticised by the Conservative leader in Walsall, Councillor Mike Bird, who said the library closures would lead to ‘isolation’ for the elderly.

He also accused Councillor Coughlan of treating him and his group ‘with contempt’ and acting out of ‘spite’ in closing his ward’s library.

He said: “When we had control of the council and we proposed library closures we proposed having a library within two miles of every resident – this is not the case this time.

“The proposals will lead to further isolation for elderly residents.

“Pelsall library only opened in the last few years at a cost of £5 million. It houses several doctors surgeries and a nursery which means the council will effectively be running the building for the NHS. It has not been costed properly. I also think Councillor Coughlan has treated me and my group with contempt. There is a protocol that elected members see documents before the press but I have had to get the information from the press. When I was in control of the council he and his members got to see every bit of paper we saw.”

Asked about his local library in Pheasey, which has been earmarked for closure, Councillor Bird added: “I think there is a certain amount of spite involved with me, Councillor Adrian Andrew and Councillor Chris Towe being the three ward councillors there.”

One library which has been saved however is Darlaston, much to the delight of Councillor Doug James. He said: “A big thank you to the hundreds of Darlaston and Moxley residents for our petition, social media campaign, letters, attending meetings. You made the difference”.

“Throughout the consultation I have been inundated by library users and local people who want education, books and their library kept at the heart of our community”.

“Some notable people sat on their hands and took a cynical view that decisions had already been made.

“More fool them, several communities are tragically losing their libraries. We need to engage in consultations not listen to dreary cynics”.

Walsall Council had previously proposed to stop its funding for the New Art Gallery, which could have led to its closure. The issue hit the national headlines and led to an outpouring of support from the likes of artist Grayson Perry and Slade frontman Noddy Holder.

The Government was also asked to take steps to ensure the future of the gallery after a House of Lords debate during which the Earl of Clancarty, Nicholas Power Richard Le Poer Trench, said that the potential closure would be a terrible waste of public investment, before adding that the West Midlands needs as much support as possible at this moment in time.

He said “The threat of closure of our regional museums is the direct result of continuing cuts to local government funding.”

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Comments for: "Walsall Council cuts: Deputy leader tells of agonising decisions amid criticism "

Sparkles mum

Crocodile tears they chose to form an administration by contriving with the lib dems to oust the Tories. They wanted to make the decisions knowing full well how terrible it would be . Vain power mad fools doing the Tories dirty work for them. Unforgivable they desearve and won't get any understanding or sympathy for the cuts and harm they are causing

Sharmwolf

This cannot go on. Massive council tax rises for less services. Even if it means more severe cuts, council tax must be limited to a 1% rise. People cant afford it and those that can afford it have had enough. I can see riots along the lines of the poll tax riots happening soon. This government need to go. They are using Brexit as a diversion whilst they implement massive cuts to services and increase taxes. wise up people and lets get rid of the We love austerity party. We already have 3rd world health services , roads , social care , the streets are filthy and law and order is breaking down across the country. What a hole

black country born

It is NOT he government making cuts to services, it is the useless councils cutting services. They will always find the money to pay chiefs and directors vast incomes, the money for i pads, iPhones but ask them to help with a problem it is always sorry because of government cuts.

What more can the taxpayer give to the NHS they get billions of pounds year on year and I feel when it comes to spending that money hospital patients are last in line. They are the second biggest employer in the world and are always bleating about being understaffed? Is that because admin outnumber doctors and nurses around five to one.

Sharmwolf

This is down to government cuts. There is no argument about it. It is the WE LOVE AUSTERITY PARTY that are responsible. The argument about a few highly paid people in the council is such a weak point as is the ipads and phones. We are talking tens of millions of pounds of government funding cuts not a couple of hundred thousand pounds salaries or a couple of thousand pounds for ipads and phones. This poxy government are happy for us all to focus on the Brexit rubbish whilst they strangle the life out of councils across the country

charlie.bear.5836

I seem to recall we elected a party with an austerity policy to govern us, good to see they're going about it. Councils can concentrate on the core services like refuse disposal and highway maintenance instead of politicking and empire building.