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A mayor needs a car, says leader in defence of £50k Jaguar

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"A bricklayer has a trowel, a painter needs a paintbrush and a mayor needs a car." These are the words of Walsall Council leader Mike Bird as he launched his latest defence of a £50,000 bill for a new Jaguar XJ.

Councillor Bird was speaking in the wake of criticism from union chiefs over the expenditure on the new mayoral car, at a time when Walsall Council is poised to make £19 million savings and cut 332 jobs.

Unison has condemned the outlay and a £32,000 spend on resurfacing the council car park outside the town hall, and the opposition Labour party has also criticised the investment in the mayoral vehicle. Councillor Bird said today that the role of mayor was the most prestigious in the borough, with more than 500 engagements a year.

And he added: "It has no impact whatsoever on potential redundancies, those are revenue costs. If you are a bricklayer you have a trowel, a painter needs a paintbrush and a mayor needs a car."

But Unison spokesman Tony Jones said: "There is a lot of anger and concern amongst our members in Walsall at the moment. You have got the mayor's vehicle and you have got other expenditure, especially replenishing the car park. I think the council need to look very, very closely where the priorities are."

He added unions would be negotiating with the authority to minimise the impact of the cuts on workers. More than 330 posts face being axed as part of the budget.

"The next step is to work with the council and to look at where there are other areas where they can look to save costs rather than shedding jobs," he said. Labour group leader Tim Oliver said: "If Labour were in control of the council we would look at value for money alternatives, which would allow the mayor to do the job and reflect the dignity of this ancient office."

Under plans the deputy mayor's car, a Jaguar Sovereign Executive which dates back to 1996, will be replaced. The current mayoral vehicle, which is also a Jaguar Sovereign Executive and around seven years old, will be passed down to the deputy.

As part of budget cuts the council also plans to cut £6m from the social care bill and axe Walsall Museum to save £70,000.

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