Walsall Council's Labour leader pledges power to the people

The next leader of Walsall Council has pledged to give areas in the borough their own budgets as part of a reform to shift power to the people, the Express & Star can reveal.

Walsall Council's Labour leader pledges power to the people

Councillor Sean Coughlan, who is expected to be officially voted in as leader at a meeting on Wednesday, said he wants to devolve some spending powers from the council house to wards such as Darlaston and Willenhall.

His plan would include devolved spending on roads and footpaths, so the wards could decide what needs to be repaired.

It comes after Councillor Coughlan announced that he and his Labour group had formed a coalition with the Lib Dems to take control of the council.

The group has already announced it will make a U-turn on Tory plans to close seven libraries and scrap the Citizens Advice Bureau grant.

Councillor Coughlan said: "It will be a continuation of the 10 months or so when we were in control between 2014 and 2015. We will be about supporting people and putting people first.

"We proved that last time by cutting senior management wages to help fund local services. We will continue to support our local services and make sure they are delivered well.

"There are not any elections in Walsall for two years now so it gives us time to plan."

Speaking on devolution, Councillor Coughlan added: "We would like to devolve as much power as we can. We are restricted in lots of ways but I think there will be options.

"The main focus will be on evolving the existing partnerships, including Darlaston and Willenhall. One of the areas we are looking at for devolved budgets is for transport finance so local people can decide what roads and footpaths get repaired.

"Things like these are really important in the local community and should be being decided by the community."

Under the newly formed coalition, Beechdale, Blakenall, New Invention, Rushall, South Walsall, Walsall Wood and Pleck Libraries will all remain open.

Funding for smaller organisations such as Scout groups and over-50s clubs could be preserved, with both parties agreeing to look at ways they can increase usage of the voluntary sector. But council tax will still rise by 3.99 per cent.

Lib Dem councillor Ian Shires said: "Increasingly over the past two years our parties had worked more and more together culminating in us coming together at the February budget meeting to defeat the Tory budget cuts in favour of a composite Lib Dem/Labour alternative.

"This saved, amongst other things, the seven libraries under threat of closure by the Tories and reinstated much of the cuts in funding to Walsall CAB."

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