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Council cuts: Walsall could be left without an art gallery within just four years as £85m savings needed

Walsall will be without an art gallery, youth services, museums and could be left with just one library in four years time, the council's leader warned today.

Walsall New Art Gallery

The revelations came as Councillor Sean Coughlan warned: "public services are at the point of breaking right across Walsall."

Councillor Coughlan, the Labour leader of the council, also refused to rule out cutting hundreds of council jobs and calling for a referendum to raise council tax by more than 3.99 per cent.

He was speaking at a press conference he held at Walsall Council today in which he revealed the council is looking to save £85 million in the next four years, including £31 million for the next financial year.

Council leader Sean Coughlan addresses today's press conference

The exact details of what cuts will be put forward remain vague at this stage as the papers will not be released until next week, but Councillor Coughlan warned that no service was safe.

Adult social care and children's services are expected to receive the biggest funding hits.

Councillor Coughlan said: "If we continue with these austerity measures then in four years time we will be left with one library, no youth service, no art gallery and no performing arts centre.

"Public services are at the point of breaking right across Walsall.

"But we will listen to and respond to the community. We want to be honest with people about what austerity means and that is what we will be presenting in our papers.

"It is our duty to balance the budget and that is what we will be doing over the next four years."

"Our journey of cost reduction to compensate for our reduced funding won't be over until 2020. Put simply, having saved £100 million, we face four more years of funding reductions – that means we have to save another £86 million by 2020 to rebalance our books.

"The stark reality is we have no choice but to take on this formidable task.

"As challenging and unpleasant as it is, the council and its newly elected administration are accountable for delivering these colossal savings. Sadly, this is 'part and parcel' of the job we've been elected to do by the people of Walsall - it's certainly not the reason any of us entered politics, but it is what is expected of us. No matter how distasteful, it's our responsibility and it's a responsibility we can't and won't dodge.

"We lost the luxury of simply picking out where we could spend less long ago. Now we must find even smarter ways of delivering our services, and explore all the available options.

"This has been a long drawn-out journey of over five years and we still have four more years to go. In this time there have been some dramatic changes to local government. The council has shrunk in every part of what it does; and has gone from 5,000 employees in 2010 to fewer than 3,500, and I have no doubt residents will have felt the impact of this contraction in their everyday lives. There is no escaping the fact that our journey continues to be fraught and will be filled with evermore uncomfortable decisions. But no matter how painful - decisions will have to be made.

"As a council we are committed to making informed choices, firmly based on evidence and need. We will not implement any change that has not been consulted upon by those who have the best knowledge and skills to do so. We strongly believe that the more people who are involved in shaping our services -the more likely it is they will support and accept the changes that have to be made.

"We know that we can't implement the changes alone or in isolation. We want to give residents and service users more control over their future; so we will explain our plans and give this meaning at a local level. We also need our partners and residents to work alongside us to help with the 'heavy-lifting'. It is only by forming effective collaborations, taking collective responsibility and turning this into meaningful action that we will protect the services that are a lifeline to many.

"I have an unshakable belief that the people of Walsall will back the decisions made by Walsall people. We have started on our journey to a leaner, smarter and more efficient way of delivering services, yet there is a long way to go. I know this will be the toughest year to date, in spite of this we will demonstrate by our actions that Walsall is a place where change is faced up to, and that we can and will adapt to it – simply because we have to."

"As we enter this critical budgetary review, we must remain focussed on where council money is best spent. Those who are most vulnerable will continue to receive the support they need to keep them safe and live fulfilling lives. And much of our work over the next weeks and months will concentrate on the services that are a lifeline to many.

"Although the situation looks challenging, I remain positive about our journey ahead. It may be inevitable that as a council we are forced to provide less in terms of volume, but this does not mean that good things can't come in smaller sizes. Delivering less should not be confused with poor quality – quite the opposite."

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