Walsall Council cuts: Job and library losses edge closer as spending cull is approved by bosses

Controversial cuts which will see nine libraries closed and hundreds of jobs axed have moved a step closer.

Walsall Council cuts: Job and library losses edge closer as spending cull is approved by bosses

Despite dozens of anti-cuts campaigners demonstrating on the steps of Walsall Council house the authority has approved its belt-tightening spending plan for the next financial year.

The authority also approved a near five per cent council tax increase from April. And it means the ruling Labour group now has the green light to push ahead with its proposed cuts, which will see the local history centre relocated and services across the borough lose funding.

Martin Lynch addresses protesters

Martin Lynch, from the Walsall Against Cuts protest group who demonstrated outside Thursday night's meeting, said: "This is another step along a brutal route.

"There is no doubt that unless this process is brought to a halt there will be nothing left of local government services over and above the statutory services by the end of the decade."

The council has approved a £620 million spending plan and Councillor Sean Coughlan, the leader of Walsall Council, confirmed the authority would be pushing ahead with its proposed savings, outlined by the Express & Star last month, providing no better alternatives emerge between now and April.

Plans include shutting Beechdale, Blakenall, New Invention, Pelsall, Pleck, Pheasey, Rushall, South Walsall and Walsall Wood libraries, axing 420 jobs and cutting crossing patrols for category two schools that have been without a crossing patrol for at least six months.

Councillor Coughlan said: "Doing nothing or doing the same to change things is not going to benefit services. We know there are challenges but we need to do things differently.

"We have to make really tough decisions and stand by them."

Councillors had been asked to rethink plans to close Pelsall library after a 3,000 strong petition was handed in, but a motion calling for the rethink was voted down.

However, what councillors did approve is that the council will have a little over £620m to spend next year on services and capital investments.

But despite this figure and effectively Labour's plans for the future of services in Walsall,being approved, half of the council chamber voted it down, including some quite vocally.

Conservative group leader Mike Bird said Labour's plan had 'more holes than a fishing net'

Councillor Mike Bird, the leader of the Conservatives, said Labour's plan had 'more holes in it than a fishing net'.

He added council tax could be raised by more than 10 per cent to fund services - something he believes residents would accept.

Councillor Liz Hazell, the UKIP leader, said the people of Walsall 'deserve better' and questioned if the Labour/Liberal Democrat administration were really prepared to close nine libraries.

But others, such as Labour Councillor Mohammed Nazir, voiced their support.

Spending plans include closing nine libraries across the borough and axing 420 jobs

He said: "We do not like making cuts but budget making is very difficult and is only going to get harder and harder. We have to make savings."

The debate began to turn personal as Councillor Bird accused Lib Dem leader Ian Shires of having no idea about council finances while Councillor Coughlan took swipes at UKIP for constantly criticising but never coming up with alternatives.

Councillor Hazell criticised both Councillors Bird and Coughlan for using libraries as a 'political football'.

How the ruling Labour/Liberal Democrat administration plans to spend £620m will be revealed in April

This time last year the Conservative's saw their budget rejected in favour of an alternative one put forward by the Labour and Liberal Democrat groups, which set out plans to save the libraries they are now set to axe.

But there was no such drama this time as neither the Conservatives, UKIP or any of the independents put forward an alternative budget.

However there were concerns in the Labour camp that their budget would be voted down in humiliating circumstances as Storm Doris meant Labour Councillor Richard Worrall was stuck on a train. Without him Labour would not have the numbers needed to pass their spending plan.

He eventually arrived an hour and twenty minutes late to huge cheers from all sides of the chamber.

The full details of how the ruling Labour/Liberal Democrat administration intends to spend the council's £620m will be revealed at a cabinet meeting in April, the start of the 2017/18 financial year.

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