Walsall Democratic Labour Party councillor Pete Smith recently sent the following letter to the Walsall Advertiser:
Last year I was the only Councillor (out of 60) who actually voted AGAINST the multi-million pound Walsall Council budget cuts for 2012/13 and was very disappointed that the Labour Group, the largest political group on the Council, sat on their hands and abstained, thus allowing the cuts to be passed.
I wish to make it clear that as matters stand at the moment, when the budget is considered by the Council in February 2014, I intend to do likewise and vote against the cuts. Councillor Mike Bird (Conservative Council leader) was right when he said recently in a press interview that if this Government is out to destroy local Councils, they are going the right way about it.
However it is sad that the Conservative and Liberal Councillors can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that their £20m (approx) cuts package next year will most probably be allowed through once again by Labour abstentions or contrived Labour absences at the crucial Council meeting next February.
It does not bode well for local services and local jobs when it looks as if local union leaders seem to have given up and have accepted the inevitable and are prepared to sit down to see where the cuts can be least painful….. the line that the Labour Party nationally seems to take, which is no different to that of the Conservatives and Liberals. It seems that gone are the days when union leaders and union members had the courage to fight and campaign publicly and locally for local jobs and local services…. no wonder, given that there seems to be no “fire in the belly” any more of the Labour Party to which the unions have given misguided loyalty for far too long.
If we see a further £100m of cuts over the next 4 years, there will be nothing left of local government services as we know them. Do we want to see bus passes taken from the elderly? Do we want to see libraries and leisure services closed or privatised? Do we want to see charges introduced for recycling household rubbish and/ or charges levied for emptying the bins or bins emptied much less often? Do we want to see elderly and disabled people having to pay even more for their services? Do we want to see even more pot holes and dirty streets?. Do we want to see ever increasing Council tax bills for ever decreasing services? Those who don’t mind or care or feel helpless, will sit back and do nothing. That’s what the “powers that be” want to happen and by that I mean all three main Parties that are committed to cuts and austerity for the ordinary folk who did not create the problems.
The alternative is to fight back. The Labour Party, Labour councillors, trade union leaders and members, Council workers but above all, those of us all who need and use local Council services, the people generally, must fight back before all is lost.
I urge the Labour Group to commit all of its 28 Councillors to turn up to the budget making meeting in February 2014 (unlike last year) and to vote AGAINST any budget proposal (unlike last year) that involves further cuts to jobs or services. I urge local trade union members to engage with the public who need and use local services as to final consequences of continued budget cuts.
In the meantime, I make this challenge to the New Labour Councillor contingent of 28 on Walsall Council: If Labour believes that they can honestly produce a better budget than the present Tory 24/Liberal 5 Coalition, let them lay their proposals out now in an open, transparent and public manner, as the leadership of the Council could possibly be changed at any time between now and the Budget decision making meeting next February, given the fine balance of power that prevails at the moment.
If Labour decide to reject this challenge, the people of Walsall will rightly assume that Labour not only support the cuts but that they are running scared of taking over the budget process NOW because they know that they too would be doing much the same as the Conservatives & Liberals. Unless Labour can demonstrate otherwise and do it soon, there is no incentive to replace Tory Cllr. Bird with New Labour Cllr. Oliver.
Unless Labour can demonstrate an obvious competent, different and alternative strategy that can be publicly presented, I will continue to NOT VOTE for any Party Leader to run the Council who is willing to do this Government’s dirty work of slashing jobs, services and aiding and abetting in the destruction of local government, whether that leader be Cllr.. Bird or Cllr. Oliver.
It will be somewhat deceitful if the biggest single group of councillors on Walsall Council (Labour) do no more than shed crocodile tears at the cuts, sit on their hands again on the crucial vote and then sit back in the hope that they win enough extra seats to take control of the Council in May, draw the big Council leadership allowances that they recently allowed to go through…so that they can do what? Plan for a further £20 million worth of cuts under their control the following year .
Some choice, I don’t think!
Councillor Pete Smith
Democratic Labour, Blakenall Ward, Walsall M.B.C.