Walsall council is suffering from unprecedented coalition Government cuts
Every department in Walsall Council has been placed in the firing line of massive cuts due to disproportionate Government grant cuts and the fiscal irresponsibility of previous local political leaders, residents are being warned.
The stark message comes as the local authority prepares its budget for 2015-16 part of £86 million of enforced cuts over the next four years and as senior officers and cabinet members attempt to protect vulnerable residents and core services.
Labour Council Leader, Sean Coughlan, said the reality of Government austerity along with the failings of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who ran the council until August, had dammed up a reservoir of mounting costs, lost income and budgetary pressures. Cllr Coughlan said: “We took control of the council in August and in the following weeks we have learnt of a catalogue of political mismanagement by the previous administration.
“The Conservatives and their Liberal Democrat partners played politics with the budget and kept putting off crucial decisions in the hope of clinging on to power. An example of this was their refusal to make the minimum increase in council tax to support services; that has lead to an ongoing loss to the council each and every year of £6.2 million. The only time they did introduce an increase was in 2013 when there were no elections, and when they also awarded themselves an allowances increase – and that, by any definition, is playing politics with the budget and the services people rely on.
“In addition, by 2015/16 the government has in effect cut the support to our council reduction scheme by a third, which equates to a loss of £8.2M. We have to find this money from our own coffers and we have been told we simply can’t afford to fund it in full. We are determined to continue with that assistance but that money has to come from cuts in other services. “
Officers have warned that the lack of mid term financial planning in previous years has meant that the dam is now about to break and politically unpopular decisions ,which have been ducked in the past, have to be taken this year if the council is to put forward a legal budget.
Cllr Coughlan added: “This is not what we want, it’s certainly not what we would have chosen but if we are to protect the vulnerable and core services we have to deal with the realities of a Government that is hell-bent on an austerity policy – whatever the cost – and the results of past fiscal irresponsibility.” Council officers have been instructed to target remaining funds to achieve the maximum benefit for residents, business and the community as a whole.
Deputy leader of the council, Mohammed Nazir, said: “One of the first things we did as a Labour Council was to slash the levels of senior councillors’ allowances because we had a moral obligation in this time of Government cuts to share the burden with our staff. That saving is being used to fund school crossing services which were under threat by the previous Tory and Lib Dem administration. This exemplifies our belief that until there is a change in government and the funding of local authorities, we have a duty to protect jobs and services as much as possible, make improvements where we can and minimise the impact on the people of the borough. It’s no easy task but we won’t fail in it. In terms of the council’s finances, we don’t want to make these Government cuts but when we took power we accepted the responsibility of producing a legal budget and we will not duck it. We now have a duty to ensure services produce the best possible outcomes. An example is children’s centres where the greatest need is in the most deprived wards. We are determined to target resources where they will produce optimal results, not only in the short term but also well into the future. That means some wards will see less provision but this is the responsible approach and the one that tackles the needs of communities in the fairest way.”