|Winter beauty at Park Lime Pits Rushall - soon to be lost?|
Last night I attended the full council meeting in Walsall. I witnessed death and destruction. The contrast in emotions in the space of just over 24 hours could not be wider. Firstly I witnessed Walsall Labour abstain from a vote on Councillor allowances. If they had voted against the proposed increases to allowances as they said they were going to prior to the meeting, then Mike Bird, Council Leader would not this morning be rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of a pay increase of £4494, his deputy Adrian Andrew would not be suffering from friction burns at the prospect of an increase of £9232 and their Cabinet colleagues Councillors Towe, Harris, Arif, Ali, R Andrew, McCracken, Shires and Ansell would not be aiding the Walsall Fire-starter with further flame making with a £5123 increase. Yes these are increases not base allowances and yes, Walsall Labour played party politics whilst the people of Walsall suffer. It seems that we are all in this together, unless you're a politician and in Walsall, a Labour politician. RIP Walsall Labour. I doubt in a few years time you will be missed for if last night was an example of how you play games with the money and lives of Walsall people, you do not deserve power and you certainly do not deserve to be remembered with any sort of fondness.
Those were the first deaths of the night; democracy, accountability, credibility, honesty, integrity, politics in Walsall.
Still gasping with shock at the incredible and disgraceful scenario that I had just watched, I then witnessed the start of the long, slow death and mass destruction of Walsall's Green Spaces and Countryside Services. In with the Progress Report presented by Councillor Harris, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture was an announcement of the cuts to jobs in Green Spaces. From April there will be just 2 Senior Countryside Rangers, 4 Neighbourhood Rangers, 4 Arboretum Rangers and 7 Park Rangers will see their posts downgraded to Environmental Operatives. No cuts for senior managers or staff who do not provide a front line service. The strangulation of Green Spaces since their take over by Street Pride is now complete.
In view of this announcement the final paragraph of Cllr Harris's report "Last year was a very successful one for the services in the portfolio, achieved in increasingly difficult times, and with the clear prospect of more good news to follow as 2013 gets underway." looks risible, ridiculous and a downright lie and yet the report was adopted by the council.
When I started the Save Walsall's Green Spaces Campaign we were in the middle of a so called budget consultation exercise. I personally copied and pasted tens and tens of responses found on the Group's Facebook page, blogs and other places too, into the budget consultation box on the Council's website and submitted them. Along with this we protested outside the Council House at the last full Council meeting, we wrote letters to newspapers, many wrote blogs going into incredible detail as to why our Green Spaces were worth saving. There were radio appearances, emails to councillors, articles in the local press and finally I made this presentation to the Cabinet. All of this has been to no avail. We were not listened to. The whole budget consultation exercise was a sham.
Many years ago a president of a trade union pleaded with me not to start going to the union's annual conference. He liked my honesty and naivety and he thought full immersion into the trade union process would destroy those qualities. Despite the fact that over the years I have grown more cynical and disillusioned, I still, it seems retain some naivety because I honestly believed Cllr Bird when he said that we would be listened to and our views and ideas would be responded to and taken into account. I also believed him when he said that our fears would be allayed. I keep having to learn the same lesson over and over again; never trust a politician for the only interests they serve are there own.
One thing that surprised me on many occasions was how uninformed our local councillors are about how our Green Spaces work, what roles are carried out by various post holders and what that entails and how cutting posts, downgrading roles and so on would mean that our green spaces would suffer. Various councillors who passed our demonstration at the last council meeting responded by saying they thought that Green Spaces had been saved. This was after I had sent them emails, started a petition and the campaign. They obviously doubted my sanity, smug in their ignorance.
Last night they demonstrated the same ignorance of what this is all about, ably assisted by the Officers of the council who clearly have their own territories clearly marked, defined and the barricades manned in order to protect their own gross salaries, some in excess of £100K. Information has been hidden and omitted from reports by those Officers because they know Average Councillor will not care to understand the minutia and even worse read the report properly, apart from how it will affect their own small ward.
Parochialism ruled supreme last night. As long as the little park in their ward was OK they didn't care to see the wider borough picture. What they failed to see was that their local green spaces will not be OK. That expensive exercise equipment that they are going to install in green spaces all over the borough will not be OK. The nationally recognised reputation of some of our Green Spaces Staff will not be OK. Our Green Spaces will not get the attention they currently get. Friends and User Groups will not receive the support they currently get. We will lose our best staff as they dessert the sinking ship that was once the proud and beautiful Walsall's Green Spaces and who can blame them? I can't. And why will none of this be OK? The staff will not be there. Not the devoted staff who have spent years building up relationships with all sorts of green space users, including those whose only intention originally was to vandalise and destroy. An informed presence is what is required not any presence. A regular presence by the same people. No councillors, everything will not be OK.
I witnessed multiple deaths last night but the one that reduced me to tears was the wanton destruction of Walsall's Green Spaces.
We will continue the Campaign. We have no choice.