12 March 2015

Suffer the Children: tears with fears for hypocrisy in austerity

Back in October 2010 when Mike Bird was in charge of Walsall Council, he and his party thought it might be a great idea to close libraries. Mike was even quoted as saying  'People can download books, we don't have to have bricks and mortar to give people access to reading materials any more'. Contrast this to the events in the last few months during the no overall control Labour administration budget consultation exercise. At the full council meeting on 12 January this year Mike tabled a motion to save two libraries, Pheasey  (which happens to be in our former leader's ward) and his best tory mates ward, Streetly. The motion failed but Mike lived to fight this cause another day and that day came two weeks ago at the council meeting where the budget for 2015/16 was decided.

Labour had a problem at that meeting. They're in charge of the council but don't have an overall majority and so a deal with the devil in the form of Mike Bird's Tories had to be done in order for the budget to be passed. The deal was done and Mike got a reprieve for the libraries but also involved with the deal was garden waste collection savings and street cleaning savings. What stuck in the throat following the meeting was this exchange of tweets:

I'm not quite sure what has happened to democracy in Walsall but it doesn't live here any more.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm happy that the libraries were saved from closure at least for the next 12 months. As can be seen from my earlier blog I don't agree with any library being closed but it is amazing how the opinion of a politician can be changed, nay completely overturned when it is advantageous to the individual concerned. Or perhaps I'm being a little ungenerous and Mike Bird did find his own road to Damascus running right through the Pheasey.

The enormous cuts that our local council has to make are forced upon them by the current coalition government and their now failed austerity policies. One of the mantras that Cameron and his cronies has used is that it is unfair to saddle our young people of today with the debts of their seniors, way into the future. We have to pay now so that our children don't have to. Yet their austerity policies mean that our children and young people are paying very dearly today despite all protestations. In Walsall they are paying whilst they are in still in the cradle.

Children's Centres are to close. These centres provide a myriad of support to parents and children including advice on multiple child centred problems, before and after school clubs, nursery education, playgroups, legal help, space for parents to meet and consult with child health and care professionals who may be based on the other side of the borough, in fact they were designed to be a one stop centre for anything to do with families; all facilities under one roof. To many they are a life changing and life saving service. Now they are gone.

All youth centres in Walsall apart from one are to close including the one that I have previously written about so much; Aldridge Manor. I'll not go into all the arguments again as to why this is such a backward step but it makes me weep that the only youth services in Aldridge will be provided by churches. Some young people, my own included, are not interested in the God focussed reflection time or in a club that is entirely based upon worship. 

These are the head-liners although you would be hard pressed to find any headlines about the loss of these important and vital services, children aren't part of the electorate and so don't really count but there are other cuts to many services for children such as: short breaks for children with disabilities, reducing the use of taxis for children in care (and the much maligned and so nearly in special measures whilst Bird was in charge, Walsall's Children's Services as a whole isn't out of the woods yet)  reducing expenditure on school bus passes and restricting the eligibility for Special Needs transport, reductions in career advice, support and guidance.

It's OK though because the bins will be emptied, our garden waste will be carried away for 8 months of the year, no parking charges will be imposed in local town centres and the streets will be cleaned. Is this what we've come to? Are bins, street cleaning and free parking more important than services for our children and young people? Labour got bad advice with regard to identifying areas for cuts and charges and then used that bad advice as a basis for their consultation. Consultation is good. Consultation with options based on poor advice is not worth the effort that went into it.

The children and young people of Walsall are being ignored and are paying now for austerity and all the political parties involved in setting this years budget bear responsibility for that.

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