Category Archives: Cuts

Bloxwich Library saved amid drastic Council cuts

Walsall Council House (pic: Stuart Williams)
Walsall Council House (pic: Stuart Williams)

Walsall Council has announced that Bloxwich Library is one of six libraries to have been saved from possible closure in a dramatic press briefing reported on by local news media today.

But the news is by no means all good, as hundreds of jobs are still set to be axed and nine libraries (at Beechdale, Blakenall, New Invention, Pelsall, Pleck, Pheasey, Rushall, South Walsall and Walsall Wood) will shut under budget proposals announced by the local authority.

Council tax will also rise by 4.99%, as the local Labour-Lib Dem coalition is pressured by massive budget cuts enforced by national government.

The New Art Gallery at Walsall, which was potentially under the threat of eventual closure, also seems set to be secured as the council looks to develop a new business model for it, and according to various reports Wolverhampton University has shown an interest in partnership working.

According to the BBC, a £3.5m funding bid to Arts Council England and other stakeholders has been submitted to develop a new business model for the New Art Gallery. The council has apparently mooted selling off naming rights to the gallery, but Council leader Sean Coughlan has insisted it would not be “the McDonald’s Art Gallery”.

Walsall Leather Museum is also expected to remain where it is, but Walsall Local History Centre will be moved from Essex Street into the Walsall Central Library building, requiring external document storage elsewhere. Detailed plans have not yet been announced.

Bloxwich Library and Theatre (aka Bookmark Bloxwich) Pic Stuart WIlliams
Bloxwich Library and Theatre (aka Bookmark Bloxwich) Pic Stuart WIlliams

Aldridge, Bloxwich, Brownhills, Darlaston and Willenhall libraries have all been saved, while Streetly library will be community run.

Walsall Council, which late last year engaged in a public consultation about the drastic “savings’ it had identified must be made, has said it must save £86m by 2020.

281 jobs are set to go, either through voluntary or compulsory redundancy, another 139 vacant posts will be not be filled. Meanwhile, remaining Walsall Council staff will face another year-long pay freeze.

Cllr Coughlan is reported by the BBC website to have said that libraries faced “one of the most profound and stark cuts”.

“Every political side knew we had to do something about libraries and that’s what we have had to do,” he said.

“We have faced the biggest cuts this council’s ever had before.”

Council tax for Band D properties will rise to £1,744.04, including precepts – subject to confirmation of final precepts – up from £1663.29. Originally the rise was to be 3.99 per cent but now central government, which had massively cut the grant to Walsall Council in the first place,  has allowed the council to raise their tax by an extra one per cent provided it is ring fenced for social care.

According to the Express & Star, the Forest Arts Centre will not be cut in 2017/18 and the council will also to continue to maintain cricket pitches and bowling greens in the borough – something it originally proposed to scrap.  Plans to stop cleaning markets after they have closed has also been scrapped, while seven front line posts connected to street cleaning are being reinstated.

All these proposals and many more will have to be approved at a full council meeting in February.

READ MORE from the Express & Star via this link and also on the BBC website here.

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Have your say on possible closure of Bloxwich Library and Theatre

Walsall Council is seriously considering, amongst other options, closing all of the Borough’s branch libraries, including Bloxwich Library and Theatre (aka Bookmark Bloxwich) in Elmore Row.   This is due to the swingeing and cruel national government budget cuts being inflicted on the borough.

Amongst the many other possible ‘culture cuts’ (including massive reductions in funding to the New Art Gallery and major cutbacks involving the potential downsizing and moving of Walsall Leather Museum and Walsall Local History Centre in with the Central Library in Lichfield Street), such a closure would be a huge blow to Bloxwich and district both in cultural and educational terms. Continue reading Have your say on possible closure of Bloxwich Library and Theatre

Bloxwich Councillors bid to save Bloxwich Library and Theatre

Cllrs Allen, Harrison and Follows take a stand outside Bloxwich Library (pic Bloxwich West Intouch)
Cllrs Allen, Harrison and Follows take a stand outside Bloxwich Library (pic Bloxwich West Intouch)

Many Bloxwich people should be well aware by now that, due to the swingeing national government budget cuts being inflicted on many local authorities in England, Walsall Council is seriously considering closing all of the Borough’s branch libraries, including Bloxwich Library and Theatre (aka Bookmark Bloxwich) in Elmore Row.

Amongst the many other possible ‘culture cuts’ (including massive reductions in funding to the New Art Gallery and major cutbacks involving the potential downsizing and moving of Walsall Leather Museum and Walsall Local History Centre in with the Central Library in Lichfield Street), such a closure would be a huge blow to Bloxwich and district both in cultural and educational terms. Continue reading Bloxwich Councillors bid to save Bloxwich Library and Theatre

Borough’s bins go fortnightly from October

Walsall Council has announced that collections of grey household waste bins across the borough will be cut from weekly to fortnightly from October 2016.

Most households in the borough currently have a small 140 litre grey rubbish bin, a 240 litre brown bin for garden waste and a 240 litre green bin for recycling. Under the reduced service, grey bins will be collected on the same day as the green bins.

With grey rubbish bins being emptied less often, some larger households and households with extra medical waste may find that their existing grey rubbish bin is not big enough.  If you think this will apply to you, you can  use a form on the Council website apply for a bigger bin. To be eligible for a bigger bin you must meet the criteria detailed on the Council website.   See:

https://surveys.walsall.gov.uk/s.asp?k=146115332236

and:  http://walsallbins.co.uk/changes-to-grey-bin-collections/

Closing date

The closing date for larger bin applications is Monday 13 June 2016, so you are advised to get your application in as soon as possible. Please note that if you apply after 13 June your application will still be processed, however, if eligible, your new bin(s) may not be delivered in time for when the new service starts. One application per household only.

More info

For further information about Walsall’s bin collection service, see their website:

http://walsallbins.co.uk/

 

Library cuts conundrum considered by Council

Beechdale Library is one of those facing the axe
Beechdale Library is one of those facing the axe

Public consultation on Walsall Council’s draft budget proposals to close up to 7 libraries across the borough and cease the Mobile Library service was concluded at the beginning of January. Nearly 2,000 questionnaires were returned and 435 face to face interviews have taken place. Since then the feedback from this consultation has been analysed and evaluated.

The Council’s Cabinet are carefully considering the feedback and the impact of the current proposals on the most vulnerable sections of the population.

Councillor Mike Bird, Leader of the Council stated: “We welcome the way people have come forward to tell us their views on our proposals and we are listening to what they are telling us.

“Cabinet are minded to review the current proposals and amend it to retain a mobile library which will continue to offer a library service to those most in need and to consider how the introduction of new technologies might offer a solution in some areas”

Councillor Harris, Portfolio Holder for Community Leisure and Culture said: “There has been a tremendous amount of work done on this issue and we continue to work with the community in those areas where libraries have been proposed for closure and to minimise the impact.

“It’s the policy of this Council to sustain and maintain the library service and to find a local solution.

“We are still in the process of confirming potential partners in all of the areas affected and we are actively pursuing these negotiations so that local people will still have access to books and learning at a local level.”

Blakenall Library is based in the Blakenall Village Centre (pic BVC)
Blakenall Library is based in the Blakenall Village Centre (pic BVC)

Branch libraries at Beechdale, Blakenall Heath, New Invention, Pleck, Rushall, South Walsall and Walsall Wood could close under the cost-cutting proposals. The axing of the mobile library service and 13 jobs was proposed as part of a bid to save £328,854 this year and £159,058 next year, forced by national government budget cuts.

New technology including self-service machines and a new smart card entry system is also planned at libraries which remain open. Around £300,000 could be invested in some of the remaining nine libraries to bring in a new management system, allowing visitors to use them when they are unstaffed. Customers would be given a special card and PIN to access the libraries when they are unmanned, with CCTV keeping watch and a book detection system used to keep track of items leaving the building.

The home library service which delivers books to residents who are housebound would continue.

Council tax benefit scheme cut

Walsall Council House

A local Council Tax benefit scheme has been cut back in Walsall following  government funding reductions.

Walsall Council bosses approved changes to the council tax reduction scheme at Full Council on 12 January 2015 whereby all working age residents will have to pay at least 25% of their council tax bill.

Councillor Sean Coughlan, Walsall Council Leader, said: “In April 2013 central government replaced the national council tax benefit scheme with a new scheme administered by the council.

“Since then the government funding to support the new scheme has reduced year on year and the council has been able to protect all residents from the impact of these changes until now.

“From April 2015 this will no longer be possible as the council is faced with the challenge of having to save £86 million over the next four years.

“Our decision to provide a maximum benefit of 75% will save the council over £2.3 million in 2015/16 whilst still providing support to vulnerable groups within the working age council tax base.”

Portfolio holder for social care, Councillor Diane Coughlan, explained: “We understand that some households in Walsall may find it difficult to pay their new or increased council tax bill so we are making it easier by providing more flexible paying options.

“Instead of paying ten monthly payments, we can extend it over twelve months.  If you prefer a weekly or fortnightly payment scheme, that can also be accommodated.

“Council officers are also on hand to help with money management and budgeting advice.”

Council tax bills will be posted out to residents from 6 March 2015 which will include an information leaflet on help with paying your bill.

EDITORIAL Forever autumn: what future for our green spaces?

Bloxwich Park, our ancient village green: will those fallen leaves lie undisturbed in future?
Bloxwich Park, our ancient village green: will those fallen leaves lie undisturbed in future?

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near
The winter winds will be much colder
Now you’re not here

Today is Sunday, and the weather, surprisingly given conditions of late, was lovely, crisp, clear and sunny, with a sparkling light fit to shine deep into our souls. The grass was green, and the red-hot fallen leaves of autumn glowed bright in the wintry sunshine.  The great wheel of the seasons is turning, and we can see this all around us.  It is part of our lives, and our spirit.

What did you do?  Did you go for a walk?  Did you take the dog, your partner, the kids?  Where did you go?  A day out in the car?  Or a trip into our borough’s very own countryside havens?  A wander down to the local park, perhaps after church or a quiet drink in the pub?  Bloxwich is blessed with so many leafy parks and village greens, we are surrounded with trees and lawns, bushes and shrubs, little pools and hidden nature walks, with a once-bubbling fountain, quiet now but biding its time for the spring to come.

What a great day to be outdoors.  What was it like?  What did you see there?  Did you look around in wonder, stand silent amongst tall poplars, birch or oak?  Listen awe-struck to the birds, or stare out breathless across a trembling lake or pool?  Did you kick your way through the leaves, run along the footpaths and across the grass?  Did you feel the icy breeze sending a tingle up your spine?  Didn’t it feel good to be alive?

Come spring and summer, will you return to these green temples of peace for quiet contemplation, for family fun days and traditional carnivals, for childrens’ activities and adult education, for minibeast hunts and birdwatching walks, to spot bats or butterflies, to consider the rocks and waters beneath your feet or to watch the stirring of life on land, in the air and beneath the water of ponds and lakes?

Yet these havens of living beauty, and our access to them, cannot be taken for granted.  In dark times, we may have to fight for them, to raise our voices and our hands, to question and call to account those who set themselves far above us, as they see it.

What will you do if our parks and countryside spaces, the green and beating hearts of our towns and our borough’s hinterland, begin to suffer from neglect?  What if mowing the grass and managing the trees and heathland, trimming the bushes and husbanding the hedgerows, dredging the ponds and lakes, bending the willow fences and mending the stiles, picking the poop and clearing up all those glorious but now dark and rotting autumn leaves are all cut back, or heaven forbid, abandoned altogether?

What will you do if the opening hours are cut, the services dwindle, the helpful staff, the hard-working maintenance crews, the expert rangers, inspiring educators and supportive volunteers disappear, until one day you walk up to the gates of Bloxwich Park, or King George V Playing Fields, or Bloxwich Promenade Gardens, or any of the borough’s many parks and nature reserves large and small are locked and bolted, with barbed wire on the railings, the buildings boarded up, the play equipment rusting, the tools abandoned in the long grass and nothing stirring beyond the bars but the breeze, the peeling paint on burnt-out cars and the uneasy odour of fly-tipped rubbish.

What will you do?

Well you cannot say that you have not seen it coming.

What do you mean?  You cannot see it? You cannot hear it? You cannot read it? Are your eyes and ears open at all?  Things are falling apart all over England as a result of government cuts forced upon the people by those who think they are better than us, those with their millionaire’s hands jammed deep in our pockets but who care nothing for crumbling services, slashed jobs and ‘little’ lives that do not matter to them.

You see, it is happening already, even to the glorious legacy of our Victorian forebears who created the town and village parks for the good of the people, for their health and for their spiritual well-being.  And to the work of those who came after, inspired by the same ideals and a love of life and of knowledge to set up our nature reserves.  One day, perhaps, we may even see these places abandoned altogether, as part of “efficiency savings” or because “nobody cares”.

What will you do if the parks are built on and the nature reserves become a haven of a different kind – for drug addicts and burnt-out cars?  You may see no sign of this now, but those who do not care for the people will surely care even less for the green places that they love and need.

And swingeing green cuts are coming to Walsall.  Forced by massive and insupportable local authority budget cuts by national government, proposals already announced by the Council will lead to yet more staff cuts and “efficiency savings”.  We know what that means.  Oh, there are no parks closing now, nor are there plans to do so – but what of the future? A slippery slope is just that, and who will put on the brakes?

Thankfully, there are those arising who will stand against such decline and will fight for alternatives to cuts.  They are, appropriately, a “grass roots” group of Walsall countryside enthusiasts who can see clearly the dark clouds looming ahead for our local green spaces, because they are actively engaged in supporting them and the hard-working Walsall Council staff who do so much to make them accessible and enjoyable.

Beginning with the Friends of Park Lime Pits, they have not let the grass grow under their feet. Hearing of the cuts proposed, they stood up to be counted on Facebook, they made their opinions known through Twitter, they set up an official petition on the Walsall Council website, and organised not only a peaceful protest at the Council House but a meeting with senior Council officers, so that they could both better understand the reasoning behind the cuts – and make their voices heard.

Would that the people of this once-great nation would do as much.  Would that YOU would do as much.  Will you?

Much of what you really need to know is here, on the blog and other sites of this passionate group.  Make up your own mind on the issues and ask questions:

Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services

Sign the Petition against the cuts

Join the Facebook group

SHOW YOU CARE.

Before this all this is gone.  It has already begun…

Stuart Williams, Editor

Click on each photo below (and above) to see the full beauty of these precious places:

Abandoned Park Keeper's Lodge, Wiggin Avenue, King George V Playing Fields.
Abandoned Park Keeper’s Lodge, Wiggin Avenue, King George V Playing Fields.
King George V Playing Fields mean so much to so many.
King George V Playing Fields mean so much to so many.
Wallington Heath Pool - an 18th century stagecoach halt saved from weed and neglect by parks staff.
Wallington Heath Pool – an 18th century stagecoach halt saved from weed and neglect by parks staff.
History and natural beauty come together at Bloxwich Promenade Gardens on the High Street.
History and natural beauty come together at Bloxwich Promenade Gardens on the High Street.
Not just a patch of grass - a place of life and heritage on Elmore Green since ancient times..
Not just a patch of grass – a place of life and heritage on Elmore Green since ancient times..

Forever Autumn

(from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds)

The summer sun is fading as the year grows old
And darker days are drawing near
The winter winds will be much colder
Now you’re not here

I WATCH the birds fly south across the Autumn sky
And one by one they DISAPPEAR
I wish that I was flying WITH them
Now you’re not here

Like the SUN through the trees you came to love me
Like a leaf on the breeze you blew away

Through Autumn’s golden gown we used to kick our way
You always loved this time of year
Those fallen leaves lie undisturbed now
Cause you’re not here

Like the SUN through the trees you came to love me
Like a leaf on the breeze you blew away

A gentle rain falls softly on my weary eyes
As if to hide a lonely tear
My life will be forever Autumn
Cause you’re not here

Cause you’re not here

Cause you’re not here…

Rare unity on Walsall Council as members condemn benefit cuts

Walsall Council House

In a rare sign of political unity in Walsall this week,  a motion by the Walsall Council Labour Group condemning cuts by the coalition government to both council tax benefit and housing benefit has won the support of Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors, according to a press release from the Group.

The amended motion was passed unanimously at Monday night’s full council meeting, criticising the 10 per cent cut affecting OAP’s, single parent families and the unemployed.

Walsall, like other town halls, will have to pass on the cuts or fund the difference from its own budget which is already facing a £13 million reduction forced upon it by the government.

The proposed cuts in council tax and housing benefits are apparently expected to amount to £3.3 million in Walsall and hit some 4,000 households.

Cllr Sean Coughlan, Deputy Leader of Walsall Labour Group, said the fact that the motion won cross party support spoke volumes about the hardship the cuts would create.

“It is not often that politicians speak with one voice on contentious issues but everyone in the council can see the harm and misery that these cuts will create in areas like our own where we have high levels of unemployment and deprivation.

“These cuts will come into effect from April, just as the government gives enormous tax breaks to millionaires but working families on low incomes, pensioners and the unemployed will be faced with the choice of either paying the rent or buying food.”

Debating the motion, Liberal Democrat leader, Ian Shires, described the changes as ‘botched.’

Conservative Council Leader, Mike Bird, went further – saying that the government was forcing councils to do their dirty work leaving families to choose ‘between paying the bills and feeding their kids.’

Cllr Coughlan added:

“When the Coalition Government’s own supporters are describing their own parties’ polices in such terms, it’s time that Cameron and Clegg realised the destructive impact they are having on people’s lives”

For more information on the Labour Party in Walsall, see: Walsall Council Labour Group

Countryside cuts protesters lobby Walsall Council meeting

Save Walsall's Green Spaces protesters at Walsall Council House.
Save Walsall’s Green Spaces protesters at Walsall Council House.

A successful protest was held outside Walsall Council House this evening by the Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services Group, who lobbied Councillors as they arrived for a scheduled Full Council meeting.

The Group, recently formed on Facebook by concerned local residents to celebrate, support and protect Walsall’s green spaces, which are under threat from a possible £400,000 cut in funding proposed by Walsall Council under draft proposals recently published, handed out leaflets and spoke to councillors during the peaceful protest.

After the protest Linda Mason, spokesperson for the group, explained that although the subject of cuts was not being debated at the meeting, it was important to keep the matter fresh in councillors’ minds and to remind them how much the borough’s green spaces and in particular the Countryside and Park Rangers mean to the people of Walsall.

The placard-waving and banner-wielding protesters numbered around a dozen and were able to engage some councillors in conversation, who in the main appeared broadly supportive.

Protesters outlined their particular concerns regarding a proposed cut in Ranger posts. Councillor Arif, representing St Matthews Ward said however: “We are not cutting any Countryside Rangers.”

Ms Mason commented to The Bloxwich Telegraph:

“Cllr Arif’s quote is most welcome to the group.

“We will continue with our campaign which also includes an online petition, now signed by the largest number of people in Walsall Council’s e-petition history, and a web site.”

The group’s online petition against the cuts will remain active on Walsall Council’s website until the end of December and can be signed via the following link: Green Spaces Petition

Concerned Walsall residents are also being invited to join the Facebook group via the following link: Facebook Group

The group’s website which includes further information can also be found at:

Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services

Countryside cuts debate begins in cyberspace

The Friends of Park Lime Pits (courtesy Linda Mason).

A group of concerned Walsall borough residents have taken a stand in cyberspace against proposed Walsall Council budget cuts which they believe will seriously affect the future of Walsall’s green spaces and Countryside Services.

The Friends of Park Lime Pits have set up a new Facebook Group to allow local people to debate these concerns in the open and to raise the profile of the cuts at the same time as Walsall Council is inviting the public to have their say on the 2013 budgetary proposals.

HAVE YOUR SAY ON CUTS

Early budget proposals which went to Walsall Council’s cabinet on 24 October are published at www.walsall.gov.uk/budgethaveyoursay and indicate that more than £13 million of savings are needed in the next financial year alone as part of £70 million worth of savings over the next four years. More than £32 million has already been ‘saved’ over the past two years.  The published proposals are set to be redrafted before the final budget is decided in February 2013.

According to the Friends of Park Lime Pits, although the fine detail is missing, £400,000 worth of cuts are being proposed for the department dealing with Walsall’s parks and open spaces.

And it is believed that should the cuts go ahead, two of four Countryside Rangers could go, along with other posts in Parks.

SAVE OUR PARKS AND COUNTRYSIDE

Linda Mason, local resident and Secretary of the Friends of Park Lime Pits decided to set up the group ‘Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services’ last Friday evening to celebrate all that is good about the much loved service and to campaign for its future existence for the benefit of future generations of Walsall.

Linda said:

“I have become aware over recent weeks through the local blogging community and also through volunteering with Friends of Park Lime Pits, of potential cuts to jobs within Countryside Services  and the effect that such cuts could have upon this much loved and respected part of the services provided by Walsall Council. I was heartened to see that within 18 hours of the group being set up there were 75 supporters.

“The group aims to put pressure on the council to reconsider the budget cuts. Countryside Services and its staff are a real asset to the town and borough and provide a wealth of expertise, commitment and hard work in maintaining, promoting and improving all green spaces and local nature reserves. Their loss would be keenly felt.”

An e-petition has been formulated and submitted to the council for approval and the Group hopes that it will be available for signature by individuals later this week.

VOLUNTARY GROUPS

Although certain voluntary community groups do help with Green Space maintenance, they can only function as effective groups with the leadership and support provided by the committed and knowledgeable staff that are currently in post. Apart from Countryside Services, parks staffing will also be cut and maintenance reduced as part of the cuts proposed.

Without these people, green spaces across Walsall borough will suffer through lack of maintenance, vision and management. As well as environmental concerns and anti-social behaviour issues, these green spaces could become places where nobody would want to visit, thereby depriving local people of much needed leisure and environmental opportunities for relaxation and a healthy living both of mind and body.

JOIN THE DEBATE

The Facebook group can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/437765136281023/

And is open for everyone to join.

Picture courtesy of Linda Mason and the Friends of Park Lime Pits.