Category Archives: Politics

Walsall to join West Midlands Combined Authority

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

Walsall Council has voted in favour of joining the West Midlands Combined Authority.

At a special council meeting on Monday 19th October, 43 councillors supported the Cabinet’s recommendations for Walsall to become a full constituent member of the Combined Authority. Six voted against, with 4 abstentions.

In doing so, Walsall joins Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Solihull and Wolverhampton local authorities as constituent members, and various local district councils and the three Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) as non constituent members in forming the WMCA. Sandwell were expected to vote on whether to join as constituent members on Tuesday 20th October.

Combined Authorities are legal bodies with powers of decision making granted by Parliament and are a new way for local authorities to work closer together on key strategic functions that cross geographical council boundaries.

Members also approved the Governance Review and Scheme which sets out the options for collaborative working and how the Combined Authority will operate and received an overview of the engagement outcomes which took place in August and early September. Walsall’s stakeholders and partners had been contacted to help them better understand the role of the WMCA.

Following Monday’s YES vote, Councillor Mike Bird, said: “Members have seriously considered the proposal in great detail and have approved for Walsall to be part of the West Midlands Combined Authority.

“This was too big an opportunity for us to miss, to be part of the biggest combined authority in the country. It’s a sensible way for us to organise ourselves.

“There are no geographical boundaries for transport and business and we already work with our neighbouring colleagues anyway but this formalises these arrangements.

“We have a good working relationship with our councils in the Black Country and this will continue that strength.”

When officially formed, the WMCA will continue its discussions with Government over devolving powers – including an investment programme, and local transport and housing powers – to the region.

To find out more about the WMCA visit www.westmidlandscombinedauthority.org.uk

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Bloxwich Labour campaigners protest the Bedroom Tax

Labour Councillors brave the harsh weather in Bloxwich to protest the bedroom tax

Local Labour Party Councillors and supporters were busy in Bloxwich on Saturday collecting  signatures from local residents on a petition in protest against the Tory/LibDem Coalition Government’s increasingly unpopular “Bedroom Tax” which was proposed by Chancellor George Osborne in his recent Budget and is expected to hit the most vulnerable hardest.

Protestors stepped out in jim-jams and dressing gowns despite the icy mini-blizzards alternating with “Spring” sunshine which blasted up and down the High Street throughout the day.

And they’ll be back in Bloxwich again this coming Saturday around noon, with a possible presence in Walsall town centre as well.

Walsall Labour Group spokesman George Makin said:

“Labour party councillors and supporters dressed in pyjamas braved the freezing cold and snow to protest against the bedroom tax which comes into affect this week. Over a dozen campaigners met on Bloxwich High Street on Saturday (30th March) to collect signatures for a petition against the Government’s cuts in housing benefit which will force low paid and unemployed people to pay up as much as an extra 25% in rent.”

Labour councillors and party members from Bloxwich, Blakenall, Leamore and Short Heath were highlighting the plight of over a thousand families in their wards who have unoccupied bedrooms. The protest came as the borough’s biggest social landlord Walsall Housing Group (whg) failed to give an assurance that tenants who fall into arrears will not be evicted.

Blakenall councillor, Anne Young, said despite the cold and snow the response from the public had been fantastic.“People understand the injustice of this tax coming in, as it does, on the same day as the government are giving thousands of millionaires a tax cut of £100,000 a year.

“Walsall has nearly 4000 households who will be hit by the bedroom tax; over a quarter of whom live in our four wards.  The Tories and Lib Dems’ Bedroom Tax tells you all you need to know about this Government. It’s hitting families of soldiers serving our country who will have to find extra money for their son or daughter’s bedroom.

“It’s making disabled people in council and housing association homes pay more when they need more space due to their disability and divorced parents whose kids come to stay are being affected. Labour are the only political party on Walsall Council fighting this.”

Labour’s Darlaston South councillor, Doug James, said the bedroom tax would lead to evictions. “Officers the 19,000-home Walsall Housing Group, estimated it has 3,476 under-occupiers who will receive a combined £2.4 million reduction in benefit payments if they remain in their homes.

“My enquires to the borough’s biggest social landlord, WHG, failed to obtain an assurance that it won’t evict tenants because of this evil tax. his is not WHG’s fault. When the council’s housing stock was transferred over to it ten years ago, the vast majority of homes were designed for families. It therefore has very little one or two bedroom properties it can move people into.

“The Government is hitting households with the bedroom tax despite admitting there aren’t enough smaller properties for tenants to move to. Instead, the Government expects families to pay extra rather than move house. This won’t solve under occupancy, but will hit low income working families, disabled people, and families of soldiers who are serving their country.

He added: “The situation has been made worse by the fact that at the last full council meeting local Tories and their Lib Dem partners voted down a Labour amendment to increase discretionary housing payments by £600,000 which would have helped families avoid losing their homes.”

Labour councillors will now present the petition at full council on April 8th as part of their continuing campaign for greater help to families.

UPDATED 17.50 1 April 2013.

Bloxwich Labour petition against the Bedroom Tax this Saturday

Labour campaigners busy collecting signatures in Bloxwich
Labour campaigners busy collecting signatures in Bloxwich last year

Bloxwich Labour Councillors and supporters will be around and about in Bloxwich tomorrow, Saturday 30th March, to collect signatures from local residents on a petition in protest against the Tory/LibDem Coalition Government’s increasingly unpopular “Bedroom Tax” which was proposed by Chancellor George Osborne in his recent Budget and is expected to hit the most vulnerable hardest.

According to a press release from the Walsall Labour Group, the number of unemployed in Walsall is now higher than when the coalition government took power and they say that evidence shows that the number is likely to climb as manufacturing industry reports a fall in output.

Walsall Labour Group spokesman George Makin said:

“On the same day the chancellor, George Osborne, announced his budget, the Office for National Statistics revealed that the number of people claiming job seeker’s allowance in February rose to 10,565,  compared to 9,533 in July 2010 when the government introduced its austerity measures.

“They follow the publication earlier this month of figures showing manufacturing industry nationally reported only 0.1% growth in the last quarter – sparking fears of a triple dip recession since the government took power.”

Describing the latest figures as ‘deeply worrying’ Labour group leader on Walsall council, Cllr Tim Oliver, said:

“We are facing a bleak future with no sign of a light at the end of the tunnel. For every job centre vacancy there are five people claiming job seeker allowance.

“Manufacturing industry in Walsall accounts for approximately 13 per cent of jobs in the borough so the fall in output hits us badly, while over 30 per cent are in the public sector which is being savaged by the government’s austerity programme. In retail we have the second highest rate of void shops in the country – the only growth is in the number of payday loan firms and pawnbrokers who are opening premises in the borough.  Nothing that the chancellor has announced will tackle these problems.

“Both in national government and in Walsall Council we have Tory/Lib Dem coalitions that refuse to accept their polices are not working or even to accept that their cuts are making matters worse not better.”

“We believe that instead the government should invest in growth, and that support should be given to those who are being hardest hit by the economic downturn. Scrapping the bedroom tax and looking again at the costs to families of all the benefits changes should be a priority before giving tax cuts to the richest people in the country.”

Bloxwich Labour Councillors are expected to set up in Bloxwich Market Place and will also likely be seen up and down the High Street tomorrow.

New Bloxwich Labour councillor makes education her priority

Cllr Patti Lane (Picture: George Makin).
Cllr Patti Lane (Picture: George Makin).

Bloxwich West’s newest Labour councillor, Patti Lane, will make education her priority after a closely fought by-election which she won with over 50 percent of the vote.

The retired primary school teacher out-polled Conservative, UKIP and Liberal Democrat candidates with a majority of 266, increasing the party’s share of the vote and overall majority.

She won the seat at the election on 15th November after popular Councillor Sue Fletcher-Hall stepped down for personal reasons.

Cllr Lane, a mother of three, told The Bloxwich Telegraph that her victory was a rejection of the Tory/Lib Dems coalition which runs Walsall council.

She said:

“The people of Bloxwich West have clearly rejected the disproportionate cuts the government, and its supporters in Walsall council, are forcing on local authorities.

“As a former teacher I will make education and care of our local children a priority.

“But campaigning on the doorstep it was clear that people are concerned that cuts in police numbers and council services like park wardens, will see an increase in anti-social behaviour and crime.

“Another issue of concern is the terrible state of the roads and pavements in areas like Mossely, which have been neglected and under funded for some time.

“I want to thank all those people who voted for me, and a great campaigning team, for their support and over the coming weeks and months I am looking forward to holding regular surgeries and visiting community groups to see how I  and the Labour Party can improve peoples’ lives in the ward.”

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

Editorial: Police and Crime Commissioner election today

Commissioner Gordon, PCC candidate for the Walsall Boro of Gotham City.

Call me a hairy old cynic if you like (and all of those terms may well be true), but the imminent prospect of giving yet another distant and probably rather deaf politician a leg-up onto the Gravy Train does not exactly fill me with glee – however this is the opportunity which has been gifted to all of us of voting age by the rampant racketeers running the show from Number 10 down in Londinium, oh chums.

Yes, for those of you who haven’t noticed (and who could blame you, bearing in mind the late and rather skimpy information about candidates made available?) you may be interested to know that the Bat-Signal has finally gone up over Brummagem, heralding the election for the new Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands (aka Greater Brummagem) which takes place today (Thursday 15th November) at a polling station near you.

Once the election has concluded and the results announced, the PCCs, for short, will replace police authorities currently in charge of 41 police forces in England and Wales.  They will have wide powers of oversight, being responsible for setting priorities for their police force, overseeing its budget and hiring the chief constable – but not, it is said, over the day-to-day operation of local policing.  In other words, they’ll be busy wasting police time, an activity for which us ordinary Gothamites would be banged in the slammer or relieved of a whole heap of moolah.

But seriously folks, it is remotely possible that they will have some influence over the desperate cuts that are disturbing the peace in cop shops across the nation, so this is worth bearing in mind.  On the other hand, depending on their political colour, they may be only too keen to preside over a criminal record of cuts, maybe even replacing our much-loved local rozzers with rusty Robocops like we’ve seen in so many libraries of late…

Those PCC’s in the most extensive police force areas – and Greater Brummagem is presumably one of these – will be paid salaries of more than £100,000 – and no prior police force experience is needed, which seems rather a novelty for such an apparently complex and influential job.  But then, it also seems that neither MP’s nor government Ministers need to know anything about running a country either, so why not?

Will this whole shebang be worth more than a hill o’ beans in the end?  Or will the Government continue to Kapow our local bobbies till all we have left of our excellent Walsall Police force is a Tardis, a part-time PCSO and a com-BAT-trained Chihuahua?

Well, as far as voting goes at least, the choice is yours in the end – this is a democracy, after all (allegedly).  And just in case you don’t believe, as do some less charitable folk, that the whole business is just another cynical ploy to enable politicians to gain more power over both plod and plebs alike, it seems only right that we point you in the direction of some useful background info about the candidates for this exercise in ‘regional’ democracy (what do you mean, you wish we were back in Staffordshire?).

The candidates for the West Midlands Police PCC are (or were, in one case):

  • Matt Bennett – Conservative
  • Ray Egan – Independent (CANDIDATE HAS WITHDRAWN)
  • Bill Etheridge – UKIP
  • Cath Hannon – Independent
  • Bob Jones – Labour
  • Ayoub Khan – Liberal Democrat
  • Mike Rumble – Independent
  • Bishop Derek Webley – Independent

If you haven’t received a leaflet about the candidates through your door, you may find the following sites useful for background to help you make your choice more informed, should you wish to vote:

http://www.westmidlandspcc.info/candidates/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-19544007

Whether you’re excited or not at the prospect of replacing a gaggle of overpaid, faceless bureaucrats with a single, slightly less faceless, overpaid  bureaucrat (remember none of these PCC candidates are from Walsall, the nearest is a denizen of Wolverhampton) who may or may not have a political axe to grind, you may at least like the idea of more alleged accountability over police policy and funding, if not more accountability over the police themselves.  On that basis, perhaps it may be worth voting after all.

Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way – and if only 10% turn out for the vote, that can hardly be a victory for democracy, or accountability,can it?

Personally, I think I may just spend the day digging guano out of the Bloxwich Bat-cave…

Dear Citizens of Greater Brummagem, your comments are most welcome (but keep ’em clean!).

Going loco, down in Little Blocko...

Stuart Williams, Editor

Surprise by-election in Bloxwich as Councillor resigns

Cllr Sue Fletcher-Hall with David Winnick MP (pic by Stuart Williams)
Cllr Sue Fletcher-Hall with David Winnick MP (pic by Stuart Williams)

An unexpected by-election has been called in the Bloxwich West ward by Walsall Council’s Labour Group, following the resignation of popular local Labour Councillor Sue Ann Fletcher-Hall.

Mrs Fletcher-Hall, who was elected in the May 2011 local government election,  has reluctantly decided to step down due to a family illness, and regrets having to resign but circumstances now prevent her giving the level of commitment the demanding role of a ward councillor requires; coping with constituency work and family life has proven to be incompatible with the job.

Councillor Fletcher-Hall, who has been very active in Labour campaigns in Bloxwich and Walsall, said:

“It has been a huge privilege to serve my fellow residents here in Bloxwich West. Unfortunately for some months I have been struggling with an illness in my family which has taken a great deal of my attention.

She added:

“I have always believed that a local councillor must be able to commit to representing the people of their ward. That is why I believe it is now in the best interests of Bloxwich West residents that I step aside. I am proud to have represented my area and proud to have stood with Walsall Labour in fighting the unfair cuts and out-of-touch policies of the Tory administration here and nationally”.

Mrs Fletcher-Hall, who lives in Clarendon Street, has proven to be an asset to both the local community and the party, according to Labour Group spokesman George Makin.

Formally calling the by-election on behalf of the group, fellow Bloxwich West Councillor Fred Westley thanked Sue for her support:

“By calling for a by-election straightaway we have avoided additional costs to Walsall council, as the election will now be held on the same day as the elections for a Police and Crime Commissioner, which will see polling stations open across the borough.”

Labour ward members will now select their candidate, ready for the November by-election, before beginning their campaign.

For more information about Walsall Council’s Labour Group, see their website:

Walsall Council Labour Group

Walsall Labour call to ban EDL demonstration

Cllr Tim Oliver
Cllr Tim Oliver

A senior Labour councillor is calling for a demonstration In Walsall by the far-right English Defence League to be banned by the Home Secretary.

Councillor Tim Oliver, Labour group leader on Walsall Council, said the alleged race hate group’s plan to come to the borough on 29 September was nothing but an attempt to intimidate the local Muslim community.

Posters on Twitter and Facebook have said the EDL Leader ‘Tommy Robinson’, real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, would be attending.

Cllr Oliver said at present it is unclear if the group plans to hold a static demonstration, which police are powerless to prevent; in which case he will ask the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to use her powers to ban it.

Stressing the anti-Muslim group was not wanted in Walsall, Cllr Tim Oliver said:

“We have a good record of community relations in the borough based on mutual respect and tolerance.

“Past demonstrations by this rag-bag group of racists and football hooligans have time and time again ended in violence, public disorder and assaults on police officers and members of the public.

“The EDL is a race hate group who are deliberately confrontational. In the past they have caused major trouble in Birmingham and Dudley and we simply don’t want them in Walsall.”

Cllr Oliver added he would ask the leaders’ of Walsall Council’s other political parties to join him in asking the Home Secretary to prevent the demonstration going ahead.

For more information on Walsall Council Labour Group or to contact the group, follow this link.

Walsall North MP quizzes G4S boss in Select Committee

David Winnick, MP.

The House of Commons today saw humiliating scenes in the latest Select Committee session as members, including respected Walsall North MP David Winnick, took turns to tear strips off G4S chief executive Nick Buckles.

Mr Buckles is the highly paid boss (£825,000) of the highly profitable private security firm with 660,000 employees,  making it the world’s third largest employer.   It has over £600 million worth of Home Office contracts, including prisons and some privatised police back office staff, as well as NHS contracts.

He was appearing before the committee cap in hand to account for the company’s disastrous handling of their preparations for London 2012 Olympics security, including a predicted shortfall of more than 3,000 trained staff.

Buckles candidly admitted that he should never have signed the contract to provide security for the now-imminent Olympics, as MPs lined up to brand him as “incompetent” and “amateurish”.

Labour MP David Winnick, who has served our constituency since 1979 and is often seen about Bloxwich and district when not in the House, said to Buckles: “It’s a humiliating shambles for the company isn’t it?”

Shamefaced, Buckles replied: “I cannot disagree with you.”

Buckles later stated that he learned of the problems filling vacancies in the huge security team on 3 July, but only told the Olympic Security Board on 11 July.

The G4S boss further admitted that he could not even guarantee that ‘security’ personnel would turn up on the first day of the games and that his skin had in effect been saved by last-minute police and military support, despite many of these dedicated public servants facing potential redundancy and reductions in pay due to swingeing government cuts and pension changes.

Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the committee, put it to the CEO that Buckles could not give the committee the assurances it sought.  Buckles admitted “I can’t, no.”

Vaz went on to ask the G4S boss if he would waive the firm’s £57 million management fee as well as the £50 million loss it would now be making on the contract, but despite later telling MPs he was “deeply disappointed and embarrassed” by the failure to satisfy the contract, he was clearly insufficiently embarrassed to acknowledge the fact financially, insisting that he would not.

Mr Vaz was aghast at this, saying “Why? You haven’t managed. I find that astonishing.”

Buckles was subsequently reminded by the cross-party Select Committee of his appearance in an interview at the weekend, during which didn’t seem to even be sure whether Olympic games security staff needed to be able to speak fluent English to work there.

The G4S boss had to admit he didn’t know what ‘fluent English’ meant, and this resulted in mocking laughter from committee members.

During the session, emails from G4S employees were read out, complaining of harsh treatment by the firm, being made to pay for uniforms and training and being kept uninformed about when they would be required to work at the games.

Mr Winnick struck home again at this point, saying to Buckles sardonically “It doesn’t sound like a caring and well-managed operation does it?”

Coalition Home Secretary Theresa May, who also has questions to answer about when she knew of the G4S failings, is to be interviewed by the committee in September, after the Olympic games have concluded.

Going to the Polls in Bloxwich, Blakenall and Birchills-Leamore

 

Election Question

One week today sees what may be the deciding round in the current close fight for overall control of Walsall Council, as a third of Councillors across the borough go to the polls to test both the popularity or otherwise of their parties and the appreciation or not of local people for the work they do, both on their own ‘patch’ and in the Council Chamber.

The current composition of Walsall Council is shown on Wikipedia via this link.  As you can see, after the 2011 elections the Conservative Party currently holds 28 seats, down from 33 in 2010; last year Labour leapt from 18 seats to 26; and distant runners-up the Liberal Democrats lost 1 seat, knocking them back from 6 to just 5, with 1 ‘other’ making up the numbers in Lichfield Street. 

The Poll will take place on Thursday, 3 May between 7am – 10pm, and apart from national politics and traditional allegiances which always have an effect, some of the biggest issues in local voters’ minds are bound to be controversial Council cuts and Councillors’ allowances, not to mention the state of the local economy, jobs, potholes – and parking!

Personalities are also going to be a factor in some quarters, as well as surprise changes of allegiance; for example former long-serving Bloxwich East Conservative Les Beeley is  turning out as an Independent this time, while new Tory on the block Peter Hyruk is being parachuted in to compete against him and the resurgent Labour vote in the Grand Duchy, including popular Bloxwich East  incumbent Julie Fitzpatrick. 

Mr Beeley had previously been defeated in May 2011 by Shaun Fitzpatrick of Walsall Labour, and in a double-whammy later that year Mrs Fitzpatrick stormed ahead to win for Labour in the by-election which followed the death of long-serving Tory Bill Tweddle.

The big question is, can an apparently revitalised Walsall Labour Party take more seats from both the Tories and the few remaining Liberal Democrats, gaining overall control of the Council House, or will the Conservatives bounce back? 

The margin is a narrow one, and much will depend on who can motivate their voters best, as turnout in such local elections is notoriously poor.  The Bloxwich Telegraph will watch with interest, and report back on the results, fresh from the fray!

For Polling Stations and various other details including Candidates and their addresses borough-wide, see the pdf DOWNLOAD on Walsall Council’s website via this link

If you do not already know your Polling Station, then do check this list, as some of them have been changed from the last election, notably in Bloxwich East where voting has been moved from Lower Farm Primary School to Holy Ascension Church this time around.

A brief list of candidates in our own area, by Ward:

BIRCHILLS-LEAMORE Ward

Bob Ball                                         British National Party

Leandra Gebrakedan                  Green Party

Matthew Conway Griffin               Liberal Democrat

Tina Joan Jukes                            Labour Party

Chris Newey                                  English Democrats

Chad Louis Pitt                             Conservative Party

BLAKENALL Ward

Hilda Derry                                     Conservative Party

Ian Charles Robertson                  Labour and Co-operative Party

Pete Smith                                     No party indicated

BLOXWICH EAST Ward

Steve Baggott                                No party indicated

Les Beeley                                     Independent

Julie Fitzpatrick                              Labour Party

Peter John Hyruk                           Conservative Party

BLOXWICH WEST Ward

Christine Cockayne                       Liberal Democrats

Abi Pitt                                            Conservative Party

Mick Ross                                       No party indicated

Fred Westley                                  Labour Party