Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

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Walsall Council – Virtual meetings, first tentative steps

by Ian Shires on 18 May, 2020

Walsall Council takes its first tentative steps into the new world of virtual meetings.

Walsall’s all Tory Cabinet meets tomorrow Tuesday 19 May followed on Thursday 21 May by Scrutiny Overview Committee. The latter will be the first time since Lockdown Legislation that opposition Councillors have had to challenge and question some of the many decisions that have been taken behind closed doors under the emergency regulations.

In another first, residents of Walsall can see for themselves what happens at council meetings, something we as Liberal Democrats have been pressing for for a long time. Links to these meetings:

    • Cabinet, Tuesday 19 May @ 4.00 pm: https://bit.ly/3cJ0pRJ
    • Scrutiny Overview, Thursday 21 May @ 4.30 pm:  https://bit.ly/36dAJu6

The full effect of COVID-19 on the residents of Walsall begin to unfold as you read through the reports to Cabinet which were published online last week: – https://bit.ly/2AqBNyP

Speaking ahead of meeting, opposition Councillor and Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group Ian Shires said:

“We knew things were bad but the effects of the ongoing austerity measures imposed by the Conservative Government since 2015 and continuing to be implemented by the current Conservative Administration on Walsall Council have obviously had a dramatic effect on the ability of the Council to respond to something as devastating as COVID-19.

“One look at the opening paragraph of the Corporate Financial Performance report at Agenda Item 10 https://bit.ly/3bxk1qu where it refers to Covid-19 impacting on the budget savings approved by Cabinet only in February of this year. Without doubt there is every reason to expect the council to be in serious financial difficulties before September.”

Add to this Boris Johnson’s change of direction last weekend when Stay Safe became Stay Alert and the PM dropped the return to work bombshell totally out of the blue onto an already stretched local government network and you can begin to see why there is concern for the financial security of many councils including right here in Walsall.

There had been no consultation with local councils on the relaxing of Lockdown who are expected to manage the implications which will include the re-opening of primary schools in June. Is it any wonder that we have concerns about the Council’s finances.

Council meetings were suspended by Parliament under the COVID-19 Emergency Legislation back on the 23 March. As a result Opposition Councillors have had no opportunity to challenge or hold the Council’s Tory Leadership to account since then.

Cabinet is a one party committee with no one to challenge them at the meeting it would be a surprise if those of you watching on YouTube aren’t treated to a rousing round of back slapping self-congratulation as Walsall’s first ever remote public meeting gets underway tomorrow.

There is no doubt that great deal of good work has been achieved over the past 8 weeks or so since the Lockdown Legislation came into force back on 23 March. Much of what has been achieved has been as a result of the many who have volunteered to help, together with the daily actions of dedicated people working across the public sector, local businesses, Community Associations and religious organisations, all have stepped up to the mark in this time of need.

At the beginning of the crisis people made comparisons between the fight against COVID-19 to that of World War Two. Certainly the threat to our way of life is there. However, on the political front it was a very different picture. Back in the war years the then Prime Minister Winston Churchill recognised the need for a Government of National Unity with all political parties actively involved in the decision making process which would eventually lead to victory in 1945.

In the fight against COVID-19, the Leadership of the Tory Party has carefully manipulated the messages they have fed through the Nation’s media in order to hide the many mistakes and shortcomings of their policies which have left this country totally unprepared for the fight against this deadly disease.

The actions of Prime Minister Johnson and his Cabinet has brought a real challenge to our democracy turning us into a one–party state with the closing down of Parliament and all Council meetings leaving no way for opposition politicians to hold the Tories to account. Today we even hear he is considering doing away with those bodies that dare to question him. In particular Public Health England has been mentioned.

Here in Walsall the we offered to put Party politics aside and work with the other two Parties in the best interests of the people. The Leader of the Council turned the idea down flat. He preferred to play Party politics when all we wanted was unity. Only they had the answers. Time will tell who was right and who was wrong.

 

 

 

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