Sunday, April 22, 2012
“YOUR VOICE IN TOUGH TIMES”
THE WALSALL LABOUR MANIFESTO FOR THE 2012 COUNCIL ELECTIONS
The Conservative government has let down people in the borough of Walsall - with the backing of the Liberal Democrats. And the local Tories are not standing up for local people.
The people of the distinct and proud communities that make up our borough have a history of hard work, independence and self-reliance which made it a watch word for craftsmanship, high quality and innovation. The term “Made in Walsall” was something looked for, and to be proud of. That accolade was earned by the endeavors of its people; by their industry, their vision, their determination not to just make do or accept that “it is good enough”, because they wanted better for themselves and their children.
But during the industrial decline of the 1980s our borough has seen the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, our wages fell well below the national and regional average - and remain so. Our public health has split into an east / west divide where those in the more deprived areas die, on average, eight years earlier than those in the leafy suburbs. Our education system lags behind the rest of the country in almost every significant aspect.
Between 1997 and 2010, the Labour government made good on its pledges to invest in health, in education, in jobs and economic growth. . With the support of the Labour government, we have a new hospital, a new college and there was a chance that our manufacturing industry might be able to start to grow again. But from 2000 the borough has been controlled by the Conservatives with, at times, support from the Lib Dems, and the opportunities of that economic growth were too often wasted.
Now with a Conservative-led national government, supported by the Liberal Democrats, we have seen a return to mass unemployment, cuts in health and education, and a manufacturing industry struggling to survive. Since being elected this government has cut a staggering £100 million from our council’s budget. On top of this, there are cuts in our NHS, in our police and emergency services. There have been wholesale reductions in services to the elderly, disabled and the most deprived.
For hardworking families home re-possession has become a constant fear as they struggle to pay the bills, while our town centre now hits the headlines - not for the quality for its goods, but for its record number of empty shops.
While other councils around the country - including Conservative run authorities - have spoken up and tried to defend their communities against savage cuts, our council has meekly accepted these attacks on the services we rely on. Local Tories tell us that Walsall has to be run like a business. Well if that is true then under their leadership the borough increasingly resembles a shop with empty shelves whose political management settles for second best - whilst it should be remembered has for the last two years tried to give itself a pay rise.
But this year, in 2012, we have the opportunity to change how our borough is run. We have a chance in May’s elections to get rid of the incompetent Tory management and their Lib Dem supporters.
A Labour run council cannot change the economic policy of a Government run by ex-Eton schoolboys who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. But at every opportunity we will defend our borough and its people. And for starters, a Labour council will cut the councillors’ allowance bill by £50,000.
Over the next two years a Labour run Walsall council will make sure the needs of its most vulnerable clients and communities and the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods are protected. It will fight to use regeneration schemes to bring high skilled, high paid jobs to the borough. It will seek to organise education so that children from Suretstart to Sixth Form share in the best practice and most effective support so all our youngsters can move forward and none are left behind. In social care we will demand and deliver a fair and sympathetic approach to needs assessments of the disabled and the elderly. We will turn the council’s £900,000 communication’s unit into a tool that doesn’t tell people how well the council’s political leaders think they are doing, but instead asks voters, ‘how can we do better?’
Who will now dare to tell us that "We are all in this together" ?
FINANCE AND GOVERNANCE
Fairness in service delivery, ensuring equality in resources, cutting waste and delivering better governance starting at the top.
The Conservative budget cuts go too far and too fast, are disproportionate to local government as a whole and to our borough in particular. Furthermore a wide range of studies show that Walsall and the Black Country are amongst the least resilient areas across the country, in terms of the impact on our local economy, increases in unemployment, house re-possessions, rising child poverty - and all the social challenges which will inevitably follow.
The primary role of a Walsall Labour council will be to defend our local communities in the face of the “bankers’ recession”. We recognise that our borough needs financial stability - it would help none of our disadvantaged communities to have a bankrupt council.
We will address widespread elements of unfairness and inequalities currently present in the allocation of resources in all areas of life in Walsall. We recognise that the current central Government is cutting support for Walsall. We must therefore use current funds as effectively as possible, look at every opportunity to develop new funding streams for Walsall, use high-level negotiating skills before signing any contracts, and merge fragmented services where possible into a single commissioning contract. We will place the vital contribution of the voluntary sector at the heart of our strategic plan for Walsall.
Labour will therefore undertake a “root and branch” review of council structures and external contracts, in order to create “value for money” and the flexibility and finance to invest in our local neighbourhoods.
Furthermore the following policy priorities and principles should underpin the implementation of budget decisions :
• to protect the needs of the most vulnerable clients and communities
• to protect services within the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Our local Conservatives often tell us that our council should be run as a business. However during their decade in power it is well documented that in excess of £30 million has been lost through errors, misjudgements, project overspends and mismanagement - monies which in other circumstances would have been in our financial reserves and available for use in tough times.
Walsall Labour will give greater priority to the Council’s audit committee and function, with greater emphasis on independent advice and participation. We will improve the accountability of Cabinet decisions, with all relevant minutes reported to full council meetings.
Walsall Labour will revise the current Councillor allowance scheme, within an overall budget reduction of £50,000 over the two year council term.
We would retain a positive “critical friend” relationships and “open door” policy with local trade unions - and will support national not local pay bargaining. Whilst we are unable to make unrealistic promises in the economic circumstance of local government, we also share many common interests.
CHILDREN, YOUNG PEOPLE AND EDUCATION
Shaping futures for our youngsters, protecting our children, supporting families and building stepping stones for successful lives.
There is much to celebrate and be proud of in the achievements of our children and young people. But the sad fact remains that Walsall’s performance in terms of academic attainment remains well below the national average. Despite recent welcome improvements at key stages 2 (age 11) and 4 (GCSE / O-level), our borough is currently ranked nationally at 144 out of 151 councils at both early years / foundation stage and key stage 5 (A-level). Furthermore attainment is very patchy, with outcomes in the most disadvantaged areas proving year on year that there has been insufficient investment and resources.
Many of our schools across the borough are being forced into academy status. We worry that this is not based on any evidence of educational advantage, but on political dogma. Academy and “free” schools are accountable only to the Secretary of State, which leaves a vacuum in local leadership and responsibility.
Whilst Labour agrees that the SERCO contract is no longer viable in the face of these policy changes (and indeed opposed the extension of the contract in 2008) we have major concerns about the potential vacuum between the local authority and local schools. We strongly believe that there is a responsibility to support, monitor and scrutinise education and schools across the borough whatever their status - both within and without of the local authority family.
We would therefore develop an educational partnership to understand and oversee educational performance and attainment, health and well-being, progress and prospects for our children and young people at all stages of their development. We believe that there remains a crucial need for strategic leadership at a council level, to support local children, parents and families to achieve the best start in life.
Walsall Labour welcomes the continuing local commitment to Surestart programmes for young children and their families. We will ensure that good practice and partnership working are shared across the sector to improve support to challenging families and personal development and performance within nursery and early years settings.
We will ensure that young people are provided with a suitable range of sport and other positive activities. We will also work closely with and recognise the importance of the key role our voluntary sector plays in helping to achieve positive outcomes for young people. This must be balanced with reassurance that anti-social behaviour will be firmly tackled within the wider context of neighbourhood management and community safety.
SOCIAL CARE AND HEALTH
Protecting our elderly and vulnerable, fighting health poverty, defending OUR NHS
Provision of effective and efficient social care and health are at the heart of a caring society. Inequality, disadvantage and poverty are major determinants as to quality of life and health enjoyed by local people across Walsall.
It is recognised that there are increasing demographic pressures on budgets, both through the increasing numbers of elderly people and the very high numbers of people in Walsall with long-term illness and conditions. Labour supports the important principle of preventative measures to assist people to live as independently as possible, caring for people as close to home as possible, along with the crucial importance of integrated working between social care and NHS services.
However government policy has also forced major budget pressures being implemented in Social Care, which already in Walsall indicate savings since 2010 of over £40 million, which is equivalent to nearly 30% of the initial budget. Furthermore the dogmatic pursuit of the current so-called "reform" of the NHS has led to massive uncertainty as to the future.
Walsall Labour will ensure that a free community alarm / telecare service is available to all residents over 80 years of age resident in the Borough, and will investigate the possible extension of this provision to other vulnerable adults.
We will amend the current benefits-based charging policy so as to ensure that service users no longer have to pay for services which they do not receive.
We will ensure improvements in relation to :
• a fair but sympathetic approach to needs assessments,
• better communication with service users, including charging formats
• named person contacts to provide continuity and assurance.
We will campaign against privatisation of the NHS, and in the short-term retain a separate health scrutiny function within council structures. We will work to retain joined-up commissioning approaches with NHS partners, including a wide range of general services and including mental health and learning disability, and support the establishment of a strong health and well-being board, able to scrutinise and challenge commissioning decisions.
Creating skilled jobs, fighting low pay and low expectations, building for the future, protecting our environment
The past ten years of Conservative and Lib-Dem administration in Walsall has yielded little for our most vulnerable communities. They have relied too heavily on major projects to the detriment of our district centres and our most deprived neighbourhoods. Walsall’s Meanwhile the Conservative-led administration has continually taken advantage of the Labour governments’ commitment to spend money on regeneration, claiming credit for millions of government spending on projects such as the ring road, Walsall Manor Hospital, Walsall College - and £50 million alone in the Bloxwich New Deal Area.
Since the Coalition Government came into power, Walsall’s Conservative-led council has fully supported a package of cuts that are now starting to have a negative impact on our most vulnerable residents. The demise of the Future Jobs Fund Training Scheme and the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance have inflicted extreme hardship on young people, with youth unemployment at a level not seen since the early 1980s.
The Conservative-led council’s regeneration strategy has led to a Walsall town centre that is disjointed, unfocused, and full of abandoned retail premises. Walsall Conservative’s housing strategy is in disarray, failing to deliver on the much-needed affordable family homes that they promised, with district centres - the very towns that make up Walsall - starved of investment.
Walsall Labour will ensure that this picture is reversed, by using council assets to support growth in the economy, creating much needed employment. We will work closely with our colleagues across the Black Country to ensure that the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership delivers the sustainable re-development of the Darlaston / Walsall enterprise zone.
We will ensure that Walsall Adult and Community College is neighbourhood-focused and works more closely in a sustainable partnership with our Voluntary and Community sector - so that the skills gap is closed and that everyone gets the opportunity to better themselves without prejudice to where they live.
New models of housing investment will be developed to ensure families and individuals have adequate housing and choices of tenure, and we will develop more co-operative housing models to ensure tenants are empowered to take control of their communities.
Walsall Labour will:
• support young people into work
• create housing co-operatives
• deliver regeneration of Darlaston / Walsall enterprise zone
• work with local businesses toward sustainable and skilled employment
• encourage housing developments that meet the needs of our residents
• ensure our college supports our commitment to neighbourhood regeneration.
ENVIRONMENT (TRANSPORT AND PLANNING)
Supporting and encouraging businesses and investment, delivering cleaner and greener communities, review parking charges and stop discouraging motorists and visitors, making planning work for communities by listening and acting on residents’ views.
Recycling has always been high on the agenda for Walsall, and government targets have continually encouraged the council to do what is right for the environment in local and global terms. But under the savage cuts in local government spending, the pressure will be on to change service delivery to suit limited budgets instead of what is right for the community.
Cleaner streets are what local people expect from a good local council. Unfortunately the Conservative-led council have failed to listen to Labour pleas to provide a fair and equal service across our borough. Often this leaves many of our communities abandoned to rubbish and fly tipping as a normal daily experience, whilst lack of meaningful enforcement has led to our streets becoming blighted. We believe is unacceptable.
Transport in Walsall has benefited from major investment during the Labour Government years, but local decision-making by the Conservative-led council oversaw massive overspends on the ring road, putting pressure on other local road repair projects and inadequately dealing with potholes.
The Conservative-led council has continually failed to play a full role regionally, allowing other areas to get major investment in rail and road projects, with no sign of any metro line coming into our borough.
We welcome the principles of the localism agenda by the Government and will support any legislation that puts planning decisions closer to the communities it effects ; however we also recognise the negative view that this may mitigate to oppose planning applications rather than supporting positive change. We believe that planning is a tool to allow neighbourhoods to regenerate and the local economy to grow, and thus will take a more positive stance to enable communities to work together to ensure that new developments and regeneration are neighbourhood-based and supported through our Neighbourhood Management model.
Walsall Labour will :
• ensure recycling is affordable and accessible to all our neighbourhoods
• make neighbourhoods cleaner and greener, where necessary through the use of more effective enforcement powers
• ensure Walsall gets its fair share of investment in our roads and public transport
• review Walsall town centre car parking
• make planning work for communities
• bring decision making back to local people and empower people to play an active role and take pride in their borough.
Fighting crime , creating safe communities, acting on residents’ concerns, listening to peoples’ needs not telling them what they should want!
Following many years of campaigning by Walsall Labour for the introduction of a Neighbourhood Management model of working in Walsall, the Conservative administration finally caved in and introduced it. We welcomed the better partnership working that this change brought and the impact it had on our neighbourhoods. Unfortunately they neglected one of the most important parts of Neighbourhood Management - that is our residents.
So many things that are important to people happens on their door step and affect them daily. Our Police service is based on neighbourhoods, our schools are based in neighbourhoods, our doctors are in our neighbourhoods - and our neighbourhoods are made up of people. So why does the council finally get all the services working together, but then make it difficult for YOU - the people that matter - to influence how those services work on your behalf ?
Crime and anti-social behaviour happens in our streets and our neighbourhoods ; fly tipping and litter happens in our streets and our neighbourhoods. Our homes, our streets and our neighbourhoods are crucial to our quality of life. Walsall Labour believes that this is where services should be targeted and where people can have a real say in how our council works.
Walsall Labour believes that the regeneration of our communities should be delivered within our neighbourhoods, allowing residents to take control of their own destiny and supporting them to make their neighbourhood the best it can be.
Walsall Labour will :
• develop the Neighbourhood Management model to benefit the most vulnerable
• make residents equal partners in service delivery
• build better partnerships to tackle anti-social behaviour, crime and make our neighbourhoods safer to live in
• support the Voluntary and Community Sector in delivering better services for people
• put people first.
published by electornic means by Ian Roibertson 87 Belvidere Road Walsall WS1 3AU