Today, Walsall Council’s press office belched out a press release that is already causing some controversy in the Walsall blog community. I genuinely feel pain for the poor scribe who must surely have been coerced to write it under threat of violence, for they surely cannot have done so by their own freewill.
Walsall Council PR 5807 11/01/2011 [For Immediate Release]
Pledge issued for future of libraries
A review of libraries will see an improved service ‘ready to meet the needs of the 21st century’, a senior councillor has pledged
Walsall Council looks after 16 libraries with only three – Blakenall, Brownhills and Walsall Wood – built in the last 20 years.
A major review has now been ordered into the future of the library service.
Councillor Anthony Harris, Walsall Council cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: “We live in uncertain times and some difficult decisions are being taken up and down the country.
“We’re no different here in Walsall and we must take a hard look at our library service.
“We need a library service that is fit for the 21st century and not to carry on with one that we have inherited.
“Libraries are changing places and, although they are still about books and information, they now need to be about online services, ICT skills, digital learning and new services and technologies that were simply not around to such an extent 10 or 20 years ago.
“This is not about buildings. It’s about the service. We want an improved service and I’m giving a pledge that this review will see an improved library service that is ready to meet the needs of the 21st century.”
Indications show that six of the 16 libraries may close but the locations will only be decided after the review, library chiefs say.
“We are not able to identify the locations which may be affected until the review is finished but we’re optimistic we will offer an improved service,” Councillor Harris added.
No indication of any job losses can be given until the process is carried out, library chiefs say.
Residents will be canvassed for their views as part of the review process.
Apart from the blatant and intelligence insulting spin from Councillor ‘Scream if you want to go faster’ Harris – whose ruling party inherited a perfectly fine library system well over a decade ago – there is the vexed question of how a service can possibly be improved by closing over a third of it. Much has, and will be said about this overt and ignorant destruction of our social heritage undertaken by people clearly not in possession of enough education to understand the vandalism they’re engaged in. That they follow the national government agenda blindly, without protest or complaint, shows well enough that the cabinet in Walsall don’t care for our borough, it’s culture, people or history. Those in charge would rather limit access to literacy and literary education for the least well off than cut the amount they allocate to consultants, councillor allowances or failed attempts at property development.
There’s an unusually harsh article on the Express & Star website about this announcement, many of the initial reader comments on which illustrate wonderfully the perils of literary ignorance.
There’s much that is troubling me about the political and civic situation in Walsall at the moment – the gaffe-prone leader with a charisma bypass, a cabinet absolutely and silently supine before their leader, a press office that looks more like communist era Pravda than a civic communication facility – but most of all, I’m concerned that there’s no organised opposition in evidence. None whatsoever.
Willenhall Liberal Democrat Councillor Ian Shires will probably have something to say – but since his group started this whole mess rolling by partnering with the Tories some years ago, before being kicked from under the communal duvet, any condemnation will ring pretty hollow to those with any knowledge of Walsall political history. Bob-a-job, rent a quote, lone wolf Democratic Labour Councillor Peter Smith may well draft an angry letter or two to the press, and bag a photo opportunity if he can. after all, he did ask the question that led to this statement being issued. Any opposition is good, and I would certainly get behind him for that. One thing seems certain, though – Councillor Tim Oliver, head of the Labour group – will continue to be invisible, his uniquely low refractive index similarly cloaking his group. One thing that is desperately needed at times like this is an incisive, hungry, lupine opposition with a keen eye and sharp tongue. What we appear to have is akin to a partially sighted, arthritic old labrador with room-clearing flatulence. Councillor Oliver will not engage with the media, cyberspace or the opposition. At times like this it is vital that good councillors are supported and engaged by their leader. Instead, we have a Labour group with some excellent, community focussed members – Like Brownhills’ own Barbara Cassidy – barely visible in the press, and whose voices are just not being heard.
This situation is a disgrace. The failure to engage at such a critical time is nothing less than a tragedy. Dereliction of what should be considered a public responsibility – to stand up and be counted – is allowing a right wing, ideological slash-and-burn agenda to flourish and the wildest, maddest of spin to be carried forth as fact. The opposition in Walsall – and particularly the Labour Group – need to find their voice, and find it fast. If their leader is incapable of taking the fight to the sophists and butchers in charge, then they must find one who can. This is not a time to stand idly by as our civic pride is destroyed.
What is happening now will scar this borough – and our country – for decades to come. We are allowing institutions and services that took centuries to assemble to be taken apart, almost overnight. We need people with voices strong enough to be heard, to communicate and to engage. Without them, we’re sunk.