Things seem to be going a bit awry at Walsall Council of late.
I notice from a report in yesterday’s Walsall Express & Star that park rangers in Walsall will be cut in April 2013 from 23 to 10 posts. This is despite a theoretically ongoing ‘budget consultation’, and totally contrary to statements made to Linda Mason and Roger Jones, of Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services, by Walsall Council officers Jamie Morris and Mark Holden.
The report in the Express & Star is so far removed from what Linda and Roger were told that it appears that they were deliberately misled in a somewhat misguided attempt to appease the opposition. I’ve got news for the Council: it hasn’t worked.
The article was kindly scanned yesterday by Roger Jones and I include it here. It also appears on the Express & Star website.
Compare this statement from the meeting made by Jamie Morris with the text of the report that follows:
Park Rangers were moving to Streetpride operations effectively becoming environmental operatives. When pushed it was revealed that 2 Assistant Park Managers and 4 Senior Park Ranger Posts may be lost within this restructuring. Roles are to be redefined and multi tasking will be expected. This is still subject to review.
The report in the Express & Star reads:
Cuts force number of Walsall park rangers to be halved
The number of park rangers in Walsall will be more than halved under new cost-cutting plans. They will fall from 23 to 10 from next April.
The plans have prompted fears about increased anti-social behaviour in parks and nature reserves.
About £400,000 is due to be cut from the Street Pride department’s budget.
The council today insisted that there will still be a strong presence in the borough’s parks, and environmental staff will be trained in enforcement action currently undertaken by the rangers.
A report to the council’s cabinet next week states: “It will put more people on more parks on a continuous basis Monday to Friday.
‘A reduced resource over the weekends will maintain some visual presence.’
Campaigners against the plans have established Save Walsall’s Green Spaces and Countryside Services.
Linda Mason, from the group, said: ‘If these figures are correct, I am flabbergasted. I can’t see how a park ranger service can be operated.’
Vandals, arsonists and fly-tippers have targeted borough parks just under 350 times in 12 months.
The council needs to save £13million overall in the next financial year.
Other cost-cutting measures include incresing the cost of school meals.
From the above, one can only conclude that officers Morris and Holden entered the discussion with Linda and Roger either without the full facts, or chose not to disclose them for some reason. This puts an interesting slant on the unwillingness of the Council to provide minute-taking or allow recording at the time.
These figures and their conflict with what the public have been told is striking, and also marks out as a sham the public consultation on the budget that is theoretically ongoing. Walsall Council officers seem consistently shocked at the low level of trust residents exhibit in the authority, and perhaps should reflect on these events and consider why that may be the case.
If these cuts go ahead, it represents the sacrifice of the Greenspaces team by Streetpride, presumably to save their backsides. This is shortsighted, and as Linda points out will lead to increased flytipping, vandalism and antisocial behaviour. The lack of rangers will also lead to the almost total loss of public involvement with wildlife and greenspace in Walsall.
One of the best functioning and value for money teams at Walsall Council are being decimated to prop up the complex and top heavy management structure of Streetpride. One can only speculate on why this might be the case.
Once again, the cultural and social commonwealth of our borough is being sacrificed on the altar of political expediency, as our local authority staggers from one crisis to another.
Over in Streetpride, with apparently 11,000 recycling bins unemptied in what has been a public relations disaster for the refuse service, officials are still prevaricating and fail to see how the recycling service in Walsall, after years of functioning well, have become a source of huge public antipathy. With the short sighted decision to change contractor from one in Aldridge to a company in Leicester, the resultant crisis over levels of contamination in recycling waste that were handled well previously has been damaging and bad for the image of Walsall.
With park rangers thrown to the wolves, refuse collection in tatters and other services on the brink of functional collapse, how long can Walsall Council go on pretending that it’s consultations mean anything at all, and that the views of it’s beleaguered residents count in any way shape or form?
Clearly, Streetpride can’t even keep their own house in order. Now they get Greenspaces. Is that disaster I can smell on the wind, or just uncollected rubbish?