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by danielbarker on 13 August, 2017

By Ian Shires on 11 August, 2017

They say that politics is a dirty game, and following the events this week it’s easy to see why people might think that.

No I’m not talking about Donald Trump with his finger on the nuclear button, or the continuing my Brexit’s better than your Brexit argument within the Tory Cabinet. I’m referring to the discussions that have been raging on social media around Walsall Council’s decision to buy the Saddlers Centre.

It’s really sad when some long serving Councillors deliberately set about trying to confuse people by mixing statistics to suit their own ends. By this I mean pitching cuts in the Revenue Budget (which is ongoing recurring costs, year in, year out) against a Capital Investment (which is a one off payment from a different account). The two are as different as chalk and cheese.

Putting this into terms that we can all understand, at home your heating and lighting bills are ongoing regular payments which you make each month, every month. The other is like you deciding to go on holiday or buy cloths, you save up and make a one off payment in order to get what you want. Well, it’s no different for your council.

The reason why some green spaces aren’t getting cut and some libraries have had to close is because the government has reduced how much money it gives the council each year. Councillors don’t cut services for some perverse reason they enjoy doing that. They do it because they have to because of continuing austerity measures, (Walsall Council’s Revenue Account has been slashed by almost 35% over the past five or six years).

So, is it any wonder that residents get confused when opposition councillors feed misleading information through the press, deliberately mixing up revenue monies with capital investment?

Buying the Saddlers Centre is a capital investment. It stands in a prime position in the heart of our town. If you come into Walsall by train it’s the first thing you see because you walk out of the train station into the Saddlers Centre.

In private ownership the regular income from the rent off the shops usually ends up in the pockets of the shareholders. The private sector owners decide how much or how little to invest in the upkeep and appearance and development of the Centre. They don’t live in the town, all thy are interested in is the Centre and how much they can earn from it.

In Council ownership, it will give you as residents a stake in the future not just of the Centre but it will help you to influence the development of the train station and the wider town centre. How often have you said the town centre, your town centre, has too many empty shops. What is the Council doing about it? Well the Council is doing something about it. It’s buying the Saddlers Centre. It’s not going to leave things to chance, it’s going to take the initiative giving you a stake in the future of your town.

I have to say making the decision behind closed doors wasn’t the best idea the council has had. Much of what I have said here could have been said in public thus avoiding confusion. The only stuff that really needed to be said in private was the stuff that was commercially sensitive.

I also have to say that it would be good for democracy in our town if all our meetings were webcast so that people could see and hear why decisions are being made instead of leaving up to some surreptitious clandestine meeting or phone call with a news reporter keen to get a headline.

Let’s face it, whether it was right or wrong, Monday’s meeting was in private. All Councillors sign up to a Code of Conduct in public life which they should abide by; which brings me back to where I started – They say that politics is a dirty game and following events this week it’s easy to see why people might think that.

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