Letter - Council leader hits back over Tory criticism

Let me assure Coun Walsh that I make no apology for engaging in debate at council about national issues where they affect the lives of the district’s residents. We will continue to do so.

In the past couple of years we have debated resolutions opposing the reduction of winter fuel payments, opposing the Bedroom Tax and asking the government to tighten up on loan sharks.

Each of these issues affects many of our residents. On each occasion they were opposed by Coun Walsh who imposed a three-line whip on his Conservative colleagues forcing them to support him despite the fact that some of them clearly did not wish to do so. Labour supported each resolution.

We also opposed the governments closure of the Remploy factory in Pontefract for people with disabilities. A national issue affecting local people. To his shame Coun Walsh supported the closure.

One of the reasons I proposed the idea of filming council meetings was that people could see for themselves how Conservative councillors in Wakefield fail to support local residents who are caught in a trap of stagnant wages and rising prices.

And Coun Walsh forgot to tell Express readers that at the last meeting he refused to join with us in opposing the Government spending public money on the proposal to limit the level of bankers bonuses – something that most people, irrespective of party allegiance, feel strongly about. Public money that we could use locally.

Coun Walsh has deliberately misled readers with his comment about our expenditure. It was indeed £550m in 2007/8 and £562m in 2013/14. However, as he knows, because officers have made it clear, that a like-for-like comparison cannot be made as public health funding of £60m recently came into the council and he also deliberately neglects to allow for inflation. He remains silent on the 30% cut in our funding.

Clearly my humour is lost on Coun Walsh. At Council I mentioned that Eric Pickles has said that councils should use sheep and cattle for verge maintenance. I went on to say that perhaps we should buy a giraffe for tree maintenance.

Just about every other Conservative councillor in the country, apart from Coun Walsh, have mocked their own Secretary of State for his comments. In Wakefield if the Conservative government says “jump” the reply from Coun Walsh is always “how high”.

Finally I would urge residents – regardless of your politics – to take a look at local democracy in action. From now on residents who want to hear what their councillors are saying can tune into our full council debates online either live or at a more convenient time to suit you.

We are also looking into how we can use live streaming to enable people to access other council meetings, such as the planning committee and Cabinet, in the future.

Elected Members should be held to account and I and my colleagues remain committed to ensuring this council is as open and transparent as possible.

Coun Peter Box CBE

Leader of the Council

Wakefield MDC