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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 06:52 GMT
Officers 'bullied' at failing council
The new Art Gallery, Walsall
Councillors in Walsall had "failed" local people
Councillors in Walsall have been accused of bullying and intimidating senior officers and being more concerned with feuding and in-fighting in a damning report by the Audit Commission.

The prospect of the authority being run by central government has not been ruled out by Sir Andrew Foster, controller of the Audit Commission, who said the situation was "very grave".

He said: "Walsall Council has failed local people."

The Conservative MP for Aldridge and Brownhills, Richard Shepherd, said: "This is a 52-page report and line by line it is a deeply depressing experience."

I think there are a lot of egos in there at the moment and I think we have to get over that

Cllr Tom Ansell Leader Walsall Council

The report effectively gives members of the authority until the end of March to turn its fortunes around or face a referral to the Secretary of State and "statutory intervention".

The findings of the inspection team include poor financial management such as "hand-to-mouth" budgets with the authority lurching from one financial crisis to another.

Uncontrolled over-spending and unrealistic budgets often set too late had led to "serious inaccuracies" in the figures, according to the auditors.

Funds intended for long-term investment had instead been raided to tackle short-term financial problems.

As a result, roads in Walsall were the "worst" of any local authority in England or Wales.

Mike Bird, a Conservative on the authority for 22 years, who was voted out as leader of the council last October, said the running of the authority had become "an absolute joke".

"To stop a locomotive when it's travelling at 200 mph isn't something you can do overnight."

But he said the blame lay with a core of "old guard" members who more interested in keeping their jobs than in serving the people of the town.

"We have individual departments feuding between themselves and allegations of officers being bullied by members.

"Morale is at an all-time low."


The report said a number of councillors were guilty of "bullying and intimidation" directed at senior officers.

Paul Kirby, acting head of inspection with the Audit Commission, said: "The politicians who are running Walsall Council are more focused on internal feuding and fighting and those are not the sort of words that the Audit Commission often uses in its reports about local government."

The Conservative leader of the Council, Tom Ansell, said some members had become "power-crazed".

"I think there are a lot of egos in there at the moment and I think we have to get over that."

Sir Andrew Foster said a supervisory board would now monitor the council because improvement was "absolutely essential".

Otherwise, he said, the commission would feel obliged to recommend intervention by the Secretary of State.

Members of the authority have already been summoned by the government minister Nick Raynsford to explain how they intend to improve the situation.

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