Driving us all to Distraction

Well done to the Express & Star who this week uncovered the purchase of a brand new Jaguar for use as an official car by the Mayor of Walsall, and the subsequent demands that he boycott its use.

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Not the actual car in question, although it is better looking.

Brownhills Bob wrote a suitably scathing post about it.

Several people expressed anger and disappointment at this extravagance. It’s a pity the money they spent on the car seems to be about the same amount of money they’re saving from their budget by the proposed closure of Walsall Museum (per annum, admittedly, but the point stands) because I would have preferred a further year of the Museum being open. There are cheaper cars, there are better ways to pay, and there are certainly more worthy projects the Council could choose to fund.

But they aren’t done offending sensibilities. The main argument laid out in the Express & Star report in favour of the purchase appears to be prestige. And yet, prestige is surely the antithesis of local government. Our elected councillors serve. They serve the borough. Many good and worthy people work for the Council. They serve the public, as represented by the elected councillors. Those councillors must in turn serve the communities they represent. Public servants do not deserve prestige. They deserve thanks, decent pensions, and in the case of the employees not to be tossed off their contracted jobs because the big man needs a new car.

Prestige isn’t that far in temperament from that old chestnut privilege. Our Council are elected to positions of significant privilege, with responsibilities that must weigh almost as heavy as the engine in the new Leviathan. We must therefore not be surprised when the austere budget savings imposed on everybody else can be circumvented for the elected members. Privilege, after all, means “private law” – one rule for them…

When I received a phone call over the weekend from the same council asking my views on a potential increase in Council Tax, it struck me: the car is just a shiny and obvious symptom of a wider misundertstanding about the purpose of public service. My answer went something like this: “When I can believe that the Council, which derives a decent chunk of its income from taxes levied on domestic properties, is spending the money I’ve already given them with due prudence; then we can talk about giving them more money to cover the gaps.”

 

Wolseley – 12/16 Limousine by LaertesCTB via Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/laertes_za/2467246009/

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