"The campaign is here. In our view these are progressive, positive policies. Remembering this tragic year but moving ourselves into a new way of doing things." Cllr Aftab Nawaz - Leader of Walsall Labour Group
Walsall Labour Group Leader Cllr Aftab Nawaz talking about the launch of the Walsall Labour pledges for this May’s local elections with Local Democracy Reporter Gurdip Thandi:
The impact of Covid and making sure Walsall comes out of it a better place are at the heart of Labour’s election battle, the group leader has revealed.
Aftab Nawaz said Walsall Labour has five main pledges at the heart of it’s campaign to secure the four seats it needs to gain outright control of the authority following May’s ballot.
These are to honour those lost to Covid; build a lasting recovery; make Walsall the best place to grow up; clean up streets and neighbourhoods and invest in a greener future.
Councillor Nawaz said he believed they were progressive policies which people in the town want.
At the heart of their pledges on Covid, he said a central-based “serene” place for people to remember lost loved ones would be created and a cross party Covid team to spearhead the recovery would be established.
Councillor Nawaz said: “Covid has been the predominant issue over the past year and has impacted so much on our lives. In Walsall, we have over 900 people that have died.
“So it is important that people are given space and time and a place to be able to grieve and be able to remember their loved ones.
“Many people haven’t been able to do that properly. That has taken a toll on people’s mental health.
“It’s important not only for those people who have lost loved ones but for children to learn about these things in the future.”
Councillor Nawaz said their Covid team would look to address issues the pandemic has exposed such as health inequalities, gaps in educational attainment, mortality rates, loneliness and mental health issues.
He said: “All this has been happening over the past decade but during the pandemic they’ve become quite stark and people have begun to notice them.
“The council needs to stop working in silos and create a team to tackle these issues in a holistic approach.
“Communities have come together and shown the strength of their spirit.
“People want to help each other and we want to make more of that and use that as the basis to drive council policy rather than it replacing council policy.
“We have a different idea of resilient communities than the Conservatives. Our idea is to help them and not just ask communities to do everything.
“It seems it’s only the volunteers doing all the work, which is good and they must always be involved. But there must always be a space for the statutory services to deliver them.
“We feel the funding should be there to ask volunteers to add value to us rather than them doing everything themselves.”
Another pledge focuses on the cleanliness of the borough, with Labour vowing to introduce a ‘gold standard’ award for neighbourhoods who keep their streets spotless.
As well as instilling pride, Councillor Nawaz said they would put strong enforcement in place for environmental crimes.
Investing in a greener future is also high on the agenda, starting with ensuring the local authority is carbon neutral as soon as possible.
Councillor Nawaz said it was also imperative to look at the environmental impact that all council policies have, encourage more environmentally friendly companies into Walsall, ‘green up’ people’s homes and all district and town centres.
And the final pledge by Walsall Labour is to make the borough the best place to grow up in for young people, starting with tackling childhood obesity by making leisure services free for under-11s.
He said: “We need to understand our kids have lost a whole year of their lives, stuck inside not been able to go out, meet friends and take part in activities.
“It’s about how do we integrate our kids into society rather than just talking at them. We say, ‘Walsall is here for you’.
“We’ve got a generation growing up into computer games and sitting around which has a negative impact on their physical and mental health.”
He added: “We think our pledges are the kind of thing people want in Walsall. They don’t want to go back to the same things we had in the past.
“The campaign is here. In our view these are progressive, positive policies. Remembering this tragic year but moving ourselves into a new way of doing things.”
Report Credit: Gurdip Thandi for the Birmingham Mail