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'Walsall Council is not down and it is not out', was the rallying cry of new chief executive Annie Shepperd, who to...
'Walsall Council is not down and it is not out', was the rallying cry of new chief executive Annie Shepperd, who told over 1,000 national, regional and local government representatives this week that the council is fighting its way out of intensive care.

The council staged its comeback at the annual local government conference held at Harrogate International Centre.

The council's theme was 'Walsall Re-Loaded' and Mrs Shepperd drew comparisons with the popular film 'Matrix Re-Loaded', in that 'the old systems don't work but to create new systems you need to take risks'.

The Walsall stand at the national show promoted the borough heavily, advertising its leather industry, illuminations and art gallery and museums. To top it all, Walsall won the 'Best Newcomer Award' for its 'Walsall Re-Loaded' stand, also based on the Matrix film. The stand, designed by council staff, was one of the busiest at the show and delegates were challenged on their knowledge of Walsall to win leather gifts as prizes.

The council's new chief executive was joined at the conference by the authority's previous interim chief executive Michael Frater and by Tom Ansell, leader of the council. The trio promoted passionately the council's progress and shared its experience with other local authorities that are currently facing the prospect of government intervention.

Mr Ansell explained what was meant by 'Old Walsall', which included an acceptance of poor services, low self-esteem and bullying by councillors. He said the meeting with Michael Frater a year ago, at last year's local government conference, was the turning point. Now the politicians were more likely to concentrate not on their differences, but on common ground and how the council's recovery could be supported.

Mr Frater praised many Walsall staff who had 'showed innovation and determination to get things done and had built many islands of excellence which in the past was achieved despite the council, not because of it'.

Ms Shepperd told the conference that Walsall was now 're-loaded' with a brand new executive management team to give direction to the commitment and hard work of staff.

Walsall now has the most efficient bin crews of any local authority benchmarked in a recent study, she said. The council has also won a charter mark for excellent customer service provided by the civic centre reception desk, and its street lighting programme was awarded the 2003 Best Transport Project award. The council's print and design section has consistently won awards, the latest being for best practice, and the council has nearly 100 per cent coverage for the 'Investor in People' standard. And it has recently launched its biggest and best ever programme for young people called 'Summer Re-Loaded'.

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