Consultations, Revelations and Common Sense

Tonight [Monday] I attended the hastily-called public meeting to discuss the implications of the closure of Meir CEC.

This was a result of a situation not far from Daniel in the Lion’s Den a few weeks ago, when cabinet member Mervyn Smith turned up for an informal Let’s Talk budget event to be confronted by about 100 Meir residents, wanting to know why the Community Education Centre was potentially under threat of closure as part of the budget process.

Before I go any futher, for those who aren’t aware of what is happening, in advance of the government issuing the City Council with the details of the amount of money it is going to be given for the next year’s budget, and pre-empting the fact that it is likely to be a good deal less than that previously received, the Cabinet have collated a consultation scheme of savings of varying severity, to deal with the anticpated shortfall. These have been sorted into various traffic light colours, both dependent upon how easy they are to achieve and also how much money they would save. At the far end of the spectrum, a big reduction in money received could lead to the loss of several libraries, a significant proportion of Children’s Centres and numerous other services. As you can imagine, opening the books in such a way has caused a bit of a splash.

Whether I agree with a number of the savings suggested is probably a blog for another day (the short answer is “I don’t”), but for now I just wanted to blog on the implications of closing the Meir CEC for my community, where I live and the area I represent on the Council. I don’t think anyone imagines for a second that shutting such a centre is going to be easy, or that it won’t have an impact on the local community, however what has struck me at both the meetings I have attended at the Meir CEC about the potential closure, is the total lack of common sense exhibited in where Meir is now and the community assets we have.

I was totting up in my mind the other night what I have in my ward ““ 5 pubs, 3 chip shops, 2 high schools and 2 swimming pools, amongst many other things. One high school has been rebuilt at great expense, the other will shut in the next 18 months. Both have a swimming pool, but only one has a swimming pool that you could swim in (the other is apparently not fit for use) – and it’s not at the school you would think it was at.

Within less than half a mile of each other, I have a Local Office that is really too small for purpose, a library, a youth centre and a purpose built Community Education Centre, 3 of which have had piles of money spent on them within the last 10 years ““ but at no point did anyone stop and consider that maybe, just maybe, amalgamating premises might be a good idea? This situation makes me want to bang my head on the floor, because it means we are in a really difficult corner with where we go now. I don’t want to lose any facilities in my ward if we can save them, but the complete and utter lack of foresight in planning is just unbelievable.

The funny thing is that at both meetings, this crazy situation has been raised by numerous members of the public. They want to know why we haven’t amalgamated services into a couple of premises, because after all, it’s common sense. Perhaps harking back to my blog last week about feeling you have to defend the Council just because you’re part of it now, I really shake my head in dispair at those whose footsteps I follow in. What were you thinking??

So, back to tonight’s meeting. It was quite nice to see the portfolio holder for community services, Terry Follows, saying he didn’t want to see the Meir CEC shut, and I hope that he will join with the local councillors of Meir in making that very clear to the Cabinet and the rest of the Council. However, I also hope he ponders on where strategic thinking comes into play and uses his portfolio, which is in a pivotal position with relation to community services, to really think out of the box. Places like Meir are relying on it.

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