Labour confirm Willfield closure at Overview and Scrutiny Committee

Tony has written an account of this focused mostly on Sheila Pitt, but invited my blog also.

On 21st July 2011 the Adults and Neighbourhoods Overview and Scrutiny Committee met to consider the cabinet decision to close the Willfield centre, gym and pool.
The committee membership was Bagh Ali (chair), Sheila Pitt (vice chair), Kath Banks, Randy Conteh, Matt Fry (late), Ann James, Shaun Pender and Debbie Wheeldon. Gurmeet Singh Kallar sent apologies for absence.

Gwen Hassall attended as portfolio holder and Dave Conway attended as he, Ann James and Lee Wanger had called in the decision. The public audience included gym campaigner Carol Harrison and a good turn out of others campaigners. Councillors in the audience were Olwen Hamer, Ruth Rosenau, Paul Shotton, Lee Wanger and Alison Wedgwood. Ex-councillors Steve Batkin, Rita Dale and John Davis were also there.

Council Officer Tony Oakman acknowledged Carol Harrison’s passion and the uniqueness of Willfield. Then came the “”¦however”, he said there were other alternatives, primarily at the Wallace centre. He also said in 18 months time the Discovery Academy would be built and have gym, sports hall and dance facility, but no pool. He said Willfield should close because of the council decision in February for £36million budget cuts and £20million more next February.

Dave Conway then gave reasons for the call-in; that the closure had not been properly costed, had not included the cost to decommission the pool, partnership funding had not been considered and it was contrary to the Sports and Physical Activity Strategy 2009-16. He said of the 4 options “Ëœconsidered’ options 2, 3 and 4 were essentially the same as they all closed Willfield. He said goal posts had moved, the academy was not mentioned in the February budget but was now being used as reason to close Willfield and the Sports Strategy at Willfield to help people become healthy and active was being taken away.

Legal officer Carmaine Whitehouse said 2 rounds of O&S had considered the detailed impact of the proposals.
Randy Conteh questioned the decision making process and asked if the decision had already been made in procedure or law and they were all wasting their time. He said councillors are there to represent communities, so as well as discussions on value for money, “what about value for people?”

Carmaine Whitehouse stated that the decision had not yet been made.

Randy Conteh contended that already users had been moved out, the pool emptied and the site handed over to contractors.

Council officer Tracy Penrose said contractors had been allowed onto the upper site, funded by BSF, but the council had to “Ëœmake good’ the lower site, funded by the council – highways, not BSF.

Tracy Penrose stated that the pool had not been emptied!

Ann James questioned why they were all there if the closure process had already been started. She asked if the closure was occurring before August so demolition costs could be included in BSF. She said she was annoyed; council should provide a service and council tax payers should have a say. She said she was most upset we have a constitution not being upheld.
Bagh Ali asked if the centre had been closed.

Tony Oakman said the Willfield Fitness Centre was still running and no equipment had been removed. It was my impression that a group of members of the public were stifling apoplectic rage at this point, but of course were allowed to say nothing.
Ann James asked who was responsible for the swimming pool but appeared to get no answer.
Tracy Penrose uttered her usual spiel that the new schools, although they hadn’t done so “Ëœyet’, would “Ëœsoon’ be signing a community use agreement. (This “Ëœsoon’ has been going for years – I have been hearing this from the BSF board since 2008/9 and the Trentham High campaign.) She said contractors had been allowed on site early for a 2013 academy opening date and if O&S uphold the cabinet decision their contract can be extended to “Ëœsave’ the £31,200 it would cost to demolish the Willfield gym and pool at a later date.

Ann James reported that the Willfield working group had a business plan to continue running the centre for far less than the costs reported to the meeting. The accountant (Tom?) said £90,000 would be needed to transfer costs currently in the CYP budget and £60,000 accounts for falling usage over the past 18 months (because of the planned closure!) He criticised the business plan primarily because he thought about £0.5million start up costs would be needed.

Ann James and Randy Conteh both asked if officers had talked to the group about the business plan. Tony Oakman conceded this was a point well made but the business case had been given “Ëœserious consideration’ and the realities are that demolition will have to take place.

Sheila Pitt then spoke, Tony covers this in detail in his article.

Ann James asked what it would cost for equipment for the disabled to be installed at the Wallace centre. Officer Michelle Adams initially said no expense would be incurred but the accountant then conceded £5,000 had been allocated for removal costs.

Tony Oakman in summing up said it was a “Ëœdifficult decision’, but there were alternative facilities, this was a discretionary area of funding, the business case for Willfield did not stack up and in 18 months time the new academy would be offering facilities.

Dave Conway summed up that people had been misled. He showed photographs taken three days earlier of items packed up at Willfield ready to go and the pool being emptied with only a small amount of water left at the bottom! He had talked to workers at Willfield who were ready to go and reported that 14 user groups had already been moved out of Willfield. He had a barrage of other criticisms; the call-in had no effect, goal posts had moved on the sports strategy, costs in children and young people’s voted on by council then moved to adults and neighbourhoods, Keir had a contract to maintain buildings but hadn’t. He said photos do not lie and he would take the matter further. Bagh Ali said he wanted more than this. So Dave Conway held up a petition signed by hundreds of people wanting Willfield kept open, mentioned the £62,500 the feasibility study had quoted for decommissioning the pool and said we can’t keep closing pools. He said “the council is doing an injustice to people”.

Randy Conteh proposed a recommendation to approve option 1 ““ retention of Willfield, that council should work with the Willfield Working Trust to assist with the business plan and external funding and that BSF should support this option. Ann James seconded the proposal.

THE VOTE to save Willfield:

3 FOR: Randy Conteh, Ann James, Sheila Pitt.

4 AGAINST: Bagh Ali, Kath Banks, Shaun Pender, Debbie Wheeldon.

Result – defeated.
Sheila Pitt was absolutely right in my view to vote against her Labour party line. Randy Conteh and Ann James made a valiant attempt to support the gym users but under such a Labour majority they can do nothing more than speak out. Kath Banks, Shaun Pender and Debbie Wheeldon said not a word, clearly there just to vote. Matt Fry said nothing and didn’t vote, why was he there?

My view

Labour was intent on closing Willfield all along. They indulged in shenanigans by introducing the Willfield closure as an urgent cabinet item supplementary to the original agenda, then made a point to allow a call-in but it seems did not pause the closure process. O&S were therefore wasting their time as Randy Conteh, Ann James and Dave Conway pointed out. A bit of theatre had Sheila Pitt voting with the independents against closure but that didn’t matter to Labour as they had enough stooges to vote it closed anyway.

I take issue with the site boundary deception described on previous occasions. I take issue with the mix and match shenanigans between children and young people’s budget and adults and neighbourhoods “Ëœscrutiny’. I do not agree with Carmaine’s assertions about clarity of the decision making process. The budget documents had no clarity for me at the time, it was not obvious whether the savings (4CYP-14) meant closing the gym and pool or just the education centre at Willfield, although I am but a mere member of the public. The Willfield closure was considered by Children and Young People’s O&S on 6th December 2010. This seemed to refer to the education centre, to be closed in August 2011, not apparently to the gym and pool. In fact it was stated “if the decision is taken to retain the lower site for community & sports use, the projected saving would need to be reduced by approx £75k”. Whilst the closure (upper site?) was supported, councilor at that time Ellie Walker required more information.

I am outraged the shutting down of Willfield continued whilst it was claimed on the one hand that the decision was not finalised before scrutiny had considered it and on the other hand it was made back in February. Although it was clear all along this was the tactic, it always is.

What really annoys me was that people were messed with and given false hope. They were incredibly upset after a lot of hard work and I think some belief they may get somewhere. I’m too much of cynic of course to have had any hope, I could see clearly all along how it was panning out. On the one hand I think if people will keep voting in these Labour councils then they are asking for this treatment and get what they deserve. Labour use the same tactics time and time again and get away with it and all the people do is vote for more of the same. On the other hand I think that Labour have a party structure, propaganda and powerful connections on their side and well paid officers working on their plans, whereas ordinary people have other jobs and lives to attend to and little resource. It’s not a fair fight.

I’m not a Willfield gym or pool user (although I have attended meetings held in the ““ rather nicely decorated ready for demolition ““ education centre). So why should I care? The reason I care is that I find the disrespect with which the Labour led council treats the citizens of the city an utter disgrace.
A very sad day for Willfield users, but I for one am not the slightest bit surprised.

More Labour Lies In Bentilee

On Thursday 30th June 2011, the Labour council’s cabinet voted unanimously to close and demolish the entire Willfield centre and gym, including fitness centre and swimming pool. [1]

£925,500 was spent modernising this in 2005. The council have now betrayed their policy promise of retaining the fitness centre, set out in the approved Sports and Physical Activity Strategy (2009-2016).

This facility has been under threat from Labour for some time now, despite the Sentinel announcing, in line with Labour spin, that it would be saved [2].

I reported recently on the “March in Support of Willfield Gym” (blog link below), which was also reported in the Sentinel [3]. I described in “Discovery Academy on Willfield” the devious Labour tactic used to disperse previous protest against its closure.
The gym was originally included within the site to be demolished to make way for the Discovery Academy. When Labour became aware that gym campaigners were joining forces with school campaigners who wanted a school on the Mitchell site instead of Willfield, they used divide and conquer techniques. They changed the academy boundary to leave the Willfield gym apparently outside the demolition area, to pacify the gym campaigners.

But the case put to cabinet [4] centred the reason for the gym closure on the academy; “construction of the new Discovery Academy on the Willfield site under the BSF Programme will significantly affect the continued provision of the Fitness Centre”. So redrawing the boundary is proven to be the con I always thought it was.

Election deception
Before the 5th May 2011 local election, successful Labour candidates Alison Wedgwood and Sheila Pitt issued a leaflet with a huge headline “Willfield Gym Campaign Continues”. Their leaflet claimed “A decision on the Gym’s future has been postponed until the summer”. But the cabinet documents state that “The proposed closure of the entire Willfield site (Upper and Lower) was put forward as part of the budget savings, which were subsequently approved by the City Council on February 24 2011″. So they shouldn’t be having it both ways, claiming now that the closure was already approved but when it suits their election propaganda claiming the decision had been postponed! The council documents claim “Consultation has been carried out with both the staff and the public for the facility through the budget savings process.” And yet Labour are conning the public with election materials.

Sheila Pitt is quoted in the leaflet as saying about the Willfield gym “there is a clear need for this much loved facility to remain where it is”. This follows on from last year’s equally disingenuous statement from successful Labour candidate Mervin Smith’s election leaflet, where he said about Willfield; “shutting it is madness”, “we need to get the message over loud and clear; HANDS OFF!” I commented previously on his campaign in “Labour campaign in Bentilee ““ an outrage”. These are indeed most outrageous but predictably familiar Labour practices.
Alison and Sheila’s leaflet claims “Both Labour Council candidates, and MP Tristram Hunt are supporting the campaign to secure the long term future of the Willfield gym on its current site”. Well clearly Labour does not support the gym! The local election on 5th May 2011 resulted in a clear Labour majority on the council and success for Alison and Sheila. And yet in under 2 months Labour betrayal the public is proven (some of us realised all along this would happen). Issuing this leaflet is despicable deception of the voters at large.

Bizarre council claims
Incredulously the council documents claim that closing Willfield will result in “increased customer choice given the availability of several viable alternative facilities”! This sounds like typical Labour speak. How stupid do they really think we are? (Well”¦ I will come back to that one.) They mention other gyms at the Wallace Centre in Abbey Hulton, Fenton Manor and what they call “Body Base Gym” which they claim to be in Bentilee (Base Body Fitness actually declares itself to be in Longton [5]). But even taking these 3 existing gyms as relevant to the Bentilee community, going from 4 to 3 facilities for anyone with a grasp of basic arithmetic is a reduction, not an increase!

Other bizarre claims in the council document include one that they are somehow doing a good thing, “Ëœsaving’ demolition costs by including it within the academy work. This is the academy that school campaigners didn’t want on the site they didn’t want it, in the nonsensical merger of 2 schools 5 miles apart. So how about saving by not demolishing anything instead? How about keeping the gym and pool?

Cabinet meeting
The 30th June 2011 cabinet meeting was packed with public observers who wanted the Willfield gym kept open. The Willfield closure was not put on the original agenda but instead introduced late as a supplementary item. At least the public were not fooled by this and got wind of it anyway. This item was dealt with early in the agenda.

Mohammed Pervez opened the meeting by telling us that no public could speak and he would not tolerate any disturbance at all.

Gwen Hassall thanked the public for their interest and claimed their concerns had been taken on board! She said the public would be aware that a new academy is to be built on “this site”. (Well with all the shenanigans over the site boundary I’m not so sure.) She said there would be a sports hall and gym in the academy that would provide some public use. She said cost implications of retaining the gym included moving the plant room and continuing subsidy. She said the city as a whole is being considered and sports facilities provided. “We have got to watch the budget” she said, then moved a motion to close Willfield. There was a statement of support from Paul Shotton, who referred to the building as dilapidated and said there will be dance, fitness and gym facilities in the new school available in the evenings and holidays. There were further statements of support from Sarah Hill and Debra Gratton.
Mohammed Pervez said as the item was urgent there would normally be no call-in but he was minded to allow this, Mark Meredith agreed.

Cabinet agreed unanimously to close Willfield.
The gym campaigners were well behaved and quiet during the proceedings although there were some angry comments made as they left after the decision.

Dave Conway and the City Independent Group will call the decision in but with Labour scrutinising their own decisions with such a majority, nothing can be done.
I learned some time ago about Labour’s lies and wrote about these last year, but many of the electorate have not realised how devious they are.

Sheila Pitt said in the election leaflet about herself and Alison Wedgwood “We are two strong women who will get the job done”. They did a job on the electorate all right. And what strength is there in allowing their Labour party to close the gym they were supposed to be supporting?

Furthermore former mayor Mark Meredith and the former Labour government stole away our democracy and reduced our local elections to only 1 every 4 years. So there is no early chance to change this despicable Labour council.

In Bentilee and Ubberley the turkeys voted for Christmas and are now well and truly stuffed!

Picture Credit Steve Birks

March in Support of Willfield Gym

There was a protest march on Tuesday 28th June 2011 against the planned closure of the Willfield gym, fitness centre and swimming pool.

I have blogged before (see links below) about Labour outrages in Bentilee and the fate of the Willfield gym.
I was very pleased to see a huge turnout at this protest, organised by the City Independent Group of the council alongside gym campaigners.

We were led by Vance Reardon and his splendid contingent of bagpipers in a well organised and marshalled march from the Bentilee Neighbourhood Centre along Dawlish Drive to the Willfield gym. There was much support along the way, people at home came to their doorsteps to watch, some joined in and traffic stopped without animosity. There was some talk along the way about who voted Labour in the ward. There seemed to be very little knowledge of many who did.

Prominent gym user and campaigner Carol Harrison took part with a multitude of other gym users including Lisa Hulme and her very vociferous group of children and parents from Bentilee Happy Feet who use the building for their dance classes. The crowd also included residents’ association members and many others who care about their community facilities.

Councillors Dave Conway and Ann James joined the march as did former local councillors Steve Batkin, Rita Dale and John Davis. Current Bentilee and Ubberley councillors Sheila Pitt and Alison Wedgwood did not join the march but Sheila attended the rally afterwards outside the Willfield gym.

Cabinet are sure to vote today 30th June 2011 to close the Willfield gym. Dave Conway’s City Independent Group are sure to call in the decision but to no avail as Labour scrutinising their own decisions are bound to apply the final axe to the gym and swimming pool.

Rob Flello Seeks Clarification on Stoke-on-Trent BSF Funding

Stoke-on-Trent South MP Rob Flello quizzed Prime Minister David Cameron on whether Stoke-on-Trent will receive enough Building Schools for the Future funding to complete the construction of the planned secondary schools.

Mr Flello took the opportunity during yesterday’s [Wednesday] Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister will be aware that by 7 July the Education Secretary would have already understood the financial situation and the “state of the books”, as the Prime Minister is so keen to keep stating, so why on 7 July, in this House, did the Education Secretary say:

“One announcement that I was able to make on Monday was that Stoke-on-Trent, as a local authority that has reached financial close, will see all the schools under Building Schools for the Future rebuilt”

Is there some confusion between the Prime Minister and the Education Secretary?

The Prime Minister was in no mood to reassure the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South.

We were left a complete mess in terms of Building Schools for the Future. Here was a programme that took up three years and hundreds of millions of pounds before a single brick was laid. The cost of building those schools was twice what it should have been, so we have scrapped that programme and made available £15 billion for the next four years. That means that school building will be higher under this Government than it was under the Labour Government starting in 1997.

The recent announcement by Michael Gove that those school building schemes spared, are now facing cuts in funding of 40%, despite their being given the green light when he reduced Labour’s Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme in July.

This will effect some 600 and will realise potential savings of £6bn. The announcement now throws the building of the so called “sample schools” specifically given the thumbs up by the Department for Education back in August.

Just how this latest announcement will impact on Stoke-on-Trent remains unclear.

It may well throw the future of the Discovery Academy into doubt.

The controversial school was to be sited on the Willfield Community Centre location.

The Community Schools Action Group, who are campaigning for a school to be retained on the Mitchell High School site, will be watching developments very closely indeed.
Joan Walley MP for Stoke-on-Trent North has also raised the issue about BSF funding in Parliament today.

She called for an urgent debate on the issue and was met with a noncommittal response.

The Discovery Academy Appoints Principal Designate

Following a rigorous recruitment process, Rob Ridout has been appointed to the post of Principal Designate of The Discovery Academy which will be sited on the grounds currently occupied by the Willfield Centre.

Rob was chosen from a strong field of potential applicants. His track record of successful leadership shows that he can affect the educational transformation within the academy.

Following his appointment, Rob stated

I am really excited about this fantastic opportunity. I am especially look forward to working with all the talented individuals from both schools to deliver an exciting new curriculum. I am determined to improve the learning and life opportunities for Stoke students and all learners in the wider community.

In addition to his leadership skills, Rob’s strong science credentials make him the ideal person to champion the academy specialisms of Technology, Enterprise & Innovation.

As well as his school leadership roles, Rob spent two years working as an education advisor specialising in school improvements in schools and academies throughout the country.

Sarah Robinson, Principal & Chief Executive of Stoke-on-Trent College (lead sponsor) said

We are delighted to have appointed Rob and look forward to working with him to make the Discovery Academy a real success,

Rob’s professional skills, drive and vision will inspire the project team as well as staff and students to secure the best possible education for learners in Stoke.

Rob will be at the Year 7 parents evening arranged at Edensor Technology College on 5th October, 7″9pm. The Discovery Academy will open in September 2011.

Try Out Martial Arts At The Festival of Sport

Over the next two months people from across Stoke-on-Trent will have the chance to learn different martial arts techniques as part of the city’s Festival of Sport.

A variety of different taster sessions are available to encourage the public to get more involved in sport.

Councillor Hazel Lyth, cabinet member for Adult Social Care, Leisure and Culture said: “Taster sessions for other sports throughout 2010 have been really successful and we want that to continue.

“The martial arts sessions are a good opportunity for people to try out something different and that they may not have tried before.

“It’s important that young people recognise the value of sports that tax not only the body, but also the mind, and martial arts can help to increase self discipline to that end.”

The sessions available include:

30 July – 7.30pm to 9pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Jujitsu, the unarmed martial arts technique taught as self defence.

31 July – 2.00pm to 5.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Lai Do, the ancient traditional art of drawing the Japanese long sword. This is designed to develop an awareness of people who are around you.

31 July – 2.00pm to 5.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee – Katori Shinto Ryu, recreating Samurai movement techniques to improve agility and balance.

1 August ““ 10.00am ““ 12.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Karate Do, combining Jujutsu and karate techniques

3 August ““ 7.00pm ““ 8.30pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Karate Do, combining Jujutsu and karate techniques

3 August ““ 7.30pm ““ 9.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Aikido, teaching restraint and control techniques

4 August ““ 7.30pm ““ 9.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Judo, the youngest of the Japanese arts. Developed from jujitsu, to allow the techniques of throwing, joint locking and restraints to be practiced in a competitive form

4 August ““ 7.30pm ““ 9.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee ““ Katori Shinto Ryu, recreating Samurai movement techniques to improve agility and balance.

5 August ““ 7.30pm ““ 9.00pm ““ Willfield Centre, Bentilee – Aikido, teaching restraint and control techniques