No to community centres being subject to austerity cuts

Concord Centre.jpg 2The Concord in Dumbarton Town Centre.

By Bill Heaney

Proposals for council cutbacks at community centres – austerity measures which First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has admitted are not needed in West Dunbartonshire at this time – should be abandoned.

And no one connected with these community centres should take part in any consultation lest the SNP administration gets the impression that that there was ever any possibility of the public agreeing to them.

This was the consensus of opinion following Monday night’s meeting in Alexandria when Council leader Jonathan McColl made the unprecedented blunder of telling his party leader that she was wrong and he was right.

Sturgeon, McColl, Bollan and McBride.

The following morning a notice was posted in the Concord Centre in Dumbarton inviting people to take part in the consultation with closures and cutbacks.

Community activist Tommy Crocket said: “This notification was in the Concord on Tuesday. Wonder why it wasn’t handed out on the night…

“As I stated at the meeting, taking part in the ‘consultation’ can be viewed that we accept that some closures are justified.”

It was immediately pointed out that the proposed times for these consultations did not include evenings and that this in itself would limit attendance and public participation.

Trade unionist Sean Davenport said: “Engagement with these consultations plays right into their [the council’s] hands. The message was clear from everyone on Monday night, NO CUTS to any centre would be acceptable.”

In a letter to community facility users, the Council said a review was taking place. This followed on from a decision in March to undertake a review of community facilities, to ensure that all facilities are being well used and delivering value for money with a savings target of £130,000 assigned to the review for delivery by 2020/21.

“To make sure the review, and any decision taken by Councillors, considers all relevant information a number of user group engagement sessions were carried out across community facilities in August 2018, and work was done to capture occupancy and financial information about each facility.

“An update on what we learned from these sessions was published on the Council website here.

“These engagement sessions allowed us to understand more about the groups using the facilities and what they want from these facilities in future.

“The Council wants to ensure it gathers as much feedback as possible from users of the facilities and interested residents to help inform and potential options for the future of community facilities. To do this a further series of engagement sessions have been planned.

“This builds on what we learned from the 105 participants in the August engagement sessions and ensures anyone interested in the review has the chance to participate.

“We hope you are able to attend one of the sessions planned and encourage you to share this invite with all your group members and anyone else you think may be interested.”

But Cllr Jim Bollan threw cold water on the council’s proposals – “the consultation is a sham, the same as the Budget consultation.”

At Monday’s meeting, another community activist, Drew MacEoghainn, raised the subject of transferring community centres to the community itself.

He added: “No doubt we will hear about community centres being proposed for an asset transfer to community groups.

“If this is the case they must be assets and financially viable – not a way for the council to dump liabilities onto the community.

“It’s a long hard road for communities to take over the running of a centre. If the centre is currently running at a loss, the community must have plans to turn this around or the council must provide the group with a dowry or a service level agreement to deliver services on their behalf making the centre financially viable.”

He added: “I’ve worked with over 60 community groups on this, and the councils are only too willing to transfer liabilities as a way to get them off their books and pass the blame for a centres financial failure to the community.”

Trade unionist Thomas Morrison warned: “This is a dangerous route to go down Drew.  The Scottish Government are punting this line across the country. [We should] keep public assets under democratic accountability.”

Siobhan McCready, who works in the community service, said: “This is my day job. [There are] few examples of successful asset transfer, “most in more affluent rural communities.

“There tends to be more of a struggle in working class communities for reasons already mentioned – the need to cover costs and there is continual fund raising, funds applications to be made and so on.”

MacEoghainn Drew parents 2Drew MacEoghainn, pictured left,  said community centres should remain the responsibility of local authorities” but only with a proviso that if a truly representative community organisation comes along and wants to improve the facility and service provision it is looked on favourably by the local authority”.

Trade unionist Jim Whyte said: “We mustn’t fall for the community ownership nonsense. They should be Council owned, Council funded and administered by properly paid staff.

“What the Council is after is a voluntary run service where people work for nothing and when centres collapse, as collapse they must, because they would not be sustainable on such a basis, it would be the fault of the community not the Council. [They are] passing the buck.”

He added: “I am most certainly not for a single moment suggesting we do not fight to save every community centre, very far from it! What I am saying most emphatically is don’t fall for the Big Society cuts by stealth which the SNP are advocating.

“My position is quite clear: keep every centre open with properly paid and qualified staff. That’s what we pay our Council taxes and national taxes for, not to line the pockets of the rich and fund endless foreign wars.

“Our health service and education system are surviving largely on the back of collecting can charities while the super-rich stubbornly refuse and are encouraged not to pay their taxes. Asset transfer is part of that scam.

“It is great the way large numbers of people are fighting back in WD, but those who choose to lead this movement have a duty while leading local campaigns to always address the bigger picture of national government policies because that is where the root cause of our problems are to be found.”

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