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Mother and son guilty of ‘breathtaking political opportunism’

Mother and son guilty of ‘breathtaking political opportunism’

🕔03.Jul 2013

screamIn the long and shabby history of political opportunism it is difficult to recall anything quite as cynical and blatantly self-serving as the notice of motion tabled for next week’s Birmingham City Council meeting by the deputy leader of the Conservative group, Robert Alden.

The resolution, to be seconded by his mummy, Deirdre Alden, reads: “This council objects to the closure of any of Birmingham’s leisure centres.  Therefore, we call upon the cabinet to instruct the chief executive to remove the option of closure and/or mothballing from the current leisure centre consultation.”

The motion will be heavily defeated by the controlling Labour group, as the Tories obviously know. But that, presumably, is the whole point. It will enable Conservative councillors to go around Birmingham claiming that Labour has plans for the wholesale closure of leisure centres.

Why else, they will say, would Labour refuse to rule out closing leisure centres, or libraries, or community centres, or neighbourhood offices, or any of the myriad non-statutory services that are under threat because the council faces a £615 million shortfall resulting from government grant cuts and soaring demand for social services?

Actually, it will give Conservative councillors something to do now that their ludicrous scare stories over the roll-out of wheelie bins have come to nothing.

It is, I suppose, a little too much to hope that a political party could work behind the scenes with other political parties to chart the best course for Birmingham in unprecedentedly difficult times. Were the Tories still in power, I’ve no doubt that Labour might have tabled a similar motion.

Little wonder that the disconnect between communities and party politics is wider than ever when purely cynical resolutions are put forward in an attempt to pretend that every council-run leisure centre in Birmingham can somehow be protected, even if the proposers of the motion don’t say how this happy state of affairs could be achieved.

The Tory motion picks up on a surprisingly frank policy document issued by council leader Sir Albert Bore last month in which he talked openly about the probability of having to reduce the number of leisure centres while mothballing some and transferring others to private sector management.

And, yes, Sir Albert admitted that some leisure centres will have to close and these will probably be in areas where the market is unwilling to move in. That is to say, in the poorest neighbourhoods where operators realise there is no money to be made.

The council will retain some leisure centres and these will become ‘wellbeing centres’ concentrating on improving the health of local communities.

The former Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition made much play in its final months running Birmingham of never closing a leisure centre or community library. But the gradual drip-drip of grant cuts and the need to save a further £340 million over the next three years made it inevitable that sooner or later the axe would begin to fall on non-statutory services.

If Cllr Mike Whitby was still the Tory leader of Birmingham Council, he’d be forced down the same route because there is no alternative. Tory councillors know this to be the case, but they just couldn’t resist the opportunity to sit outside of the big tent and throw stones from a distance.

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