Saturday, 7 March 2015

Tory Councillor suggests funding cuts for Dukes, Platform and Salt Ayre Sports Centre

Councillor Peter Williamson: "Are we
entertainment or sports promoters?"
Photo: Lancaster City Council
As elections loom, local Tories seem to have set out their stall early in terms of how they view the future of publicly-funded services in Lancaster and Morecambe.

During a debate to set the latest Council budget, should the Tories win the Council in May, that vision may well include an end to The Dukes, The Platform and Salt Ayre Sports Centre - at least, in their current form.

As we reported earlier this week (see news story), while the Council's books have been balanced for the next financial year without any reductions to services, the council still faces having to find savings of nearly £3.5 million by 2018. This is in addition to cuts the council has already seen over the last five years, during which the amount available to spend on services has reduced by more than £7million.

The Lancaster Guardian reports Tory councillor Peter Williamson, leader of the Conservatives, who also sits on the Council's Audit Committee, told the meeting his party would not support the 2015/16 budget and was backed by Roger Dennison, leader of the Morecambe Bay Independents, and most of the other independent councillors.

In remarks at the meeting the councillor for the Upper Lune Valley appeared to suggest The Dukes, The Platform and Salt Ayre Sports Centre should no longer be publicly funded if it was a choice between them and front line services such as street cleaning and environmental health.

“We have two failing theatres costing us £356,000 a year, we have a failing sports centre losing £1.2m a year. Are we entertainment or sports promoters?”

Councillor Roger Mace: Council tax
increase "not value for money"
His concerns were backed by Tory colleague Roger Mace, who argued the 1.99% increase was not value for money for tax payers.

"We are using £1m from balances to fund our budget," he noted. "I do not understand the reasons for this.”

The Dukes will receive a £150,700 grant in 2015/16, but is also backed by other organisations including the Arts Council who awarded the film and theatre hub, much praised for its annual Open Air theatre in Williamson Park, £267,347 in 2014-15.

The Platform, which is operated by Lancaster City Council in the former Morecambe railway station, is forecast to run at a loss of £214,300 in 2015/16, while Salt Ayre Sports Centre is estimated to run at a loss of £1.273m in 2015/16.

Labour and Green Party councillors, who form the coalition cabinet on Lancaster City Council, all voted in favour so the budget was passed 29 votes to 17.

The Tories appear to be taking their cue on council tax from other Tory councils, including nearby Wyre, which represents Garstang, which recently froze for the fifth year running. Often, this is achieved by selling off council-owned properties.

While Wyre's council tax freeze was achieved without any cuts to frontline services, the Council has decided to close and sell of Garstang's community centre, which it decided was an "under performing asset" back in 2012. Although Garstang Town Council is still battling the decision, the Courier reported last month that developers interested in buying Garstang’s Business and Community Centre had submitted bids for the property.

(A former vicarage garden is now being tipped as the likely location for a new Community Hub for Garstang).

Councillor Jon Barry: private partner for
Salt Ayre Sports Centre being sought
to trim costs
At the budget meeting, Green Councillor Jon Barry hit back at suggestions Salt Ayre Sports Centre should no longer be funded, noting the Council was seeking a private partner was being sought to run it.

“I’m not saying don’t fund The Dukes or close The Platform or Salt Ayre," Councillor Williamson told the Lancaster Guardian after the meeting. "All I’m saying is that if front line services are under threat, why are we doing what we’re doing?

"I’d cut them before I started cutting street cleaning, dustbin collections and environmental health.”

Elections 2015: Full details on the Lancaster City Council web site


Chris Satori said...

Yes, the local city council are indeed entertainers and sports promotors. The Dukes and the Platform both generate additional visitor income for local business. Many local charities and arts organisations and individuals benefit from access to their resources and the employment they generate. The sports centre is an essential service used by people of all ages for the benefit of their health, recuperation, social relations and community morale.

John Freeman said...

I mentioned the local Tories comments to the manager of a local restaurant whose business benefits hugely from pre-Theatre bookings. Their reaction was unrepeatable here.