Wednesday, 16 November 2011

It's Not a Problem, the Answer is No!

This was the response I gave when asked by the then Lead Member for Finance, Councillor Gerald McGregor, whether the Community Group councillors who at the time represented the wards of Syon and Isleworth would have a problem with him implementing an officer recommendation to "dispose of" (i.e. sell for development) the Community Centre on St. John's Road.

Councillor McGregor fully understood our position, and obligingly withdrew the proposal from his list of potential economies.

Our position was simple. We were councillors for Isleworth and for Syon. More than that, we were community councillors for Isleworth and for Syon. This building served over 30 user groups in our own back yard. If, holding the balance of power on the Council, we couldn't keep this building open then there was little point in us being there.  A little while later we secured £250,000 from the 2010 council budget for some essential repairs to the roof of the building for good measure.

The senior officers bided their time. A change in administration and, they deduced, the election of councillors less committed to their individual wards and less inclined ideologically to support independent community groups meant they could once again offer up St. John's Community Centre as a sacrificial lamb, in preference to any of those internal departmental savings that senior officers so dislike.

Sadly, it appears they were right. A report to Cabinet (formerly known as the Executive) on November 8th agreed "in principle" to dispose of this popular and widely-used community resource, "subject to consultation".

The significance of this caveat is moot. On the surface it would appear to suggest that massive public opposition to the closure could have the effect of halting it. On the other hand, no provision has been made for returning the item to Cabinet following any such consultation, which would conversely suggest that the decision is considered to be final irrespective of the outcome of a consultation that is being undertaken purely as a statutory duty.

The Community Group has taken a more relaxed and engaging approach towards the current Labour administration than had been the case in the past. Individual councillors have seemed more accommodating, more prepared to reach out to us as a community and to embrace the unique localist spirit that remains in Isleworth in particular in spite of our election reverse.

But we would be failing in our duty to our local people were we to stand back and watch the desecration of our community's infrastructure. Whether such spiteful assaults on our civic life are member or officer driven, we must resist them and we will.

Back in February over 300 Isleworth residents braved appalling weather to march in support of our Library and Public Hall. We call upon them to turn out again to defend St. John's Community Centre.  We were supported at that time by our Conservative MP Mary Macleod and by our three Isleworth Labour ward councillors.  We hope we will be again.

Isleworth is a vibrant, thriving community. We will not be closed down, whether for budgetary savings or for political advantage. Please turn out on Saturday and support St. John's residents and user groups as they fight to keep a valuable community asset in the hands of the local people.

March to Save St. John's Community Centre

Saturday, 19th November 2011

Meet outside the Centre, 10.30 am


Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

But Phil, we were all consulted on this issue last month !

We were clearly asked if we understood that the sale/rental of such establishments was NECESSARY to safeguard cuts to essental council services.

Obviously, everyone who responded answered "Yes".

Anonymous said...

Sounds like like a job for "LBH Watch".

Is it still going ?

Harmless Chemical said...

Announce that you're going to parade some freshly-whipped members of the 'Mogdengate' SDC and you'll have half of Isleworth there fo' sure !

In the meantime, any indication yet that the local MP, councillors or press have taken an interest ?

Mrs Harmless Chemical was going to check out the new Lidl store in Whitton on Saturday morning, but if she's going to get her picture in the paper.........

Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

Phil, the three other centres our friends want to close by next March (Feltham, Heston & Chiswick),
do you know if any similar demos are planned for those ?

The "Save Our Libraries" initiative made such an impression because each branch staged its own particular protest as part of a concerted on-going campaign.

Whether it worked or merely bought time remains to be seen, but at least it deferred impending sanctions.

Phil Andrews said...


There is nothing planned as I write but I am sure we will be exploring all options.

However the dynamics in this instance are different. Not only would the closure of St. John's provide the local authority with a tidy capital receipt, but there is also the small matter of £250k allocated from the 2010 budget which could be presumably be diverted elsewhere is this goes ahead.

This makes the closure of St. John's particularly attractive to senior officers, and there is also the possibility of an element of vindictiveness towards the Isleworth people following four years during which the balance of power shifted significantly from Lampton Road to the organised community. I am persuaded that some see this as "payback time" for that period and are pursuing a kind of "scorched earth" policy to ensure that our residents are never again in a position to regain that power.

All these things make the Isleworth situation different from the others if not entirely unique.

Our next task is to seek to establish what became of the £250k which was allocated exclusively to St. John's in the 2010 council budget. We are advised that no political decision has been taken, either by the Cabinet or by the Lead Member, to divert it and it should therefore still be there.

It is the prospect of diverting this money that may be at the root of this whole issue.

Dishonesty/Politics ? said...

Good to see such a big turnout and the 'missing' £250k could prove to be quite a thorny issue !

Without the support/co-operation of at least one of the new local councillors, there would seem little chance of getting to the bottom of it surely ?

Phil Andrews said...

I don't think it should be assumed that we would not have the co-operation of the councillors. Two of them attended the march, including one of the Lead Members involved, and if there is any suggestion of officer malpractice then it may be in the interests of the councillors to put some clear distance between it and themselves.

But in any event the £250k is a matter of historical record. It is in the minutes of the Borough Council meeting held at the beginning of March 2010. If it is now sitting somewhere else then legally there has to be some record as to where, and under whose authority it was moved.

Anonymous said...

Rather spunky response from 'disingenuous' Cllr Mayne in this weeks Chronicle.

Nothing he hasn't said already, namely that the centre has his full support BUT frontline services have to take priority !

Newshound said...

I loved his closing comment about the groups and services currently using the centre being retained in Isleworth.

Not neccessarily at 78-80 St Johns Road, but SOMEWHERE in Isleworth !