Saturday, 29 January 2011

"I am gobsmacked. I had no idea...."

In today's Northants Evening Telegraph the deputy leader (by the way, whatever has happened to the leader?) of Wellingborough Council, Cllr. Paul Bell, attempts to respond to recent reports that they have been acting in a secretive manner and/or are not informing the people of Wellingborough of the extent and impact of cuts to services they are proposing to introduce.

To take the latter point first, I merely need to quote the deputy manager of Weavers Leisure Centre:

"I am gobsmacked. I had no idea. I knew cuts were being made but I didn't know that withdrawing that much of the centre's funding was being discussed. Where has all this come from? When are they going to tell us? There are 10 of us working here and this is the first I have heard of it".

Without my intervention last Tuesday at the full Council meeting (which has prompted all the fuss to date) the closing date for views on the cuts would have been next Monday! Given that the list of proposed cuts had not even been published how could people, such as those at Weavers Leisure Centre and others who will be affected by the cuts, have responded by this date? It has now been announced by the Council that the consultation period has been extended to February 9 - still not very long, but better that this coming Monday I suppose.

I firmly believe that this would not have happened without my intervention at the council meeting and the subsequent pressure from the ET. Nor would the list of proposed cuts have received such prominence and profile were it not for the determination of Evening Telegraph's journalists to get to the truth.

Cllr. Bell makes an interesting comment in his statement (see report below) which requires a little more un-picking: "We have opposed charging for the car park and we have no desire to close the market, or The Castle Theatre and these decisions will stand until at least 2012" (my emphasis). Interestingly there are no references to all the other proposed cuts, so we must assume the worst for these. I have also not seen any list which says these are the proposals we have "ruled out".

The reference to "2012" is, of course, important to note as are the words "no desire". Cllr. Bell knows only too well that government funding is not only being cut for the next financial year 2011/12, but further government cuts to councils will continue in subsequent years and for the foreseeable future. Whatever Cllr. Bell may "desire", he knows that he will have no choice but to make further severe cuts in the future. These cuts are just the start - not the end - of what this government plans for local services. Cllr Bell, however, is clearly in denial on these matters - as he was up until one week ago when he continually denied that proposed cuts will affect "front line services" even whilst planning cuts behind closed doors which he knew would devastate front line services. See: Denial cuts will affect front line services.

Under the heading "Consultation" the Evening Telegraph reports today that Wellingborough Council allege they posted the list of new proposed cuts on their web-site on Wednesday (note that this was after the council meeting on the Tuesday and no announcement of this intention was made at the council meeting - indeed rather the reverse - the Mayor and other Councillors tried to stop me referring to the existence of the list!). I still challenge anyone of reasonable intelligence and knowledge of the internet to find this list on the Council's web-site that in any way makes it accessible or transparent to the people of Wellingborough.

Finally, and this may seem rather pedantic in the scale of things, the language used by Cllr. Bell informs us a great deal of what lies behind this saga. Cllr. Bell continues to use the word "save" in describing what the Council is planning to do. "Save" sounds cuddly, softer and desirable. To "Save" is a good idea isn't it - we tell children that saving for the future is a good thing. We act responsibly by "saving by for a rainy day". But what Wellingborough Council are doing or proposing is not to "save". It is to cut, to savage, to devastate to ruin, to destroy - public services, lives, hopes and aspirations. To describe this as to "save" is both an abuse of the language and takes the people of Wellingborough for fools.


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