The Bickerstaffe Record

Being Labour, Cotterill on the Council, Leisure and culture, Uncategorized

One Tory press statement, 5 paragraphs, 7 falsehoods

08.27.09 | Comment?

Our MP Rosie is keeping up the pressure on the West Lancashire Conserative Administration of Incompetence and Right Wing Dogma At the Expense of People’s Lives, or WLCAOCARWDATEOPL in its more common acronymic form.

You can see her call here, and her focus quite rightly is on standing up for the poorer families and young people of West Lancashire.  The renewed call is, of course, extremely timely in light of the physical activity statistics I reported on the other day.

Rosie’s comments speak for themselves, but the Council’s response warrants a little bit of examination, because it is mostly nonsense.

The council says:

‘As previously explained, West Lancashire Community Leisure Trust would have liked to launch the free swimming for those aged 16 and under but unfortunately we have not been able to bridge the gap in funding from the government to support this initiative.

 ‘Despite the recent ‘improved offer’ announced earlier this year from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, this second chance has no further better offer on what they were prepared to give us in March – namely just £64,800.

‘The cost to ourselves, as estimated by the Leisure Trust, would be around £157,000, leaving a massive shortfall of around £90,000 per year, which would then fall on the taxpayer if we were to implement the scheme.

 ‘Also, the funding from the government is only guaranteed until March 2012 and there has been no further suggestion that it would be extended. Therefore, the total shortfall would again affect taxpayers.

 ‘If full funding can be found for this scheme, then we would be happy to support it.’

The statement has holes big enough to drive Daniel Hannan’s ego through, so let’s look at the errors and gloss-overs one by one:

1) The government was not just offering £64,800 for under 16 swimming when the Conservatives turned it down.  It was offering development funding of £24,977 to put together plans for major swimmingpool refurbishment, and then an opportunity to bid into a £50 million capital funding pot for same. 

That’s precisely what Wigan Borough Council did, and precisely why they were awarded £600,000 capital funding. 

Skelmersdale Nye Bevan pool’s roof is nearing the end of its life, and will cost around £200,000 to repair.  The Conservative council has wasted the opportunity to get it done at no cost to the local taxpayer.

2) The estimated by the Leisure Trust of the total cost of the scheme is not accurate, and deliberately inflated. 

First, it takes no account of the additional income that would be generated from paying adults accompanying children – not all the additional under 16 visits would be teenagers going on their own.

Second, and more importantly, the additional costing was based on calculation about additional staff needs that would be brought by the additional users.  This was based on historical information from councils which had already introduced free swimming.  This is not a reasonable calculation, because it takes no account either of the phase in period, during which numbers would not reach the comparator figures.  Nor does it take any account of the lesser increases that would occur as a result of most councils introducing free swimming at the same time (meaning less chance of cross-boundary visits from people wanting the free off, which is now occurring in reverse as West Lancahshire residents seek free swimming in Knowsley, Sefton and Wigan.

3) Even if the projection of £157,000 were accurate, it is wrong to say that the funding gap is around £90,000 per year.  The council’s own papers show that the Primary Care Trust (PCT) offered to contribute £25,ooo, and this was before any substantive negotiations took place (in fact none ever took place because of the council’s negative attitude). A reasonable estimate would be that in the end around £50, 000 could have been brought in from the PCT. 

No other attempts at gathering other funding were made, despite there then being a dedicated external funding team at the council (since cut).

4) It is incorrect to say that the funding offered by the goverment did not increase.  The council’s own papers show that the initial offer was £54,661, and they now state that the ‘renewed’ offer was £64,800.  This is a £10,000 difference deliberately overlooked by Conservatives.

5) The notion that the council could not accept funding because it was only guaranteed for two years is utterly laughable.  Very few charities would operrate in England if they adopted this same ridiculous stance.  Grant funding is always time-limited – that is its very nature – and to deprive young people of free swimming for at least two years for this reason would simply be cowardice on the part of the council.  

6) No mention is made of the fact that Serco Ltd, the private firm which operates the swimming pools, refused to provide any contribution to the scheme.  The council made no attempts to persuade them to contribute towards it.

7) There is no attempt to explain how, other than a few like-minded Conservative councils, all councils in Enlgand managed to implement free swimming, while West Lancashire did not.

For a fuller review of the betrayal of the young people of West Lancashire, newer readers may wish to refer back to my three part series produced in September 2008.

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