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Yesterday I spent the day with Jeremy Hunt MP. Jeremy is the Shadow Secretary of State for the Department of Media, Culture and Sport. I know a mouth full of a title! Jeremy was very friendly and keen to learn about how Fylde Conservatives have saved one pool, and at a time when pools are closing up and down the country, we’re opening a second pool.
The partnership working we’re doing with the YMCA is almost unique and was praised by Jeremy as good practice is a time of financial difficulties placed on local government by Gordon’s Labour Government.
At Fylde’s cabinet meeting this evening Tim Ashton moved an amendment to spend money to re open St Annes pool. The Council has recently come into a small amount of money which we will be giving to the YMCA to re open St Annes pool in a similar deal to that the council struck to keep Kirkham Baths open.
This is great news and shows what a council can do when it puts it mind to something. The Conservatives at the council were left with no choice when the Labour Government cut our grant and made us pay for free bus travel. The council had to make savings and they had to fall on the pool. We’ve now hammered out a deal that could see the pool run at 20% of the cost.
It is early stages yet, but I think the deal will run just like it did at Kirkham and the pool will be open for swimmers in 2 to 3 months.
A few weeks ago I reported that at a council meeting I’d proposed freezing the prices at Kirkham Baths. This was to keep the cost low and encourage use. Britain, and rural Fylde is no exception, is in recession. People are struggling to make ends meet, prices are again rising and homes are being repossessed.
I felt holding the prices to last years was a good thing, but not according to the Independent Party. They slammed me for being ‘highly political and hypocritical’. Well, if sticking up for Kikrham Baths again is highly political then that’s a label I’m happy to live with. And hypocritical? I want the baths to stay open. Some people want the baths to close so they have an issue to fight an election with. I think that’s hypocritical!
The day we had confirmation that Kirkham Baths was saved was one of the proudest days in my 11 years as one of your councillors.
It was vindication of a long struggle to keep the baths open, a battle in which so many in the local community fought alongside me. I can tell you that it was not easy to vote against my own party to keep the baths open – but that is how local democracy should be – with councillors voting in the interests of their local areas.
I was fortunate in that being the cabinet member for leisure meant I played the lead role in negotiations with the YMCA to take over running of the pool. This meant we got the right deal for Kirkham. There were lots of proposals floating round – some more sensible financially than others! There was lots of shouting in the local press, and unrealistic wish lists, none of which really helped save the baths. In my view, it was a matter of quiet, patient, behind-the-scenes diplomacy rather than a megaphone in the market square which saved the baths.
The afternoon I spent shadowing the lifeguards at the pool demonstrated just what a valuable part the baths play in our local community. You could see how the children loved it – having fun as well as learning those vital life-saving skills. Older people too could get the exercise they need to maintain an active lifestyle.
Funding council swimming pools is not cheap. Running costs get ever higher – just think of how your own heating costs have risen, and apply that to a heated swimming pool!
Free swimming for all is a great idea, but it would be a lot better still if Labour funded local government properly so that baths weren’t threatened in the first place. Everyone should have the chance to swim at a local pool.
I’m proud of the role I played to keep Kirkham Baths open. But in the end, what matters far more is that everyone in the area should be proud to have the baths available to them. And if I have one plea, it’s to make sure that we all use this excellent local facility, and demonstrate to the powers-that-be just how appreciated and valued it is.
We don’t just need a Victory March, we need increasing usage of our local treasure. Kirkham Baths is open. Let’s use it so as to keep it open.
In a ground breaking partnership between Fylde Council and the YMCA Kirkham Baths is to stay open.
The deal will see Fylde Council financially support the baths while the YMCA own and manage it. This is the goal that I’ve been working to for the last 12 months. At last years budget cabinet meeting I voted against my Conservative colleagues on the cabinet which lead directly to the one year reprieve to give council officers and myself time to work out a deal. That deal went to the 11th hour and was only ratified at the budget meeting two days ago and the YMCA board last night.
I have always supported Kirkham Baths and will continue to do so. Today is good news for Kirkham, Wesham and Rural Fylde and shows that local politicians can actually make a difference. It is a pity that the only Kirkham and Wesham councillors to support the budget which keeps the pool open were John Bennett and I.
My next priority to to hammer out another deal with the YMCA to seek the reopening of St Annes Pool.
This week I received several letters from the pupils of Kirkham & Wesham County Primary School. The letters expressed the pupils concerns over the potential closure of Kirkham Baths. There was real passion and emotion in the letters, some written by children as young as 7. I read all their letters and agreed with all the sentiments raised. The impact on young people over the closure of the baths was one of the biggest reasons I had for opposing the closure.
I spoke to the head teacher, Mrs. Jones and reassured her that I am the side of the kids. I also said I’d write back and explain the current situation; that being the the baths are saved and will remain open under the stewardship of the YMCA and the support of the council. I also said I’d be happy to go in to the school and speak to the pupils about why the council felt it needed to cut it’s spending and close the baths.
I think it is great when people, especially young people get involved in the community they live in. I enjoyed reading the letters and I will enjoy tell the pupils of Kirkham and Wesham that due to the action I took over a year ago, the pool in Kirkham shall continue to be an asset for all the people of Rural Fylde.
I was at tonight’s Cabinet Meeting at Fylde. Many items were on the agenda, but of particular note was the Baths and the financial position.
On the Baths the cabinet agreed entirely with the course of action that we have sought to keep Kirkham open and that can see St. Annes open very soon. It is just a pity that opposition councillors could not be happier. One was so miserable he nearly talked them into closure again. The next step is for the YMCA board to approve the plans and we should see a long and prosperous relationship between the YMCA and Fylde Council.
On the financial side we heard straight from the horses mouth, that of the Council’s chief financial officer, that Fylde’s finances are under huge pressure, not from anything Fylde has done, but what the New Labour Government had done. The free bus fare scheme is crippling local councils and will land Fylde with a bill of up to £400,000 – our total budget is only about £10m, so it’s a huge chunk. The officer, who is impartial, said that the Government has put its head in the sand and is underfunding this scheme so the bill lands on the door mats on Fylde Council Tax Payers. Is this fair? Well no it’s not but that New Labour for you.
And the final point is one that depressed me. I mentioned during the meeting that perhaps Fylde could pay its bill a little sooner to help small local business with cash flow during this credit crunch. I pointed out that the Country’s financial woes were created by New Labour. This attracted some very vocal heckles from Independent Councillors in the audience. The question here, is are they really Independent? It seems they have more in common with Labour, sticking up for the Government that has brought the credit crunch and the spiralling cost of living upon us.
Local Conservatives have saved Kirkham Baths.
Discussions that have been ongoing between the YMCA and other bodies will see Kirkham Baths stay open. The baths were under threat due to government cut backs, budget squeezes and schemes that have passed massive costs on to local councils. However, despite the hard decision to close St. Annes, local Conservatives are fighting back against the Government and we’ve come up with a scheme that will see Kirkham stay open and St. Annes to re open.
The baths will be run by the a local organisation who will have to run them more effectively to see them bring more income in to the pot to keep them going. Cllr. John Coombes, leader of the council needs to take much of the credit here. For a start he’s put up with me moaning on about them for the last year and he allowed my to get away with voting against him and the Conservatives. Something I don’t think I’ll be allowed to do again. But joking aside, John has listened and taken action over this and has worked tirelessly to bring about this very solution.
Today I am chairing a meeting between the Council, the YMCA and Rural Splash. I am hoping that we can form an understanding for the way forward to keep the baths going into the future. I hope that all sides can put their differences to one side and come together for the sake of the community.
Fylde’s budget has been hit hard by this New Labour Government and Kirkham and Rural Fylde should not suffer as a result of vindictive government spite. That is why I again pledge to stand up for Fylde and that is why I’ll continue to work, in front of and behind the scenes to get this sorted.
We have one chance to move Kirkham baths into a sustainable position, I hope no ones ego gets in the way. Local Conservatives have worked hard to offer the services that the budget allows, let’s hope that we can continue to do that while keeping the baths open for general benefit of the population.
I do seem to have got a little bit of stick from one or two people about Rural Splash and attending the meeting that I was invited to attend, but not the meeting I was not invited to attend. I said at the Councillors bit that the plan showed vision, but it now needed everybody to work together. This was received in the spirit it was meant. However, it appears that as soon as I turned my back, that spirit was put to one side and party politics got the better of some people with a letter in the local paper saying something that was not true.
I have always supported keeping Kirkham Baths open. I voted against my party group and council leader to give Kirkham Baths the time to find a funding solution. That solution may have been found, more detailed talks have to take place. I have, today invited the Chairman of Rural Splash to talks.
I have also today contacted my friends on Blackpool Council to see if we could use their pool cover from St. Georges Pool. If we can this will save 50% of the heating costs and makes it more likely that Kirkham Baths can stay open.
So I’ll make my plea again. If we are to keep Kirkham Baths open, we must work together, lets hope that that can happen.