Newcastle: Save Elswick Pool!

FRFI supporters and members of Parents Against Cuts in Newcastle have been working with other local people to defend Elswick swimming pool, the latest victim of savage cuts being implemented by the Labour Council.

In the last five years £151m has been cut from Newcastle council’s budget. Public services in the city have been slashed including libraries, play and youth services, rubbish collection, leisure facilities and Sure Start. Another £40m is to be cut this year and an expected £90m over the following two years. Not a single Labour councillor has voted against any of the cuts budgets, not even David Stockdale, cabinet member for leisure facilities, who recently led the North East campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party

Elswick is one of the poorest wards in the country. Unemployment stands at 19.2%. At 70 years, life expectancy is nine years below the national average for men. An affordable public swimming pool is a vital community resource in a community which already has very little.

The council decided to stop funding Elswick swimming pool in 2013 and told residents it was planning to transfer it to a community partner. However, the sole bid for this transfer was unsuccessful. After further cuts to the council budget, four further leisure facilities and Elswick pool were put out to tender as a package to the

private sector in February 2015.

However, on 11 August 2015 the council announced that Elswick pool would be closed by 31 October 2015. Both bidders had insisted on dropping Elswick from the procurement as it was not considered profitable.

The decision re-activated the Save Elswick Pool campaign. A public meeting saw local councillors try to head it off by proposing the establishment of a community interest group to take over the running of the pool. Shamelessly supported behind the scenes by prominent People’s Assembly organiser Tony Dowling, councillors including Dipu Ahad tried to hoodwink the group over the feasibility of such a project. Yet campaigners were aware that North Country Leisure, which took over Eldon Leisure, Gosforth Pool and West Denton Pool in 2014 has hiked swimming prices by 27% despite receiving a council subsidy. There is no subsidy on offer for Elswick, and it would cost £260,000 a year to run. Full-time staff would be replaced by volunteers, health and safety would have to go by the board.

Tragically, the pressure from the councillors began to affect the determination of the campaign with some agreeing that there was no choice but to accept the pool’s closure. A community takeover is not viable and the council know this. It is a political strategy to deflect criticism. What is particularly shocking is not just the role of the councillors but the behaviour of Tony Dowling who never attended a campaign meeting but used his position as Facebook administrator to delete any comments he saw as critical of the Labour Party or the Labour council. He claims to be a campaigner against austerity but is merely a Labour Party poodle. Fortunately many campaigners are made of a different mettle, and heckled the council at its meeting on 23 September. Beware false friends! Save Elswick Pool!

Annie Rutter

FRFI 247 October/November 2015

 

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