Opinion: Hit-list assets are community lifelines

In September 2022, the then Conservative-run city council set out plans to draw up a hit-list of community buildings ‘for disposal’ due to the mess council finances were in, writes Labour group leader Dennis Jones.
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The list included libraries, leisure, youth and community centres. This was early in the council’s financial improvement plan after special advisors had been sent in to manage the cliff edge the Conservatives had taken the city to after 23 years in charge.

The Cabinet set a target to raise £32million over three years to help fund debt repayments and manage the financial mess.

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After years of financial mismanagement, wasting millions on ‘novelty’ and ‘vanity’ projects across the city, the Conservative administration reached a point where they needed to dispose of community assets to balance the books.

Labour Group leader Dennis Jones (Dogsthorpe)Labour Group leader Dennis Jones (Dogsthorpe)
Labour Group leader Dennis Jones (Dogsthorpe)

This is one of the reasons why councillors united to vote out the Conservative administration.

Community centres are the lifeline for residents and community groups. They run through everything the council does in and for our communities. They bring us together; they keep our children off the streets by providing warm, safe havens for them.

Please don’t get me started on the demise of youth clubs. As a former youth and community worker myself, the decimation of such clubs and their facilities saddens me greatly. Combine this with increased living costs, inflicted by this Conservative government nationally, and the picture for our communities is bleak.

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After years of neglect and lack of investment or upkeep, there is no question many of these facilities need some work done.

Why do I raise this now? Well, the Conservatives are back to playing political games. Despite running the city for 23 years, crashing the council’s finances into the wall, and approving a plan to sell-off some of these assets, they are now pretending it was nothing to do with them. The Conservatives are so desperate to cling onto power, they will say or do anything, including campaigning to ‘save’ things from - their own legacy.

Earlier this week, the Conservative policy of ‘Asset disposals’ came to the cabinet after doing the rounds in Scrutiny committees in September and October 2023. On both occasions as an exempt report, either not to ‘set the hares running’ or to avoid public scrutiny as rumours of the fate of assets on the list has caused consternation for many community groups and residents.

This list is secret no longer. Which is why community groups are rightly concerned as to what this Tory legacy might mean for them.

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We need a fresh start for Peterborough. The new administration needs a big broom to sweep up the financial mess they have inherited. But that shouldn’t be at the expense of much-valued community buildings or the facts.

The Labour group will be fighting to ensure communities are fully involved in putting this mess right, creating a plan involving residents. Some buildings are in desperate need of repair. Some repurposed with better facilities. And in some areas the community may want to take over direct running the asset bringing it closer to local control.

We will oppose any ‘fire sale’ of community buildings or desperate attempts by the Tories to claim this isn’t anything to do with them.

Whether it is the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS, dentists, cleaning-up our streets or supporting communities, we need a new start in Peterborough.

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