Just sneaking under the radar last night, buried on page 19 of the Express & Star, I note that leisure centres in Walsall are under threat of closure, including our very own Oak Park in Walsall Wood. This comes as no surprise, judging by the sate of Walsall Council’s finances – after all, their financial and administrative incompetence had to come home to roost some time, and we’ve been experiencing the gradual erosion of services, most notably in social care, for some time. What’s particularly galling about this news, however, is that the never knowingly unbiased local paper actually led the edition with the headline good news that the Grange Golf Course – ostensibly threatened with closure to make us all think that cost cuts would affect all social strata – has be heroically saved by the very people who pretended it was going to be closed. The course has not only be spared the chop, but also is likely to be refurbished with a new log-cabin clubhouse (sic) and driving range, despite an existing commercial facility existing not a mile away.
I fail to see what makes a nine-hole golf course such a viable proposition, whereas neglected but nevertheless well used leisure facilities come under threat. I wonder if Councillor Barry Sanders, personally tasked to be leisure services hatchet man by council leader Mike Bird, could actually quell the conflagration that surely ensued in his undergarments when he came out with the line about not wishing to compete with private facilities? The council golf course is intended to be doing just that. I’d be grateful if Mr. Sanders would explain to his electorate exactly which private facilities offer free swimming to those groups bestowed it by the government, and how many of those private facilities offer services to children at the same price as the council ones do?
Let us be honest about this, this is just another attack on frontline council services by a desperate controlling group, most of whom wouldn’t dream of using those facilities (after all, they might bump into members of the public), but would, however, probably enjoy a spot of golf. The only bright spot in all of this is that it’ll put some local Tory councillors in a rather tricky position – most notably, the three members for Aldridge North and Walsall Wood, Dopey, Grumpy and the Invisible Man. Councillor Mike ‘Burger Boy’ Flower has expended a lot of time and effort – with quite a degree of success – on getting improvements in the Oak Park Centre and it’s environs. Certainly, any attempt to close the centre would be a slap in the face to Mike Flower and his hard work, which must be quite galling; but since he’s all but stopped blogging and no longer participating in Twitter since the change of leadership one must assume he’s getting pretty disillusioned with the way things are going. It’s sad that someone who was so keen on new media should have his projects so cruelly pushed aside by the charisma vacuum that is the council leader, and seems to have all but abandoned expounding the cause of social media engagement with his community.
Any effort to dump the centre and sell the land would meet with considerable difficulty, as I believe the land to be held in some kind of covenant from the former mining trust or a related charity, for use as a park, as Walsall found out to their cost when they got into a spot of bother selling part of the car park to developers to build a drive through KFC. The irony of selling a part of a leisure centre to one of the contributory factors toward our sedentary, ailing society was clearly lost on the local populace, who reacted by making the drive-thru a roaring success; after all, who could resist greasy food served in a bucket?
We, the citizens and council tax payers of Walsall, are gradually seeing the services we pay for degraded and sold out to cowboys, shysters and cronies who’ll usually do less of a job for more money. It’s about time we woke up to the fact that the council we elected is incapable of effective financial and social stewardship and needs to be held to account. The opposition – pretty much silent to a man, except for a few notable exceptions – should hang their heads in shame for allowing this situation to occur without putting up a decent fight, but then, they were no better. We need to wake up before we sleepwalk to disaster.