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Pools Protest

Pools ProtestTo Kirkham, where the 'Friends of Kirkham Baths' had called a public meeting to protest at Fylde Council's latest threat to close Kirkham Baths. A packed hall of 200 or so heard from all sorts of people - dads with little ones who held swimming medals and shields aloft and were actually en-route to the baths but had stopped by the meeting, to Doctors of Psychology who pointed out the medical and psychological importance of swimming.

All were united in the aim to stop the baths being closed.

Friend's Chairman Raymond Green opened the meeting and bemoaned what was becoming an annual threat to Kirkham Baths. He asked whether people would be prepared to pay 3.50 admission (rather than 2.40 at present) if it would keep the baths open. Support was pretty solid.

The usual arguments were advanced, children need to learn to swim, it's healthy exercise and so on. All very laudable and right. But the trouble is - as Queen Elizabeth Oades pointed out, it's not necessarily that all the ruling group on the Council actually want to close the baths (although some do because they have a hidden agenda going), it's just that the Cabinet is financially so incompetent and has allowed such huge losses to arise without keeping them in check, they were 1.2 million overspent this year, and in one department they had overspent by 609,000 and they now plan to carry that forward as a planned overspend of 500,000 a year for the next four years at least.

That 'planned overspend' of 500,000 a year, means it to be cut from somewhere else.

St Anne's Pool and Kirkham Baths are obvious candidates, as we showed in 'In Deep Water.' So its not that they all want to, it's just that this Cabinet is so administratively and managerially incompetent, they can't see any alternative.

Star speaker of the night was Richard Nulty, former Operations Director with Blackpool Council. He had obtained the budget figures for Kirkham Baths and dissected them. He showed that yes, the headline loss might be 300,000 or whatever, but that included all sorts of charges that were entirely fictitious accounting devices, or costs that would still exist even when the pool was closed.

One fictitious charge for example is the 'Capital Charge'. This is a theoretical charge so the capital value of the asset is shown as part of its operational cost. It is not an actual charge, and elsewhere in Fylde's accounts it is offset with a compensating contra-entry, but it has the effect of making the pool look more expensive to operate than it is.

Another was the services recharge. This includes the cost of accountant's time paying invoices, part of the cost of the Mayor, and presumably part of the Commissar's latest pay rise to 9,000 a year which are all collected and recharged in some theoretical apportionment to Kirkham and St Anne's Pool.

As Richard Nulty said, these are red-herring costs because you don't get rid of them if you close the pools - the Mayor will still be there and cost the same, just as the Commissar will (although the Mayor probably costs us less and do a better job). He argued that the real cost was the marginal cost after these overheads had been stripped out, and from his cursory examination he thought the marginal costs for operating Kirkham Baths were not 300,000 a year, and were probably less than 114,000 a year, and might even come down to 60,000 to 90,000 a year.

Richard is obviously a man to have on-side, and Raymond Green was quick to praise and draw him in.

Barbara Mackenzie who chairs the St Anne's on the Sea Town Council also spoke. She confirmed they had also had Fylde's begging letter and had asked for further information on costings but had not received a satisfactory reply. She said she had come to Kirkham to show that St Anne's shared the concerns of Kirkham and that by working together they would be stronger.

At the close of the meeting, Queen Elizabeth commented that the recent march to oppose the closure of Lytham's Post Office had been well supported, and asked if Kirkham residents would like to do something similar for the Baths. There was an overwhelming "Yes", so it looks as though that's going to happen.

Switch now to St Anne's, where a group of people representing diverse organisations and interests in St Anne's expressed their concerns on a range of issues, (including the fate of the swimming pool) to some of the St Anne's on the Sea Town Councillors on Wednesday evening. The meeting at Kirkham of the previous night was covered in some detail and we heard fresh news that (unbelievably) a plan had been hatched to create a new swimming pool at Lytham after St Anne's and Kirkham are closed!

It seems that the Local Strategic Partnership (another unelected bloodsucker's talking shop we could well do without and save a small fortune) has spent 20,000 of taxpayers money donated by the likes of Fylde BC on a consultants 'Scoping Report' that looked at the possibilities of 'developing' the leisure facilities on the site of the St Anne's Pool and the surrounding land.

Now, if you were the Commissar - or his best mate of the moment, Dim Tim, and swimming was something you're not bothered about, you might well think it a good idea to close St Anne's Pool and Kirkham Baths so you could sell off those sites for 'development' and maybe persuade the private sector to build a new swimming pool next to the YMCA at Mythop Road in Lytham. You could get the YMCA to run it and probably bag some profit out of the idea.

If you think this is fanciful you need to get yourself a reality sandwich (as they say these days).

For the last 8 days there have been secret negotiations taking place between Fylde Council and the YMCA on just this idea.

And at Fylde's budget meeting this morning (which was a laugh a minute and will be reported separately soon), Dim Tim (backed up by that Used to be Nice Paul Rigsby) had the nerve to propose this idea and ask Leisure Portfolio Holder Simon Renwick to look at it seriously.

The nature of his questioning of Cllr Renwick was more hostile than we have seen at a Cabinet meeting before, and suggested there may be some serious disagreement between Cllr Renwick and others on the issue - especially on Kirkham Baths which Cllr Renwick seemed to be defending more than St Anne's. He was uncharacteristically supportive of the baths as a public service pool saying "pools have to be subsidised by local tax payers, as that is what local people expect their tax to be spent on".

This split became even more apparent when Cllr Renwick proposed an amendment to the resolution which was in effect to put Kirkham baths into a state of financial suspended animation whilst he got together with the Friends of Kirkham Baths and Council Officers to prepare a rescue package. This went directly against the line that Dim Tim and the now Not-Very-Nice Paul Rigsby wanted to happen, and the Commissar had to intervene to separate the warring factions, saying he would prefer Cllr Renwick to get his case together and make it at the Full Council meeting which is at 5pm on 3 March at Fylde Rugby Club.

When no one would second Cllr Renwick's proposal it fell, and the vote was taken on the main part of the resolution to recommend Full Council to approve the budget with the cuts as proposed, (including the closure of Kirkham Baths and St Anne's Pool).

It was passed of course, but Cllr Renwick voted against. This was the first time we can recall seeing open dissent within a Cabinet meeting.

Clearly this could be a significant shift. If Cllr Renwick is genuine, and he wants to retain Kirkham Baths as the much loved place it is for the long term (the baths have an almost irrational but incredible following amongst Kirkhamites) then he deserves the thanks and support of everyone who wants to save the Baths.

But after the budget meeting, others we spoke to (who are even more cynical than we are - if that's possible) said that leopards don't change their spots, and that Lowther Theatre was the perfect place to have such an exchange, because it only needed a couple of "Oh no it isn't...... Oh yes it is..." quotes to make it the perfect pantomime, and that the interchange between Cllr Renwick and Dim Tim was as carefully stage managed as any Am-Dram production, as was Renwick's vote against the Cabinet's budget resolution.

Like we said, cynical.

They went on to point out that Cllr Renwick is the Commissar's Kirkham candidate for the County Council election in May, and that not being seen to support the baths would be electoral suicide for him, so this is only a ploy for votes.

We're not so sure it's as clear cut as that, but neither are we yet wholly convinced the road to Damascus flows through Wesham, so we're keeping an open mind.

One comment that reached our ears was that the master-plot was to appear to retain Kirkham Baths for this year, but close St Anne's and redevelop the site (we did hear talk about a biggish hotel being planned in that part of the promenade not too long ago). The re-developed St Anne's site would fund the building of a new pool on Mythop Road which is 'central' for the whole borough, and when that was built, Kirkham could then be closed (because it would no longer be 'needed') releasing funds for some other exciting new project the Commissar seems to need to keep his adrenaline moving along.

As the Commissar knows, the thing we like least of all is being conned. And there's too much of that going on at the moment. We can only hope the plan that we heard really isn't what will happen.

One thing that *is* going to happen is that a protest march to Save St Anne's Pool is being planned in St Anne's for Saturday 1st March  starting from the Pier area at 11am we understand, and heading toward St Anne's Pool. We also understand Kirkham is planning a similar event on the same day. So if you want to support you swimming facilities, you might get some exercise on 1 March. You might also email your friends to tell them to join you.

Readers will know we don't normally include links to other sites, but as a one off exception, here is a young lady who wants to air her views robbydoo

Dated:  14 February 2008


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