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We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts


1:00 pm - December 30th 2010

by Kate Belgrave    


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I’m on a three-month trip around the UK talking to people affected by public sector cuts. This is a post about the efforts two Northwest Tory councils have made to stop me reporting on spending and cuts:

My visit to the soon-to-be-closed Grange daycentre in Shropshire hit the skids before it started.

The Grange daycentre is an adapted community facility used by people with severe physical disabilities. Their conditions include multiple sclerosis, severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Many have had debilitating strokes.

Just before Christmas, they asked me to visit Shropshire to record their views about Shropshire council’s sudden decision to close their daycentre. So off we went, my photographer and I: skidding and crawling (in a car) across treacherous ice between Manchester and Shropshire, only occasionally breaking the silence to scream as lorries greased past on black ice, etc.

Turned out the drive was a minor inconvenience compared to the rest. The real obstacle was the Shropshire Tories. It emerged that the council had banned journalists from entering the daycentre. We were allowed no further than the foyer. Furious centre-users – some in wheelchairs, some needing physical support – turned up to say that nobody was allowed to talk about the centre, or its impending closure, because the council had ruled that talking might upset people (upset the service users, that was – not the press or the frigging council. I’ve talked to a council spokesperson since. He agreed that was the council’s line).

The centre users didn’t feel the council had the right to tell them who they could and couldn’t talk to. Who over the age of five would? Centre users Chris Alvison, Andrew Millarkie, Donald Gibson, Anne Lee, Victor Baylor, Eddie Davies, Terence Jones and Trevor Brian Steadman (all in their 40s) said they were prepared to move outside into the snow to talk if I wasn’t allowed through the doors.

The council backed off in the end, although needed a good slapping first. Local disability rights campaigner Nicky Clark (who has two disabled daughters herself) intervened and shouted the council down. In the end, we were able to set up the cameras and recorders inside the Grange.

This was the second time in two days that a Northwest Tory council tried to stop me reporting a contentious local spending decision. The other incident (I tweeted it at the time) took place at a public West Lancashire borough council meeting in late December. Councillors and senior staff halted the meeting to tell me to stop tweeting and recording during an item about council plans to refurbish the Town Hall – a costly refurbishment that will take place just as borough residents brace themselves for an era of supposed austerity. I ignored that instruction, and the councillor who was bleating it, and carried on recording.

Let it be said that I’ll record and tweet whatever public meetings I like, and talk to anyone I like, regardless of councillor instructions. If that means civil disobedience and/or a short spell in the slammer, so be it. The hell with this mad crap about keeping public meetings and public issues private – especially now, when people who need services are being forced to make enormous sacrifices to pay for someone else’s banking crisis.

The public owns council. It ain’t the other way around.

This is an edited version of a post (with the videos and pictures we took at the Grange) on my site.

Slideshow from the day at the Grange

Petition to save the Grange centre

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About the author
Kate Belgrave is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She is a New Zealander who moved to the UK eight years ago. She was a columnist and journalist at the New Zealand Herald and is now a web editor. She writes on issues like public sector cuts, workplace disputes and related topics. She is also interested in abortion rights, and finding fault with religion. Also at: Hangbitching.com and @hangbitch
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Fight the cuts ,Local Government

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Reader comments


I was once asked to go on TV I get asked all the time by the BBC as a cripple to chat about disability, So I was asked to do this program about the closure of Remploy factories in my area. Peter Hain was also on this program, after an hour Hain said I will not close any factory until I have words with people like Robert, I can assure him of this, and the public. Of course we had local elections in Wales the following month, once labour won, without warning the three factories closed. So far after four years not one of those people have found work. According to Hain he would be putting forward plans to get the mainstream employers to employ these people in real jobs.

Fact is these people cannot be employed some of them have so much wrong with them, I left labour after 44 years the day after Hain did this, the creep

My ,my the tory brownshirts really don’t like accountability do they?

It is the same tactics as war reporting. Don’t let the public see the reality of the actions. Can’t let the sheeple see it is the sick and poor who are all in this together.

Well done. I will make sure to come and visit you in the slammer.

On a point of detail, I have it on good authority that not all West Lancashire Borough councillors opposed your recording of the meeting.

Well bloody done. We can’t rely on mainstream media for this kind of coverage, but, hopefully, once people realise what cutting the scapegoated public sector actually means for them and how many areas of their lives are affected, we’ll see some proper resistance!

Good for you, Kate. Keep it up! I actually read about the second incident in the paper. Come to Merseyside; not too many Tory councillors here! Plenty to report on, though…

Shropshire in the North West? Youm conna be serious, mon.

But, seriously, Shropshire Tories are bastards. Did you know that as they’re doing this (and the Grange daycare centre is in Harlescott, which just happens to be the poorest electoral division in the local authority and one of only a few that Labour won in 2009. Funny that) they’re still directing money into useless projects in relatively prosperous market towns.

J – let me know if you’ve got people for me to talk to & I will. Am back in London for a week then on the road.

Alun – that doesn’t surprise me at all. The argument the West Lancs Tories were having was over a big spend on refurbishing town hall buildings – at a time of austerity… it is interesting how money is found to shore up the mothership. Same thing happening at Hammersmith. They argue capital spend vs revenue, of course.

And yep – Paul Cotterill did have a go at the Tories for their ridiculous stance. Good man!

Good. Well done Kate.

Can’t agree with cutting frontline services whilst there is a pound left in the Town Hall refurbishment fund- let’s hope the voters of Shropshire see this too and get rid of the councillors making such policy.

But what is much worse is that they tried to prevent exposure of the issue by gagging the users. If they have faith in the correctness of their decisions, what are they afraid of by allowing free speech?

Good article.

Typical reaction of the obtuse, direct your anger at the previous pyromaniacs not the current firefighters.

@pagar & Rumbold – thanks both.

@Serenity: ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

While I’m only a humble parish councillor there is no authority under our powers to ban the kind of interview you describe. Is there such a power under district or county council law? I suppose they could say that they are unwilling to let you use their property but from this report there seems to be a greater effort to prevent you from interviewing residents at all. This flies in the face of the duty for councils to be open and transparent to their taxpayers as much as possible.

Really truly disgraceful behaviour by shropshire council. Well done.

Martyr complex. If you honestly think baby-eating Tories want to, or are going to, put you “in the slammer” for recording a council meeting, you must believe your own hype about us.

Parasite – you guys don’t have a great sense of humour, do you? That was a bit of gentle sarcasm – the hint’s in the word ‘slammer.’ Bet you’re a hoot socially.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 15 Parasite

“Martyr complex. If you honestly think baby-eating Tories want to, or are going to, put you “in the slammer” for recording a council meeting, you must believe your own hype about us.”

Firstly, I doubt the bit about going to jail refers to recording council meetings, but to potential future civil disobedience, which for obvious (and often fair) reasons can see you end up in court.

Secondly: you read this article and all you’ve got to talk about is one possibly melodramatic phrase? No thoughts about the behaviour of the councils in question spring to mind?

..and Chaise is right. Some of these responses from councillors were ridiculously over the top – think they were the ones with the god complexes. If they’re that stupid about people recording public council meetings, they might just get very stupid on other things.

@cherub – you’re right. The problem was that they put the onus on the staff at the centre – a terribly unfair thing to do to people who’d just been told they were losing their jobs. The staff were told to tell reporters to leave. There weren’t any councillors around passing that message on – just staff, who felt that they’d be in even more trouble if they defied a council instruction.

The council are pushing through this closure without completing the consultation and are clearly rattled by their own shortsightedness.

They told me not to tell anyone that they refused entry to the premises by the media and so the service users had their photo taken in the carpark in the snow. That’s the one the local paper used. the council are annoyed and are making out that I’m causing agitation to vulnerable people. (The service users contacted me because of my campaign).

Pretty *interesting* time for the council to be concerned about their agitation suddenly.

The service users are agitated because their day centre is being closed after 25 years and without all of the views being taken.

Thanks to Kate and Charles for coming and writing it.Thanks to Liberal Conspiracy for posting the blog.

It’s documented now. It’s a small day centre. But they are people with the same rights to be heard as everyone else. They want to tell their story and be listened to. They know they might not win but they want to fight.

Anyone who has a problem with that is an asshole.

The online petition is here. http://bit.ly/efMcyr

What is it with the tory brownshirts and spending millions on doing up town hall buildings?. Oh silly sally, we all know about the brown shirts.
Like the Nazi’s making foreign visitors walk across acres of Albert Speer marble buildings like the Reich Chancellery in Berlin , and the party palace in Nuremberg to make them feel inferior .

Fascists love show , and they love spending public money on the state apparatus. The poor, and the sick, not so much. Perhaps Shropshire council will soon be building concentration camps for them

It’s not really much of a “fight to tell stories”, is it? Being politely asked on two occasions to refrain from what you are doing, but doing it anyway and not suffering any consequence? Not exactly Solzhenitsyn versus the KGB, is it? Please try harder to justify Sally’s menopausal rhetoric, Kate.

22. SpiderComeHome

Bloody well done Kate and keep them coming.

Well, Scoob – the Shropshire one was definitely a fight. It took a half-hour shouting-match with senior council managers on the phone to win that one, so certainly a battle there. They weren’t too bloody polite about it, either. Plus, my feet got cold in the snow, so I’m claiming personal sacrifice in the line of council-round duty on that one.

The West Lancs one wasn’t that polite either, although the CE clawed a few points back by describing me as Young – as in, what’s that young lady back there playing at with her newfangled phone. Also, the old giffer who made the complaint inferred I would edit it in a manner unhelpful, so my feelings got hurt.

Sally – you’re home.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 21 Scooby

“It’s not really much of a “fight to tell stories”, is it? Being politely asked on two occasions to refrain from what you are doing, but doing it anyway and not suffering any consequence? Not exactly Solzhenitsyn versus the KGB, is it? Please try harder to justify Sally’s menopausal rhetoric, Kate.”

Ah, now the “it doesn’t count unless you suffer for it” fallacy. This thread isn’t about heroism, it’s about the opposite: the petty, everyday bullshit of authorities, however weak, trying to prevent people from getting the evidence to criticise them. Oh, and I don’t see why Kate should have to answer for Sally. Do try harder next time.

Cheers, Chaise. In many ways, you’ve summed up the whole sorry shambles that is local government cuts. There’s nothing romantic, revolutionary, or major going on, really – it’s just a bunch of petty council wankers visiting hell on people for whom society really should fork out for as a matter of course. It’s all small beer and small money comparatively.

Unfortunately, it is what the arse-end of the financial crisis looks like. It isn’t some major scene, or a series of glittering, history-making confrontations, or bloody battles and glorious deaths – it’s just a bunch of guys in wheelchairs wondering what they hell they’ve done to deserve the loss of the small daycentre – just a few rooms, with a kitchen, etc – that meant a lot to them. Bad enough having a crippling stroke at the age of 40 without having to put your mind to this kind of stupid shit. There’s nothing fancy going on here – this is what local government cuts look like. I would say, though, that these people showed courage, which, at the end of the day, is relative. They were prepared to defy the council on which they still rely. May not mean much to Scoobie. Probably means bugger-all to most people. But it moved me and the people I was with and I thought about it for days.

Fred Goodwin – this is your endgame. Congratulations.

It’s a lot of BS really isn’t it? Who is going to fight?
I’d just rather watch Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on that programme they did from the Lake District and Yorkshire.
Or was it Shropshire?

Kate Belgrave,

Well done.

It is part of the petty bureaucratic mind to assume that they, and only they, know what is best. I fail to understand how openness of Local Government is advanced by secrecy. Though, it is obvious that the nation Cameron wants us to become will have to be led by sad little interludes like this. Exposure to daylight is a frightening thing for the troops in Camerons Army. Some folk saw the big picture and voted for him. The practical implementation of his policies are, however, to be kept a dark little secret.

Which is more than a touch sad.

We need a lot more folk like you.

@ Kate

Cheers, Chaise. In many ways, you’ve summed up the whole sorry shambles that is local government

Agreed.

And the shambles that is central government too.

Any of our resident Tories want to defend their party here in spending money on refurbishing a council building whilst closing essential services?

Good work Kate. This is what we really need more of. Not suprised to see the front bench New Labour have failed to get out the Westminster bubble.

Once again the Tories find ‘truth’ to be their undoing. They hate having to explain themselves to anyone but the fawning yes men. This is why they hate the BBC, the BBCV will ask the questions they don’t like.

Where are those ‘decent’ Tories comming on to condemn or even defend their nasty little people?

Blimey! A London socialist finding Shropshire! But can you please make sure Londoners know that Shropshire is a very unpleasant place – not the sort of place where Londoners would be happy to live at all.

As for councils wasting money. When Labour were in control of Birmingham, they were more than happy to finance various minority festivals and spend money on free newspapers to advertise themselves, rather than spend it on essential services. It’s not unique to the tories.

When Labour were in control of Birmingham, they were more than happy to finance various minority festivals and spend money on free newspapers to advertise themselves, rather than spend it on essential services. It’s not unique to the tories.

Were they also screaming about the need to slash public spending by any means possible and actively cutting those essential services at the time?

How many people use this day centre? How much does it cost to run? The linked newspaper article has a Councillor stating the following:

“As people are taking up other opportunities, numbers of people using the centre are reducing. Other day centres in Shrewsbury and Shropshire will be developed to provide a base to provide an opportunity to socialise.”

Surely these are all factors that need to be taken into account when making these decisions? The article by Kate Belgrave does not consider any of these issue.

Regarding West Lancashire’s decision to spend money on refiurbishing the Town Hall these may well be essential repairs – are there health and safety issues which would make it dangerous for staff to work in the Town Hall if refurbishment was not carried out?

Front line services do not run by themselves – there is a reason why Councils have back office functions, they don’t just spend the money for a laugh.

Fungus (love that),

One of the main reasons that I haven’t, as you say, considered the fiscal implications of such a closure in detail is (as you’ll see if you read the full length piece on my site) that the senior council manager who was supposed to discuss this in detail with me hasn’t quite managed to get back to me yet, in spite of several phone calls. The press office at Shropshire wanted him to speak to me directly to answer a long list of questions, and he hasn’t called back.

The points I wish to raise with him are, by happy coincidence, among the ones you touch on.

First is – alternative daycentre options. The people at the daycentre were very much of the opinion that there were no alternatives – it’s all very well the council saying that it’s looking at them, but it needs to provide detail and it certainly hadn’t let centre users in on its plans for their future after the Grange. They certainly didn’t seem to be of the opinion that they were simply going to be shifted into another building, and that it’d be business as usual, etc. If you look at the video on my site, you’ll see people discussing exactly that. Staff also seemed to be under the impression that they were being made redundant and/or moved to the redeployment list – not, as you might think if there were tangible alternatives in the pipeline, taking up roles in a defined alternative service.

This lack of information about so-called alternative options is part of a wider complaint from service users – the lack of consultation throughout the whole nightmare. Again, I asked the council for its views on that before Christmas and again, I have yet to get a response. I’d welcome the opportunity to publish exact details of the council’s plans for its Grange users and a history of its consultation with users to date and to put that back to service users. I’d point out too that this ‘consultation’ (whatever it was) was supposed to run until January – the decision to close the Grange was taken much earlier and unexpectedly. Unfortunately, senior management hasn’t taken up my invitation to discuss the reasons for that, which is a shame, because there seemed to be considerable disconnect between the council’s line in the standard-issue press release it sent me and the views of the service users.

Another point that is the drop-off in use of the centre. Service users claim that the reason the number of daycentre users has dropped is that the council won’t accept anyone there over the age of 65 anymore. This all rather smacks of library closure justification stuff to me – councils stop resourcing libraries and buying new books for them, and then start saying that nobody’s using the libraries. Thing is – people stop using the libraries because there are no new books there and they are inadequately resourced. Same thing here – if you reduce the drivers for attendance, attendance will fall. It’s all a bit smoke and mirrors.

Thus far, the council has sent me one press release full of quotes which closely mirror the ones old Fungus refers to in the story I linked to. I suspect it’s their standard one. So – I’ve got a council press release saying service users will be found completely acceptable alternatives and are being consulted with on them and have nothing much to worry about, and a bunch of service users saying they’ve heard and believe nothing of the kind.

Bottom line remains – the council tried to stop these people talking to me about their situation. I suspect that if the council had a great alternative for these service users lined up, they would have had it on show, or, at least, told the users about it to get them to do the publicising for the council on it, instead of trying to shut them up about the Grange. If it’s all so great and so acceptable, why not open the doors to the press and get people to sing your praises? The great thing is, though – you’ll be pleased to hear this – is that I got everyone’s phone number and will be following up regularly during 2011 to see how it all pans out. If the council has an acceptable alternative in place and the users feel that it is as good as, or even better, than, the Grange, you’ll hear all about it. If the council is just mouthing off in press releases, you’ll hear about that too.

Happy New Year.

To all others – thanks for your comments and interest.

The tory trolls have still not given a satisfactory answer to why tory councils all over the country are spending millions of public money, at a time of huge cut backs and bullshit speeches from their masters about “we are all in this together” on doing up council buildings.

So I stick by my Albert Speer analogy.

“But can you please make sure Londoners know that Shropshire is a very unpleasant place – not the sort of place where Londoners would be happy to live at all.”

Hmm…? Plenty of Londoners in Shropshire these days. Mostly elderly Tories though.

Something worth noting is that Harlescott is on the northern fringes of the town and pisspoor town planning means that it isn’t very easy to get from the Harlescott Grange estate to the rest of Shrewsbury if you’re disabled and poor.

@35: “The tory trolls have still not given a satisfactory answer to why tory councils all over the country are spending millions of public money, at a time of huge cut backs and bullshit speeches from their masters about ‘we are all in this together’ on doing up council buildings.”

I suspect the short answer is that the construction industry – which has lots of self-employed workers – is likely to be heavily clobbered by the forthcoming cuts in public spending.

Btw my local LibDem controlled borough council in London has also recently come up with multi-million proposals to redevelop the civic officies – to facilitate efficiency savings, of course.

39. Chaise Guevara

@ Bob B

“Btw my local LibDem controlled borough council in London has also recently come up with multi-million proposals to redevelop the civic officies – to facilitate efficiency savings, of course.”

In fairness, if they’re telling the truth and have costed the operation properly, that’s commendable. One of the massive and probably insurmountable problems with our electoral system is that it encourages short-termism: better to save £1m now, when you’ll get the credit for it, than spend £1m with a view to saving £50m over the next ten years.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Broken OfBritain

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  2. Jeevan Rai

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  3. kevinrye

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  4. Lisa E

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  5. Rich Pitts

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  6. Nick H.

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  7. Gary Banham

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  8. Lorraine Warren

    RT @hangbitch: @dontplaymepayme Closure of disabled centre -> link to save-centre petition at the end: http://bit.ly/glT2Wm

  9. David Wearing

    RT @libcon @hangbitch We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  10. sunny hundal

    @dontplaymepayme this one Nik? http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/12/30/disabling-users/

  11. Clint David Samuel

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  12. dontplaymepayme

    RT @sunny_hundal: @dontplaymepayme this one Nik? http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/12/30/disabling-users/

  13. spsot

    We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/nQKwGrx via @libcon What a nice Tory council…

  14. Pucci Dellanno

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  15. lizziecharlton

    @AlexCanterbury think anything like this http://bit.ly/ffUc7F will happen in Kent/Canterbury when cuts bite?

  16. Gateshead GreenParty

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  17. kreepingskorl

    [Liberal Conspiracy] We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  18. gateshead green

    [Liberal Conspiracy] We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n

  19. Ben Craig

    RT @libcon: We must fight politicians to tell stories of cuts http://bit.ly/hJzd6n





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