6 September 2013

Pillage at The Manor: A Tale of Broken Promises

Forgive me for returning to the subject of Aldridge Manor House and Youth Provision in Aldridge once again but even I was surprised by the audacity of the lies and broken promises from Walsall Council, that were highlighted yesterday afternoon by a single tweet to this mad old baggage.

As I have recounted previously, back on 13 June this year, a hastily convened public meeting was held to discuss the council's plans to run the youth provision for Aldridge from the back of a van. A further public meeting was promised for the community of Aldridge, a promise made in front of five councillors including the Deputy Leader of the Council, who were present. It was clear from the meeting that people present were not only concerned with the proposals for youth provision but also about the sale of the building. The two subjects are entirely separate but also linked.

My attempts to chivy the council along in setting a date were detailed here and I continued to tweet them on a regular basis throughout the summer, even from holiday, mostly to a blank wall. However, any responses always led me to believe that a meeting would be held.

Earlier this week, the council issued a press release, praising themselves on their 'consultations' with the young people of Aldridge and their reassurances to the residents regarding the sale of the building and announcing a 'drop in' event to be held at the Manor House on 1st October. My instincts were aroused and so I asked a lot more questions. Yesterday afternoon the council confirmed in a tweet to me that the 'drop in' session is in the place of a further public meeting. How dare they and what justification can be given for the  such an important announcement has been made? They had the opportunity to make this clear in the press release but failed to do so, deliberately so in my opinion because this whole episode has been handled badly with not even lip service paid to the local community.

It is fair to say that the young people of the area have been consulted but confirming my suspicions from 13 June when I said there appeared to be no desire by the council to engage with the wider community, there has been very little attempt to consult with anyone else and what consultation that has taken place has been given very little publicity. The council have been keen to promote their view that it is the service users, in other words the young people, who are playing key roles in decision making about the future of youth provision but I know of young people who have snorted in a derisory fashion when asked if all of their opinions and views are being listened to. Furthermore when the council makes consultations about other areas of service provision, say provision for the elderly, libraries and leisure, green spaces, education do they consult only with the service users? Of course not! Services are provided for the benefit of the whole community and therefore the whole community is invited to voice their views and opinions. Clearly in this case IYPSS (Integrated Young People's Support Service - the department responsible for this shambles), has tried to keep a lid on consultation but at whose request? Cabinet members? Councillors? Officers? And for what purpose and reason? I only see party politics or perhaps council people politics at play here. Whatever happened to accountability?

Examining the five buildings identified as possible alternative venues for youth provision in Aldridge, I am not entirely convinced that any of them will be viable. The young people have made it clear through surveys conducted in June and July (who has been sitting on them since then?) that they don't want pop up or back of the van provision and have made suggestions about what sort of building they want and where it should be.  The Scout Hut in Middlemore Lane lacks space and has limited evening availability, as does the Community Centre which also lacks flexibility (read, we don't want a youth club there thank you very much) and the Outdoor Activity Centre at Aldridge Airport does not offer safety when considering there are not even lights for the road leading to it and whose car park is a hub for anti-social behaviour of a most unsavoury nature, even in broad daylight. Officers  couldn't even contact the relevant person for another building; The Anchorage 55+ Club in Leighswood Road. This leaves Croft House at 45 High Street which has identifed as an issue 'would require partners', read we would have to pay rent etc to a landlord.

The aim of IYPSS is to close the youth centre at the Manor House at Christmas this year and reopen in the new building in January. It is now September and a suitable venue hasn't even been identified. The five buildings is merely a list of desirable places with a further list of excuses attached as to why they are not suitable. Truth is there aren't any suitable buildings in Aldridge that meet the criteria for running a youth centre other than the building it is already in.

And what of that building? The Leader of the Council says assurances have been issued to residents regarding the safety of the building between it's closure and eventual sale. When? If he means those given at the meeting in June then forgive me if I take those with a rather large pinch of salt because other promises were made that evening that have already been broken. The council also says that any  future use of the building is open for debate. Hmmm, like the debate that we're not having the moment? One local councillor has talked about the proceeds of the sale being invested in Aldridge but official council press releases and utterances on this matter are very careful in their avoidance of such promises. There will be no sight of the £1 million proceeds in Aldridge. One of its few historic buildings left will be sold and there will be no recompense for the local community for that pillage. This is in stark contrast to the investment made in Willenhall by the council in preserving the historic buildings there. I have no problem with the wider Walsall community benefiting and certainly have no beef with investments being made in historic buildings, if I thought the investments were a worthwhile benefit but not everyone cares for a town centre Primark or whatever scheme is brought about behind closed doors, with no public consultation, debate or accountability from those who happen to be Walsall Cabinet members. It's a very private club that cabinet.

If you feel as enraged about this as much as I do, then I urge you to complain to Walsall Council about its handling of this sorry episode as I have done and I also urge you to sign the e-petition that I've set up calling for a public meeting, that will go live next week. Link to be posted then.

Omnishambles is now defined in the OED. It's alive and well in Walsall too.


  1. Linda, What a disgraceful and inept way to treat a community by a local authority. You are very clear that consultation correct and proper is a fundamental requirement of any public service engaged in closing or altering service provision. After all this is public finance being played with.

    I would suggest that a formal complaint is issued with a requirement for the Council's Internal Audit Unit (they do exist!) to investigate the officers and conduct of this very public farce.

    Gazza Lichfield

  2. Hello Linda
    As least they gave you the right day for the drop in session, in reply to me I was advised it was going to be held on 2nd October!
    I'm not persuaded that they have, as yet, identified a suitable alternative location for the Youth club.
    The meeting on the 1st October has a lot of questions still requiring an answer from IYPSS and the council.