Council backs down on two leisure centre closures – now fight to stop all cuts

Stop the Closures demonstration between Batley and Dewsbury – photo Iain Dalton

On the day that the gym at Kirklees stadium was closing with just one weeks notice, Kirklees Council released the news that at their cabinet meeting on 12th December that two under threat leisure centres would be recommended to stay open.

Iain Dalton, Socialist Party Yorkshire secretary

This announcement from the council, whose leisure services are run by arms-length company Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL), came with the news that the council would also be approving a ‘new model of leisure centre provision’. But no details of this have been forthcoming, so it is questionable whether it meets the demand of local government union Unison of bringing the services back in house.

The reprieve for the leisure centres are welcome, and follow a march to Dewsbury from one of the centres, Batley Sports and Tennis Centre, as well as an ongoing campaign at Colne Valley Leisure Centre which started from reversing plans to close their swimming pool last year.

Dewsbury Sports Centre planned to be permanently closed – photo Iain Dalton

But it remains the case that leisure centre provision will still be reduced. Following the closure of Batley Baths a year ago, we have since seen Dewsbury Sports Centre closed due to RAAC issues, the Stadium Gym shut on 30 November and Deighton Sports Arena has only been given a reprieve on a limited opening basis until April.

Moreover the council is still proposing the closure of two care homes, closing several public buildings and increasing charges for allotments and parking amongst other cuts. The Stop the Closures umbrella campaign has vowed to fight on to retain all facilities, whilst care home campaigners have launched a legal challenge this week over the consultation over the closures.

The Kirklees local government branch of Unison, the largest amongst the council workforce, have voted to ballot for strike action amongst both council workers and those in arms length bodies like KAL. But unfortunately these are still yet to take place, and need to be urgently expedited. But any strike action taken in defence of jobs and services would build on the community campaigns that have sprung up, with a Unison delegation lobbying the council alongside community groups at last month’s council meeting.

Socialist Party campaigning in Huddersfield against the cuts – photo Iain Dalton

Campaigning in Huddersfield on 30 November, Socialist Party members found huge anger at the council, with many people pointing out the increased burden on health services if leisure centre provision is cut.

We raised the need for councillors to vote against cuts and fight for the funds to preserve existing services, which has also been a policy adopted by Unison who call for the council to support a no cuts budget.

Concretely, we call for the council to use it’s reserves and prudential borrowing powers to set a no cuts budget and demand a restoration of the millions cut per year from its funding. If an incoming Labour government was serious about defending services it could pledge to reimburse councils the necessary money.

But falling committing to that then we need working class candidates to stand against the local and national politicians on an anti-cuts basis, as the Socialist Party and other components of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) are aiming to do. This demand is getting an increased response of members of the public fed up with Labour and Tory politicians blaming each other for the cuts but standing aside from the community and trade union campaigns actually fighting to defend services.

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