Scartho Baths - is there something behind the saga?
By Michelle Hurst
WOULD you be a local councillor?
Take Scartho Baths – the subject of an online debate on www.thisisgrimsby.co.uk tomorrow with our MPs Martin Vickers and Austin Mitchell from 9.45am.
The decision to pull down the swimming pool, sell off the site and build another way out of central town on the Grimsby Leisure Centre site is at odds with the outpouring of opposition to such a move.
The decision to eventually allow a consultation, after much badgering from the public and a 7,000-signature petition, but then only online and with questions that appeared more weighted than a bus full of wrestlers.
Unless, of course, those who have made the decision, and appear to be sticking to it come what may, know something we don’t.
We know that the authority is in financial straits, thanks to the Government slashing its funding.
We know that NELC will have to find an extra £8 million in savings by the end of 2015-16 – including a further £5-million in the next financial year, 2013-14.
We know this is on top of the additional £7-million announced in October, and means the authority will have cut £58 million from its budget over five years – equating to a cut of £31,000 every day.
So is the profitability of the site worth so much more than the expense of spending £8 million on a new swimming pool, minus a diving board, in a less accessible area and the memories of local folk who will never forget?
What doesn’t add up is the suggestion that Scartho Baths is not nearly in as bad a state as initially stated, and £2 million would see essential maintenance work carried out – but would not be a long-term solution.
Would it give the authority time enough, though, to come up with a plan and the finances for a replacement of Scartho Baths – and time for the economy to pick up?
Unless of course, the council is looking to reduce the number of leisure sites across North East Lincolnshire.
Fewer sites means fewer costs to future leisure contract suppliers – or fewer volunteers running them (well, that’s way things are going, isn’t it?)
Another oddity about the whole process is why the company currently contracted to run leisure services is being replaced by a not-for-profit social enterprise whose board comprises seven elected councillors.
I get that the council should have included more than basic maintenance in its contract with SLM, and that the “social enterprise model” for leisure and cultural services is not a new concept, but is this not really going back to leisure being council-run once again?
Can we afford that? And do those involved in the Scartho Baths saga want it?
Each bit of coverage that we give the Scartho Baths debacle in the Grimsby Telegraph only seems to add to my confusion.
On the one hand, Coun Mick Burnett says, “the council commissioned the design work but only after a bench-marking exercise that ensured the professional fees were competitive” – which suggests to me that Balfour Beatty, the council’s “regeneration partner” (it has to be quoted, I wouldn’t possibly use such a turn of phrase!) are being paid for the design and project management role.
But, he went on to say that BB are “providing the overall design management and project management services as part of the regeneration partnership contract”.
Therefore, is any cost already paid out from the original NELC/BB partnership contract, and at no extra cost to the ratepayer?
I ask, because questions have already been raised about the fact that the design and project management role was given to BB without a tendering process.
And whilst the benchmarking exercise, to ensure BB figures within the regeneration partnership contract were competitive, was justly carried out, are we, as ratepayers, still getting value for money if no one else was given the opportunity to bid for that part of the process?
And, even if the authority is contractually committed to BB designing the new facility, could someone else have come up with a cheaper design?
Like I said, there’s so much to this saga that it is bound to go on and on and on... I just wonder what the end result will be and whether we will ever learn if there was a reason behind it being pushed so determinedly.