Labour leader announces U-turn after public backlash
The leader of North Lanarkshire Council, Councillor Jim Logue, has announced that the previous decision to close 39 sports and leisure facilities across the region has been rescinded. The move comes after a huge outcry from the public, sports clubs, community groups and some Labour councillors who opposed the plan.
Logue said that the council had taken the decision to protect these “important community assets”, despite the lack of support from the Scottish Government. He blamed the SNP for the council’s “dire” financial situation and accused them of failing to properly resource local government.
Plan would have affected libraries, pools and culture venues
The original plan, which was approved by the council’s policy and strategy committee on September 28, would have seen the closure of 39 facilities, including libraries, swimming pools, golf courses, football pitches and culture venues. The council claimed that the closures were necessary to save £3.4 million a year and to invest in new and improved facilities.
However, the plan sparked a massive backlash from the affected communities, who argued that the closures would have a devastating impact on their health, wellbeing, education and social cohesion. Thousands of people signed petitions, planned protests and voiced their anger on social media.
Council banned comments on its posts amid ‘abuse’
The council faced such a strong reaction that it decided to ban comments on its social media posts, citing “abuse” towards councillors and staff. The council said that it would only allow comments on posts that were “positive and constructive”.
The council also defended its decision by saying that it had consulted with the public and stakeholders before making the plan. It said that it had received over 10,000 responses to its online survey and had held 12 public meetings across the region.
Some Labour councillors condemned their own party’s decision
The plan was not only opposed by the public, but also by some Labour councillors who broke ranks with their party and spoke out against the closures. One of them was Ayeshah Khan, the Labour councillor for Motherwell North, who said that her opposition to the plan went “unheard” and vowed to keep fighting for the facilities to remain open.
She posted a statement on Facebook, saying: “I am absolutely disgusted and ashamed of the decision made by my own party. I have been vocal in my opposition to these proposals from the very beginning and have made my views clear at every opportunity.”
SNP group leader welcomed the U-turn but criticised the Labour administration
The SNP group leader on the council, Councillor Tracy Carragher, welcomed the U-turn by the Labour administration, but criticised them for “bulldozing ahead” with the cuts without giving full consideration to the alternative solution proposed by the SNP.
The SNP had suggested a “transformational change” programme that would have involved a review of the council’s assets, services and staffing, as well as a partnership approach with other organisations and the community. Carragher said that this would have allowed the council to save money and improve services without closing facilities.
What will happen next?
The U-turn by the council means that the 39 facilities will remain open for the duration of the council term, which ends in May 2024. However, the council’s financial situation remains uncertain and it is unclear how it will fund the maintenance and operation of these facilities in the long term.
The council said that it will continue to work on its “ambitious” plans to invest in new and improved facilities, such as the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility and the Motherwell Community Campus. It also said that it will seek more support from the Scottish Government and other partners to secure the future of sports and leisure services in North Lanarkshire.