Monday, February 15, 2010

No early bath in Sparkhill

The battle for second place in Hall Green is hotting up, with Respect's Cllr Salma Yaqoob accusing the Liberal Democrats of misleading the electorate over the future of Sparkhill Baths - closed for some months following the discovery of structural problems. In return, the champion of local democracy, Moseley Cllr Martin Mullaney and the boss of Leisure Services, has complained to the Standards Committee about her blog post, after demanding that she alter it to match his view of reality.
Thing is, I think she has a point.

On the left is a leaflet distributed by the Liberal Democrats in Sparkhill, showing a suitably-scrubbed-up Cllr Jerry Evans (currently best placed to come second in the upcoming parliamentary election) posing in front of the closed pool and the unequivocal statements

'Your local Lib Dem team have succeeded in securing funding for the rebuilding of Sparkhill Baths.... the rebuilding is likely to take around 2 years to complete'

That seems pretty clear. We can expect the bulldozers any time soon.
Or can we? Let's roll things back a little - and bear with me, because this takes a little unravelling to get to the truth.
Back in October 2009, the City Council Cabinet considered the Sports Facilities Strategy document presented by Cllr Mullaney's department. The following points came out of the report submitted and agreed for implementation.

4.3 .... A condition survey for Sparkhill Pool has been completed indicating that
the structure is failing and is unsafe for use and it would be more cost effective to
replace than refurbish.

4.4 Given the funding position, at this time, as outlined in Appendix 4 and the state of readiness of the 1st tranche projects i.e.: -
• That further work is required to develop detailed proposals for Stechford Cascades and the Sparkhill/Moseley area
Cabinet could now move forward on the Harborne project, to take advantage of the current competitive market, whilst maintaining a commitment to progress Full Business Cases for the other 1st tranche projects to be brought back to Cabinet in due course. This course of action would maintain momentum on the pool replacement programme, whilst adopting a pragmatic approach within the financial constraints.

From that also flowed the decision
Cabinet is also recommended to: -

2.11 To authorise the sum of £100,000 funded from the LTFS provision for major capital projects to develop options for a solution for swimming pool provision in the Sparkhill/Moseley area and the outcome and Project Definition Document will again be brought back to Cabinet for consideration in due course,
The 50m pool complex - known as BALC - has had the full business case prepared, but is still to have final approval
2.5 To note the Full Business Case for the Birmingham Aquatics and Leisure Complex (BALC)... and is still subject to the capital funding being identified from the capital contingency fund and capital receipts.
They haven't tied down the funding for this flagship project yet, so haven't progressed it. To keep Tranche 1 projects moving, the Harborne pool (coincidentally in Mike Whitby's ward) will be built and funding has been located for this project.

Some technical issues around BALC were agreed to be progressed, but it is interesting that the only commitment made at that meeting was to progress the other projects to the stage of having a full business case produced, for which £100k of funding was made available. We know that the costs of replacing Sparkhill pool are likely to be in line with the Harborne costing - £10-15 million. The current phasing of the plan indicates construction is planned for completion in 2013/14, despite the promise of completion within two years - construction isn't even proposed until 2011/12 at the earliest, although there is the potential for demolition and groundwork in the 2010/11 budget year, according to the proposal.

So far, those business cases have yet to come back to Cabinet, so no decision has formally been taken to replace Sparkhill pool. Cllr Mullaney maintains that the commitment is there, but the paperwork does not demonstrate this, although I accept his word about the political intent.

The financial plan was published last week and can be found here. Obviously, this is only a snapshot, but it lays out the plans for the next few years in terms of capital spending.

Comparing the two documents, you will see that the capital costs of Harborne translate into the plan, along with some other costs for moving the rest of the Tranche 1 projects forward for the next stage of approval. Interestingly, there is no funding identified for subsequent years for any other swimming pool proposal.
It has to be noted that this may change - the forecasts for 2011 and 2012 spends are just predictions. Actual capital spend may well turn out to be different from that predicted, but it is absolutely clear that no funding has currently been agreed for the Sparkhill baths replacement. Indeed, final approval from the Cabinet has yet to be obtained and cannot be obtained until the business cases are presented.
Cllr Mullaney may well have an informal promise that this will be forthcoming when the business cases are brought to Cabinet, but this is not the same as
'Your local Lib Dem team have succeeded in securing funding for the rebuilding of Sparkhill Baths.... the rebuilding is likely to take around 2 years to complete'
The publicly available evidence of decisions taken by the council simply does not justify that conclusion.
I would have to agree with Cllr Yaqoob that
The minutes of the council meeting report Councillor Mullaney as saying this: “…from an officer point of view, nothing has been allocated as such to Sparkhill, but there is the political will to allocate sufficient money to rebuild Sparkhill Pool.” So, as “nothing has been allocated as such” to Sparkhill pool, I will not be changing my article. But I am happy to repeat that Councillor Mullaney said there is the “political will” to come up with the money for Sparkhill.
It seems entirely reasonable for Cllr Yaqoob to call the Liberal Democrats on their misleading publicity.
In summary: the Cabinet have yet to approve the construction of the replacement baths and therefore no money has yet been allocated to the project. To state anything else is not supported by the evidence available. Indeed, if there is evidence that agreement has already been reached, those involved should withdraw from any further decision-making on the project, as they cannot be expected to reach a decision on the reports presented.
Given that Cllr Mullaney faced the wrath of the Standards Committee himself only a short while ago, his behaviour in using the process simply to bully a fellow councillor into accepting his particular world view is unacceptable and he should withdraw the complaint.
Back when HE was on the wrong end of a Standards Board complaint - and I had some sympathy with him at the time - he wrote on The Stirrer that
I believe that members of the public should decide at the ballot box whether or not they think a Councillor has been disrespectful. I don't think it is the role of the Standards Board to decide on the Ps and Qs of politicians.

I agree with that statement. This complaint appears to be solely politically motivated and an attempt to use the complaints process to undermine the parliamentary campaign of an opponent for the benefit of one of Martin's political colleagues.

I think he should consider whether this is behaviour appropriate to a Cabinet Member on Birmingham City Council, or indeed to a councillor.

1 comment:

James said...

Salma Yaqoob has been hard campaigning with residents to save the Sparkhill swimming baths.
The Lib Dems just scoring cheap points with false information. Clearly trying to steal the glory of her efforts.