Last Wednesday's ward committee meeting in Acocks Green was slated as a brief affair - only a single, substantive item on the agenda to pass the Community Chest funding for the year. I was running a little late and fully expected to find the meeting on the verge of breaking up when I arrived around ten past seven.
I was amazed to find that there was only one spare seat - a contingent of ladies who all attend the Fox Hollies Leisure Centre to use the pool had turned up to hector the three Liberal councillors about the closure of the small cafe at the centre. They were angry and had even provided a petition, but this was to no avail - the decision to close was already made.
The claim is that the cafe is losing £50,000 a year, but this has to be set against the fact that a number of groups and clubs that currently use the centre's facilities may decide to relocate somewhere with more attractive facilities. It was pointed out that this has already happened in at least one case. The cafe is also a community facility in its own right - providing a place for these ladies to meet after their swimming session and have a quick, warming cuppa. My comrade, Stewart Stacey, pointed out that this was rather similar to the status of the buffet cars on British Rail. The management in that industry wanted to get rid of them, because they consistently lost money, but when the cars were removed, they found that this cost more in lost ticket sales than it cost to maintain the service. It is a loss leader to encourage use of the centre - all the more important now that Sparkhill Baths are closed for the next two to three years and Fox Hollies should be well-placed to take advantage of that business.
Cllr Harmer said that there was no alternative - that the money had to be saved to allow the setting of a balanced budget (quite how the constituency will achieve that this year, given that they are well over £600,000 over budget at the end of the third quarter of 09/10, isn't clear). Perhaps if some £90,000 wasn't being spent on a former Sun hack to spin for the discredited management of the Children's department, there might be more cash to be spent. Or perhaps some of the millions spent on consultants by Birmingham City Council might have been better spent on services.
I fear that this will be death by a thousand cuts - that gradually, other items of the centre might be closed because of falling attendance, rather than attempts be made to run it properly, to advertise it and to generate business.