Letter: More unanswered questions over the Riverside Centre

Steven Goodman asks questions about the council’s involvement with the Riverside Centre

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We always welcome a Letter to the Editor to share with readers. This one from Newport resident Steve Goodman. Ed


Dear Editor,

At last week’s full council meeting I asked why our well-paid Chief Executive (and suddenly imposed Riverside Centre booking clerk), backed by an expensive legal department, falsely stated that the council cannot authorize variations from the Riverside lease. The council leader replied without explaining why that statement was made, and went on to make some puzzling & alarming statements of his own.

Perhaps he could tell us how making the Chief Executive responsible for bookings fits with what he said about the council being concerned to ensure ‘value for money’ use of resources?

Confused policies
It would also be helpful to hear why his view on the commercial use of the Centre seems not to apply to other council-subsidised facilities. The Heights competes with West Wight and Ryde voluntary swimming pools and countless private fitness providers; the Medina Theatre competes against Shanklin Community Theatre, the Apollo and other community groups. Even Council Chambers can be hired! Why is the policy different for the Riverside?

It is also unclear how stopping bookings or asking some tenants to leave will increase the Centre’s viability. For example if the MP’s office moved out how would the Centre be allowed to generate the income to replace that loss of revenue?

Commercial bookings
As the leader also talked about disabled people and groups being deprived of opportunities, perhaps it would be helpful if a list could be provided of what activities have not taken place because of ’commercial bookings’ (another question he failed to answer at the meeting).

Perhaps he could also tell us what proportion of ‘commercial’ bookings occur at the Centre compared with community usage.

Co-ordinated campaign?
County Press back issues suggest that this seems to be the latest attack in a co-ordinated campaign to undermine the role the Centre plays in the local community: allegations the Centre owed the Council £1/2 million, threats to increase the rent, Quay Advocacy and contract dispute – the list goes on.

I believe there should be public scrutiny of all these matters and, if the Council wants to be seen to be open and transparent, they would want this too.

Yours sincerely,

Steven Goodman, Newport.

Image: Bilal Kamoon under CC BY 2.0


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Thursday, 29th November, 2012 5:07pm

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5 Comments

  1. mike starke's comment is rated +16 Vote +1 Vote -1

    30.Nov.2012 1:23pm

    Steve Goodman makes some very good and telling points; ones that demand answers from Cllr David Pugh and Isle of Wight council chief executive Steve Beynon.

    Anyone with even a nodding acquaintance with official documents relating to the Riverside Centre and its relationship with County Hall over the years will see at once that the Pugh/Beynon arguments hold as much water as a rusty sieve.

    So what are their real motives? As Charlotte Hofton puts it so eloquently elsewhere today, there is “an elephant in the room” over this issue.

    The pachyderm in question is lumbering around County Hall, courtesy of the duplicity and lack of transparency of Messrs Pugh and Beynon over the vital issue of the future of the centre.

    Some of County Hall’s past dabblings in the centre’s affairs have been disastrous. A debacle over (mis)management in the early 1990s is a case in point.

    This facility is just too important to the Island community as a whole to be used as some sort of pawn in a sordid game of politics and “austerity” measures.

    Besides, public cash and effort built the Riverside Centre; the likes of newcomers on the scene like Pugh and Beynon have no right to ride roughshod over the “investment” of those long-term stakeholders, not to mention the centre’s patrons, both disabled and able bodied.

    Reply
  2. adrian nicholas's comment is rated +8 Vote +1 Vote -1

    4.Dec.2012 11:14am

    The Tory IWC leadership’s comments certainly seem at odd with their same 2010 defence of cuts allowed by the ‘localism’ and ‘big society’ ethos when replacing with community social volunteer partnerships that to work needed significant matched and commercial operational components for funding viability…

    Indeed, the Localism Act 2011 states;
    ”The devolution of decision-making power to the lowest practicable level at which it can be exercised.”

    Objective aims include;

    -greater freedom for councillors to consult, campaign and engage with local people.

    – giving ‘greater freedom and flexibility (notably including direct commissioning and provision with partnerships)

    -Giving new rights and powers to local communities.”

    In practice, this might appear to be entirely the reverse of the IWC takeover of the formerly entirely community instigated and funded Riverside Centre, it’s somewhat dubious grabbing of the lease given originally on a temporary token basis and subsequent rent hike at same time of disproportionate grant funding reduction.

    Significantly, in view of Localism’s practical imminent policy plans for LA’s to create Neighbourhood local plans and a ‘community right to build’- including ‘management of community development and associated projects and sites.’

    Further, a ‘community & voluntary, charitable groups and trusts (as well as parish councils and LA employee’s)have right to express an interest in ‘taking over a local authority’ service- including a community ‘right to bid’ (when nominated assets come up for sale or change of ownership, there is a moratorium -allowing groups to raise funds and bid to buy the asset).

    Surely the ‘Riverside Centre’ already had all these criteria BEFORE localism and that by holding onto the lease, imposing 150% rent hikes over 3 years and now preventing existing commercial bookings to non-disabled community groups and removing long time disabled reception staff
    – the IWC is acting contrary to the ambit of its own policy and statutory aims and objectives?

    Certainly, preventing existing community ambit booking on IWC interpretation of what constitutes disabled only community bookings – effectively preventing future self-funding of the centre to meet the imposed higher IWC rents can only be seen as tantamount to unofficial policy of running down the operational financial viability of the centre contradicting Localism?

    Localism’s complementary new Statute, the ‘Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012, states;
    ”All public bodies must consider how SERVICES they COMMISSION might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area. E.g. Contractors might;
    -employ local/ unemployed people
    -Involve users
    -Reach out to marginalised groups
    -invest profits in community projects and services

    Now again, some might think that the existing Riverside centre and disabled staff meet all these criteria?

    But…..
    Given the oddly co-incidental allowed running down of Newport Harbour
    and the land adjoining and behind Riverside Centre up to listed move
    of Records office.

    And further given the long Tory history, since 1980’s of publicly owned and
    paid for assets being sold off at knockdown policy contrived ‘market’
    prices to private investor/cronies. Certainly, this is currently
    happening to various former NHS outreach community and former county
    hospital sites, buildings and most significantly service outsource – as
    cynically was original intention of localism bill in practice where a
    worthwhile profit could be envisaged.

    That the ‘Riverside’ Centre was paid for by Island public private
    donation – is at odds with that a dubious ‘temporary’ transfer of lease
    ownership to IWC is now seen , with a near 50% rent hike by new IWC
    landlord as a ‘burden’ on taxpayer – though its social objective as a
    centre is at same time lauded and ‘guaranteed’.

    The apparent replacement of long employed front desk disabled again
    seems at odds with this same stated objective contrasted with the still
    unspecified recent ‘selective’ nature of bookings?

    I’d ask explicitly – what lease caveats prevents this future transfer
    and outsource to a prospective subsidiary private disabled service and
    training,etc. private sector provider – given the national and eu wide
    operations of G4S, ATOS, Care , Circle and Virgin ‘Health’ ;
    http://www.channel4.com/news/public-sector-outsourcing-the-political-connections.
    Charitable re-investment ‘status’ has over past decade, itself’ a fluid
    term and significantly, in other related sectors there are both
    examples and future deregulated lessening of criteria to allow nominal
    ‘non for profit’ subsidaries of ‘for profit’ companies to access and
    compete in the former public social excluded service created market.
    The ‘Riverside Centre’ as a ‘hub’ for disabled services, training and
    support services.

    Whilst such a move would only be viable in a regional context –
    nevertheless, the service contractor would in short term be presented
    as offering short term – public/tax payer savings(particularly when
    viewed from IWC budget standpoint)- whilst, in real and long term – the
    public cash cow of contract award provides incentive and even the
    notion of ‘tax paying’ becomes, if large enough – conveniently
    ‘outsourced’ from direct UK revenue liability.

    Thus public, tax and services become highly ‘relativist’ terms -except
    to the actual service user or in this case disabled and pointedly
    former long term disabled staff!

    One might conclude, that perhaps commercial outsourced private profit is the sole unofficial underlying motive and consequence that contrivance of localism policy may unfortunately for Riverside Centre, result from IWC selective criterion consequence.

    Reply
  3. Robert Jones's comment is rated +8 Vote +1 Vote -1

    5.Dec.2012 3:57pm

    Having sought to flog off everything else, from Ryde “Theatre” – in fact, Town Hall – to the Guildhall, the ambitions of the Council are obvious. The Riverside sits on a prime development site. First strangle it, then sell it.

    Reply
  4. Matthew James Martin's comment is rated +6 Vote +1 Vote -1

    11.Dec.2012 11:01am

    Kudos Steve Goodman!

    Reply
  5. playingthenumbers's comment is rated +8 Vote +1 Vote -1

    11.Dec.2012 6:53pm

    Is the Riverside being fitted for a Procrustean Bed like so many other institutions, businesses, charities & individuals who are not quite right in these times of the Tories’ Great Recession?

    Maybe the Riverside will be another statistic, like the 1 in 6 charities under threat of closure within the year as donations & funding cease. Perhaps the IWC will step in & take over the building, but just to keep the costs down, decide to monetize it – & then give the users access to another building. Of course, with the right amount of expediency to make the press release sound like it was the current Riverside management’s fault & the Tories really do care – assuming they come up for air from their demonisation of any group they doesn’t have votes for them.

    Then there is the dissonance between with the IWC’s plan for the Riverside & the Gov’s aims to make work pay – especially for the sick & disabled. Not content to double down on the financial hardship experienced by these folks to the tune of at least £240 p/y, the local tories & their lackeys are shunning the opportunity to develop, nay showcase an environment where skills can be learnt. Hell, I bet the users of the Centre could show the so called ‘able bodied members do society’ some harsh, hard lessons too.

    The inequality doesn’t just stop at the denial of opportunity of course. The IWC is complicit in an dreadful economic policy, which leads to more than a bit of head scratching. Gentle readers of OTW, may also have absorbed Citigroup’s Christmas report, a sort of alternative Christmas message – a world away from her Maj’s usual turkey. Edited highlights include how emerging countries will soon overtake us & our European partners, because they have chosen to invest & austerity is now counter productive. Supply was never the problem, it was demand – no body has money to create a demand here, & now the US, Asia & India are carving up the workforce & the really interesting, meaningful investment money. That’s what happens when you create rather than destroy. These other gov’s have learnt the lessons of the past & yes, have run up massive deficits too! The result for us, the slow asphyxiation of our economy & culture.

    Well done to anyone alive who can remember how the 1st age of globalisation ended, getting on for a 100yrs, (the term conspicuous consumption was coined in 1899). But my history book has tales of how rank inequality proved a fertile ground for revolution, militarisation, nationalism, social unrest, political extremistism, as well as public health problems. Threats that were partially neutralised by the people’s budget & the foundation of the social safety net.

    Its a shame that I cannot see Pugh (any Tory) as a latter day Theseus coming to the rescue or booker Beynon, just another rent-seeker, as having the understanding of the needs of any of the Centre’s users (as his salary, unheard of in Germany’s industrial/public sector, is so removed from the average workers’ ken).

    Reply

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