Friday, 5 March 2010

Closure of Radford Unity Complex

This is another of those 'coming late to the party' moments for me. I did see it but completely failed to take in its significance until yesterday.

Radford Unity Complex is an old Victorian school building in Radford. As well as housing some NCC staff it also caters for a number of BME voluntary projects including Nottingham Teaching College and the Sikh Community and Youth Service amongst others. The NCC staff are all moving out, mainly to the new NCC HQ at Loxley House.

Some of you might already see where this is going. Essentially, NCC saw an opportunity to save money and, via a portfolio holder decision by Cllr Jon Collins, they decided to close it down.

Now I did see this but, as I say, I didn't think much of it. After all, it's not that controversial for councils to consolidate their property portfolio and the report attached repeatedly states that the groups "can be relocated to alternative accommodation" with "better facilities". Naively, I assumed that this meant that alternative accommodation had already been found.

This turns out not to be the case. From 'Evening Post' articles here and here it seems that the groups were simply given 90 days notice to leave and it's very unclear exactly what support to find new premises is being given. What's more there appears to have been very little consultation with those affected, beyond establishing that they wouldn't have the means to take the building over as a community enterprise. It's worth reading some of the comments to the articles which appear to have been added by people connected with the groups, although you do have to navigate around the usual racist bollocks that the 'Post' insists on tolerating on its comments boards.

So, to my mind, the report supporting JoCo's decision to shut up shop is extremely economical with the truth and there seems to be quite a bit of spin going on. Plus ca change you might say.

Finally, I was checking Twitter and I saw some references to the issue on Cllr Alex Foster's Twitterfeed, which I've reproduced below -

I was very interested to see the phrase 'first ever call-in sub-committee'.

Some background. In the year 2000 most councils changed their governance structures following an Act of Parliament. There were a number of possible different options but NCC decided to go for an Executive Board, comprising of a number of Executive Portfolio Holders. Essentially the idea is that, as full council is somewhat unwieldy it would be required to make only a small number of the most important decisions like approving the annual budget, other 'key decisions' would be taken by the Executive Board and most other decisions, defined by financial limits and other factors could be taken by Executive Portfolio Holders. The decision to close the RUC was one such decision.

However, such decisions are subject to 'call-in' where the Overview and Scrutiny Committee can set up a sub-committee to examine at the decision and ask the Executive to look at it again. It's all that exists in terms of checks and balances on these decisions and in fact it's pretty toothless because if the Exec decides not to change the decision there's nothing else that can be done. These arrangements have all been in place for 10 years.

Like I said, I was very interested in that 'first ever' bit. As you can see from the list of agendas for the call-in sub-committee, as Cllr Foster says, there has never been one before in 10 years. So much for checks and balances.

Back to the actual issue involved I was even more interested in Cllr Foster's report that Cllr Long had picked up that the groups based at the RUC had been given their 90 days notice BEFORE the decision to close had actually been made. That really does smell of a big piece of fish.

So, to sum up, jumping the gun re starting the eviction process, little or no consultation, somewhat uh, 'generous' NCC background report and the serious prospect of six community groups working with the BME community out on their ear. Very 'community cohesion'.

And all topped off with the revelation that the only check and balance on portfolio decisions has never been used before. Isn't local democracy wonderful?

[Interesting side note not specifically connected to NCC; a request for call-in has to be signed by three non-executive councillors and in this case it was three Tories. Now fair play to them for that but I'm just saying it's the first time I've seen the Tories on NCC get involved in any issue not connected with Wollaton Golf Club. And if you look across the river at the County you might well conclude that their party's reputation as community champions has yet to be firmly established.

Radford Unity Complex is of course situated within Nottingham South constituency which is a target for the Tories in the upcoming general election. By some extraordinary co-incidence, Tory PPC for Nottingham South has also been getting involved in the campaign too.

If you live in Nottm South (especially NG7 area, maybe not in leafy Wollaton), expect to see this issue feature in Tory election leaflets, coming through your door soon.]

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