Honest Discussion on Leisure and Challenges facing Whitley needed.
It, finally, has been announced and may I say only because of a public question to Reading Full Council, that John Madejski Academy will be under new management with South Reading Leisure Centre firmly back under the control of the Borough Council. Earlier articles on this blog apply.
You would expect that a matter of such seriousness is properly dispatched with Jo Lovelock, Council Leader, making at the very least a statement to Policy or Full Council. Second best would be her deputy or the lead member for education. However you look at it, the public, in my view, had a right to know at the earliest opportunity, especially parents with pupils at the school. Councillors, certainly, were aware, not in the last few weeks, but back in 2016 when the accounts confirmed the school to be insolvent. Technically, I put it to you, that the Academy is the first to go bankrupt and not Maidenhead’s academy.
If Whitley were a country in Europe, I would certainly urge a complete withdrawal from Council Political control – a ‘Whitsit’. My view, simply expressed, is that Whitley is in crisis and being used as political pawns. It is worth listening to the remarks of the Lead Councillor for Culture and Sport responding to public questions, who, at best, demonstrates that he was misinformed and was inadvertently propagating misleading information (Council – Agenda Item 5)
The reasons for fresh hands at the helm of the hugely expensive academy had little to do with the Academy being in special measures. A plan was in place, accepted by Ofsted, to improve standards. You would expect that Councillors would move hell and high waters to ensure that the academy status quo remained, not least because it was their flagship achievement. When Ofsted condemned the standards of education in the town, there were robust assurances that the Council would step in. So this matter is not isolated to the Academy, but firmly includes Reading Borough Council.
There are on-going negotiations with, as I understand it, “Reach 4” and the chestnut which I raised a decade ago was centre stage a while back – “why run a leisure centre, especially a loss making one?” and “was it in fact legal to do so?”
At this juncture, I do not wish to dwell on the sad state of the Academy, but to turn my attention to South Reading Leisure Centre and its future. Cllr. Gittings, in his statement, made it clear that this important facility would be part of the package offered in their search for a partner to run Rivermead, and Palmer Park. As I face déjà vu, the immediate thought that runs through my head is a repeat of history, a repeat of incompetence, a repeat of financial mismanagement, a repeat of second-hand logic. And the one thing I am certain is that the Lemming approach to public services prevails. It is a blatant demonstration of political contempt. Certainly it is a repeat of failed and tired promises.
The independent auditors failed the Council on delivering “value for money”. What better example do you need than the externalisation of leisure? What better example is there than leisure promises? I remind that the taxpayer has invested over £1.5 million in capital expenditure in AcademySport and many hundreds of thousands of pounds in subsidy. Councillors have much to account for in their poor oversight?
On the 10th April the fate of Arthur Hill will be decided by the Council’s Policy Committee. They, in my view, will most certainly decide to reject the plan put forward by a Community Interest Company formed to take charge of the facility. It is clear to me that the Council has, like their approach to the Academy, been economical with the truth. It is again worth listening to the Lead Councillor responding to another public question (Policy Committee: Agenda item 4). Here he implies that the Council listened and, out of the goodness of their heart (my interpretation), acceded to the public want for Arthur Hill not to be drained when in reality the matter was in the courts to decide. Reason: there was a high likelihood that draining would cause the pool to collapse; pretty sure Council knew that.
You can be sure I will have much more to say on this over the coming weeks to ensure debate. There now is the opportunity for sound restructuring of Whitley – putting the community and particularly the children first. Can you leave it to Councillors?