Northfield Swimming Pool and Fitness Centre

31 Jul
 In early 2012, there were rumours about the possible privatisation of the Northfield Leisure centre. Stirchley and Cotteridge against the Cuts, launched a petition in March 2012 opposing this eventuality, and it had immediate and huge support from users and passers-by.
March 2012

March 2012

 Labour came to power two months later and the alarm died down.
 However, as we know too well, the new administration was soon given notice that it had to introduce devastating cuts to services over a period of several years, and any subsequent hope of opposition from Birmingham Labour came to nothing. We have since witnessed big attacks on Community libraries, Neighbourhood offices, community centres, swimming pools and other services.
 The Northfield Swimming Pool and Fitness Centre was opened in May 1937 as a municipal baths; the fitness suite was added in the 1980s. A major renovation took place a few years ago, but the Council is now saying that it is reaching the end of its life and plan to close it in 2017. In its place they seem to want a new pool in Longbridge, but the idea of a municipal pool that is guaranteed to be accessible and affordable is getting lost, as is the case for the Tiverton Road pool.
 The consultation meeting in Longbridge on Wednesday attracted a good turnout of 80-90 people, but was dominated by presentations from the top table. The short meeting did not allow time for full discussion by the public, but there was a feeling that a privately run pool as part of the new shopping (and hotel?) complex in Longbridge was not what was wanted. The privately run pool in Harborne or the new University Pool in Selly Oak seem to be the model that the Council prefers, or is resigned to be going along with. Would this be a suitable replacement for the current very popular and well-used pool?
 A new community, municipal pool in Northfield would best meet users’ wishes, but they will be most likely be listened to then ignored.
 The current pool costs about £4000 per week to run. (Tiverton costs about £6000). Much is made of the Harborne Pool being apparently self-financing, and presumably the new one would aim to have a neutral balance (or be profit making?). But the idea of public services being paid for out of general taxation and not being subject to market logic is once again getting lost. We have seen how this has impacted on trains and buses in terms of fares; do we want to introduce the same logic into other services such as swimming pools?
 There will be more news about the Northfield pool in the autumn, so those that want a new community pool in Northfield, or wish to retain the current one, will need to watch developments closely.

Repression at the University is met with resistance

29 Jul
A new occupation takes place . . . and is promptly repressed!
The university authorities reveal themselves once more as shameless thugs who are not fit to run an educational institution.

Council abandoning sheltered housing tenants

24 Jul
                              This letter speaks for itself.
Carol Dawson, District Manager, Services For Older People/Elderly Services
Birmingham City Council, Homes and Neighbourhood Directorate
Level 1, 1 Lancaster Circus, Birmingham B2 2RP
17 July 2014
Dear Madam,
 I live at the above city council-run-sheltered housing scheme and, as a vulnerable person, have felt some sort of reassurance knowing a warden/support officer presence on Scheme five days a week (Monday to Friday) was in place. Indeed, I know a good few of my neighbours have always appreciated being able to know they could go to get help from a trained support officer about a whole range of matters on any of the above-mentioned days. Furthermore, the Services for Older People section of the city council’s website clearly states that each of its Sheltered Housing Schemes “is linked via an alarm to a professional member of staff when on duty from Monday to Friday”. (underlined my emphasis)
 I heard a while back that Thursdays may no longer be covered by a support officer but, to my utter horror, I have recently discovered warden/support officer presence at the above scheme (where a lot of elderly and vulnerable adults reside) has now been slashed back to mean there will only be an officer on Scheme on a Monday and a Wednesday. To make matter even worse, I only found out (from a very hard-pressed support officer) about what amounts to a sixty percent cut in support officer cover by chance.
 Speaking frankly this whole thing is an outrage and it appears the sheltered housing management and other city council officials are presiding over a quite shocking state of affairs where needy and vulnerable service users are being left in a parlous state of affairs and I am directly appealing to you to explain how your duty of care to tenants is being met here.
 These quite savage cuts to this and other services coincide with massive attacks on the much-needed public spending which makes the lives of millions bearable in a country with the seventh largest economy in the world. Every politician who supports these cuts at either national or local government level must be put on the spot because they are all accountable, as are city council officials.
 I am one of many who will not accept that elderly and vulnerable people should be treated in this way just to save a few miserable pounds because human need, human rights, human dignity and human decency come before balance sheets.
 As a service user, I believe I am entitled to have the above concerns properly addressed and look forward to receiving a reply from your department in the near future. Thank you for your time.
      Yours Sincerely,
 City Council Sheltered Housing Tenant and Lay member of Unite the Union.      (Name and address withheld for internet purposes).


cc. M Perviaz, Senior Support Officer, Sheltered Housing/Services for Older People
Cllr M Straker-Welds
Cllr L Trickett,
Cllr C Spencer
R Godsiff MP
Birmingham Unison Local Government Branch
Birmingham Trade Union Council
Chair of BCC Sheltered Housing Liaison Board
The mental health advocacy organisation POhWER

Repression of dissent at the University

23 Jul


  By suspending two of the students involved in the struggle to save the university from its pro-business agenda, its authorities have shown once again that they are not interested in dialogue. Their only reply to student grievances is to try and shut them up. So Kelly, Simon (and Hattie) have been targeted in order to frighten the others. Communities Against the Cuts has supported the students of Defend Education in the pursuance of its demands and gives its best wishes to the three victimised students. For details, see

Fire fighters must win

21 Jul
 This evening, from 5-7 pm, witnessed another strike in the series of actions by the Fire Brigades Union over their long running pension dispute. Once again, the banners and pickets were outside the closed Kings Norton fire station, and once again there were the regular hoots of support from passing motorists.

FBU strike 001

 The negotiations have dragged on now for three years and there is no resolution in site. The government has adopted the same mean and vicious attitude towards the fire firefighters as they have to other public sector employees, wanting “more for less”. The number of years of service to qualify for a full pension is to rise from 30 to 40, and the already large amount that a firefighter pays towards the pension, about £3,800 pa, is to rise to over £4000. It is one of the least generous pension arrangements in the public sector (if you discount ministers of course).
 On top of that there have been years of low wage rises, that were preceded by a wage freeze.

FBU strike 005

 This brutal attack on the firefighters is being met with determined resistance by their union, the FBU, with solid strike after solid strike. They are not just fighting for themselves, but for all those that may need the service they provide. Can a 60-year-old be expected to go into burning buildings, and carry people down ladders? It is a bit like the government’s proposals that would lead to 68-year-old PE teachers chasing 16-year-olds around a playing field.
 The idea is that when a firefighter can no longer match the level of fitness required, they will have the “choice” of leaving with a 50% cut in their pension (for a 55-year-old) or getting the sack. Some choice!
 This dispute must be won, as must the similar disputes across the public sector. We wish the FBU all our support and also thank them for their help in our recent election campaign.

FBU strike 010

FBU strike 008


The Politics of Grass

16 Jul


 Some details emerged about the green waste collection at the Bournville Ward Committee last night. A spokesman from the Lifford Lane Household Recycling Centre (HRC) explained that there have been 46,000 take-ups of the £35 charge for green waste collection. These pay for twenty collections per household during the growing period of the year. That 46,000 figure represented only 10% of city households.
 He further explained that after initial problems, the huge queues at the Lifford Lane centre had been more or less eliminated. The maximum wait now is about twelve minutes (!?) The waste is not burnt, but is taken to a recycling centre in Lichfield to be composted. The £2 million saved by stopping the free green waste collection has been achieved by employing fewer workers. What happens to the composted waste in a financial sense was not made clear.
 It was claimed that when there was a ‘free at the point of use’ system in place, the green waste was getting out of control, but the new system was making it more manageable. Other municipalities charge for this service so we are just stepping into line with them.
 So, instead of acting as a model of how things should be done, Birmingham is levelling down its service delivery to the way it is done by others.
 The argument that it is the wealthy households who tend to have bigger gardens and so were the main beneficiaries of the free collection system is countered by the fact that £35 per year might not mean much to them, but it means a lot to hard pressed working class households who also have gardens and benefited from the free service.
 So, in one fell swoop the “modernisation” of the green waste disposal has united the wealthy and poor households in opposition to this new scheme. That explains why it has proved so easy to collect signatures in opposition, no matter where you set up your stall. People are already paying  their council tax for local services. Why should they pay twice?
 People want the free garden waste collection restored.
 The extra financial burden placed on households is in order to save the Chancellor of the Exchequer money; he has other priorities. However, there is also the question of how many vehicle-miles are being clocked up by people taking their own individual waste to the HRC rather than a few lorries doing it for everyone. At present 90% of households are not using the £35 ‘service’, so presumably they are either dumping it, burning it (so much for the green city vision), composting it (if they have the facilities) or driving it to the HRC centres. The huge car queues at the Lifford Lane centre that began earlier this year suggest the latter. If the fee starts creeping up in future years, that percentage might not drop as intended, as the scheme ‘beds’ in.
 Does Birmingham really need more vehicles on the road? Is this not an inefficient, polluting and anti-social way of doing things? After all, even the private sector finds it more efficient to use couriers for the collection and delivery of goods.
  And of course it also means that only those needing this service have to pay for it, either directly via the £35 fee or indirectly in terms of petrol money (and time). That kind of argument is anti-social, especially if you start applying it to other services, education for example.
 The point was also made by Councillor Sealey (Con) last night that some people do not have the necessary car, internet access or credit card in order to register for the service and pay for collection. What are they to do?
 Surely, a city which aspires to be green and social would see this new system as a retrograde step; the need to collect green waste is a communal matter not an individual one and should be free at the point of use.
 This whole saga may not represent the unkindest cut of all, but however it pans out it represents more austerity dumped on the backs of Birmingham citizens. Leveling the grass and the hedges in this fashion is not leveling the equality gap.
 And while we are on the subject of waste collection, there is a slight link between the issue and the current Zionist bombardment of Gaza. Think Veolia, and look at our post on the 28th December 2013. (They run the five Birmingham HRC depots.)

A progressive council would bring all waste collection back in-house, make green waste collection free at the point of use and employ a suitable number of workers with good wages and conditions to do the job properly.
 But that means standing up to austerity and not implementing it.


Masefield Community Centre

Masefield and Merrishaw 022

 The situation of the Masefield Community Centre, where the meeting itself was held, is still precarious. It is hanging on for life each year, particularly with the question of who pays for its long-serving worker. This is all because of the huge cuts to the Selly Oak District budget which Labour has pushed through.
 The Masefield Estate compares poorly with other areas of Bournville in terms of its housing and amenities, although there have been some improvements in recent years. There are attempts to find alternative funding for the centre to keep it operating, but if these fail, it would be a terrible blow to the area if it was lost. The improving situation of late would go into reverse. Another anti-social measure is just not what an already low-voting area needs.


 These two issues, the green waste and the Masefield Community Centre do not sit well with the phrase in the Council leader’s recent policy statement – (The city) “is a place where citizens work together to look after and improve their local neighbourhood and offer support to their neighbours.” No, it seems instead that obstacles are being put in place by the Council to prevent citizens doing just that.
 The path to a grey and anti-social city that we are on needs to be rejected.

Bob Whitehead

Katie Road NHS, walk-in or drive-in?

13 Jul
 A  meeting was called about Katie Road NHS walk-in centre last Thursday at the Elim Church Centre. It was called by Steve McCabe MP and featured people from the local health service on the platform, with about fifty members of the public in attendance.

Katie Road 006

 There is a variety of out-of-hours health provision in Birmingham, including five accident and emergency centres, six walk-in centres, GP arrangements (opted in and opted out) plus others, and the current situation regarding the walk-in centres is that their contracts are coming to an end in the spring of 2015. There will be a formal consultation over their future from September to November, so Thursday’s meeting was a kind of pre-consultation.
 There has already been a fair amount of consultation, for example a phone survey of 100,000 people, and it was claimed that while the walk-in centres were clearly popular, there was some confusion over when to use them. The Katie Road building was also deemed to be very overcrowded at times, suggesting that the current building was unsuitable as it was.
 When asked by people from the sizeable audience about what the consultation was exactly about, three options were offered; Katie Road should stay as it is, it should be augmented (eg to include urgent care) or be moved closer to the QE A&E. It was stressed that this was not all about saving money, it was about what could be better.
 There were many contributions from the audience, making a variety of points, but no one could doubt the importance of the walk-in centre to those present. One of the main reasons expressed was its accessibility; by bus, train and car, and of course by just walking in. Hence the name. The service provided was also regarded as good and highly valued; it was staffed by experienced GPs. Many of those present had used it for themselves or their family.
 At present it is run by a group of GPs as a kind of cooperative, but fears were expressed about a private take over next year. It was made clear from the platform that there had to be a tendering process, and this, with the citing by some of the increasing inroads of private firms into the NHS being a backdrop to this consultation, did not dispel fears. People were worried, but were also very pleased to hear a robust defence of NHS provision from one or two attendees in particular.
 Those present were invited to sign up to an information email list, and were also invited to follow developments on the website of the Cross City CCG. Birmingham South Central CCG was also going to do a big consultation.
 So, at one level the information given out was reassuring, but vigilance regarding future developments by people who use this service, actual and potential, would be most advisable. It is a much valued community resource, and a straw poll of the audience showed that no-one wanted it to be moved off the current site.



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