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Southampton councillors split with leaders over future of Oaklands Swimming pool
The Labour administration announced on Monday they wanted to shut the loss-making pool – popular with children, older and disabled residents – as part of a mini-budget to further cut costs.
Three Coxford ward councillors – former Cabinet member Keith Morrell, Don Thomas and Sally Spicer – said they had a duty to fight the closure on behalf of residents who elected them.
They also want to save the jobs of 30 staff at risk.
Community asset Cllr Morrell, who controversially resigned two weeks into his job as efficiency tsar in protest at looming cuts, said: “The pool is a tremendous community asset and we will demonstrate to the Cabinet just how much it means to local people.”
Cllr Thomas said: “Whilst we all recognise that this Tory-led Coalition government has slashed our funding, trying to force local authorities into dismantling local government, with leisure facilities such as Oaklands first in line, we must resist.”
Cllr Spicer added: “As a newly-elected councillor I will move heaven and earth to keep Oaklands pool open.”
The councillors accused the previous Conservative administration of starving the pool of investment and called upon the Labour Cabinet to retain its staff and complete stalled repairs to reopen the pool, which was shut in May, as soon as possible.
They called for a marketing drive to increase usage and improve revenue. It requires a subsidy of £235,000 a year.
Tory leisure spokesman councillor John Hannides has tabled a council motion deploring the closure and has demanded investment in the pool for it to be reopened.
Tory group leader Royston Smith welcomed the Labour councillors decision to join the campaign.
“This shows not only is the leader of the council out of touch with the public, he’s even out of touch with his own back benchers,” he said.
He called on Unison, the union which represents leisure staff, to also back the campaign.
Unison branch secretary Mike Tucker slammed as “totally inadequate” a lack of consultation on the pool closure. He said unions would be raising their concerns at a meeting today to discuss a possible deal to end industrial action over staff pay cuts brought in by the Tories last July.
Council leisure boss councillor Warwick Payne, a former Oaklands Community School pupil, said he regretted the proposed closure but said it was in the “best interests of the city as a whole” when the council needed to make £30m of savings this year. He said the urgent repairs alone would cost £500,000.
Cllr Morrell’s resignation led to accusations council leader Richard Williams knowingly misled the public by stating his Cabinet member quit for health reasons when he was in fact fighting fit.
Cllr Morrell later said it was a “fiction” agreed with Cllr Williams to avoid a damaging public Cabinet split.
Cllr Williams, who survived a Tory motion of no confidence for bringing the council into disrepute, insists he was given no other reasons.
The decision to close the pool will be discussed at a special Cabinet meeting on Tuesday next week, and full council the following day.