Sunday, July 01, 2007

Same old Labour, in Basildon at least

Most of Basildon's leisure infrastructure was built in the 1980s, including a number of sports centres. This was done by a Labour administration, and a pretty left-wing one at that. So, the centres were designed towards an egalitarian ideal, being relatively small and scattered and specifically not meant to cater to elite sports. As a result, we have swimming pools that are deliberately too short for competition, I know that sounds unbelievable, and many facilities that won't support the sort of training that is required to excel. All fine and dandy, but having built sports centres, Basildon Labour determinedly refused to put any money by to actually maintain them. For those who are not familiar with local government 'depreciation' is not a frequently used term, so buildings can quietly deteriorate without any embarrassing red ink. Of course, when a building is brand new not funding maintenance doesn't have too much of an effect, but when they have been up for decades then it certainly does.

Now there is a Conservative administration in Basildon, and we are trying to do something before sports centres and swimming pools have to close for Health and Safety reasons. The plan is to build a 'Sports Village', a large multi-function installation that is of high enough quality to support 2012 and regional competition, and to ensure that the people of Basildon have the best sports facility for casual use. The Council is putting up £15m, with other funding partners also donating substantial sums. The project has the support of just about everyone, including the Communities and Local Government department and East of England Development Agency. In fact, the only people who don't want it are, you guessed it, Basildon Labour Party. Their issue is that they don't want private sector involvement in operating or maintaining any building. Despite this being the 21st century, and despite their past failures, they think that the most important thing is not the excellence of the facility, or the price charged to the punters on the door, but that it has a big Basildon Council logo and, eventually they hope, a bunch of Labour Councillors running the show. That ruling out private involvement might jeopardise the whole project interests them not. Public sector good, private sector bad, anyone making a profit very bad.

This whole New Labour thing has pretty much passed them by.

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