The Cabinet meeting on 27th January was the scene of a protest by youth workers and their supporters. Bexley Council, assuming all young people to be trouble makers, requested a police presence. Typical; but in practice the only sort of youngsters Bexley Council is interested in are the trouble makers, their limited funds are spent on them and the ‘prevention is better than cure’ strategy that Bexley Council claims when it suits them does not apply to nurturing frequently needy children into responsible adulthood.
That Cabinet meeting approved the abolition of grants to the Scouts (£49,000) and the Danson Youth Trust (£89,000) from April 2016. Most of what I hear at Council meetings is related to cuts and to be honest I forgot all about this one. Then the attack on The Danson Youth Centre went into stage two. Not content with taking £89k. out of their budget, Bexley Council decided they should become a new income stream.
Facebook and the News Shopper carried accounts of the fast developing situation and Bexley Council launched a counter attack in the shape of one of their Setting the Record Straight web pages. Not wanting to be left in ignorance of the facts I arranged to meet some of the Youth Centre management who gave me a quick history lesson of a place I pass quite often but never really noticed.
The Centre has been on Brampton Road since 1954, predating Bexley Council, and provides activity and play facilities for young people of all ages. I saw children from toddlers to ten year olds but at other times there may be older ones too. The admission charges are affordable and special provision is made for those suffering impediments such as autism and ADHD. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.)
In 1993 the Trust’s wooden premises burned down and the Council gave them its estimated value of £86,000 and £50,000 on top. There was also a loan of £30,000 - long since repaid - to help the Trust establish a new Centre. Through their own efforts the Trust raised enough money to erect a half million pound facility. Bexley Council contributed nothing beyond the £136,000.
Since then the Trust has continued to support the Centre. The Council used to provide a grant but contributed nothing else, all the maintenance down to the last light bulb is paid for by the Trust. Major new facilities such as a Skate Park came from Lottery funds, albeit with administrative assistance from Bexley Council.
Since last April this invaluable facility has cost Bexley Council nothing and kept thousands of children amused, entertained, guided and educated. The Setting the Record Straight propaganda says that the Council provided both the building and the skate park which is in direct conflict with the information provided to me.
The Council propaganda goes on to dispute the Trust’s claim that most of their funding comes from families and says it came from Bexley’s past support. Support that has now ceased and they want to see go into reverse.
Not having to dip into their own pocket is not good enough for Bexley Council, they want to profit from other people’s efforts and announced the imposition of a £75,000 annual rent, since negotiated down to £25,000, phased in over two years.
The Trust could survive for a couple more years by calling on reserves but their compromise rent offer in the region of half Bexley’s imposition was dismissed by Cabinet Member Philip Read as “derisory”. He would rather see children playing in the streets.
£25,000 may be a reasonable price for a facility that cost half a million pounds twenty years ago and enhanced since but Bexley Council didn’t pay for it and in the past only helped out with the running costs.
What they want to do now in charging a commercial rent is effectively confiscating the property from those who built and improved it on Council land. It’s perhaps no different to evicting a council house tenant who spent all his money on transforming his home into a palace, so it is probably legal, but it is definitely short sighted and shabby treatment by a Council that has mismanaged its own finances and knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing. It will likely transfer the costs to the police and the NHS as it allows youth services to wither away.
Unless Bexley Council can prove that what the people from the Youth Centre told me is untrue, I know which party I am inclined to believe.