Locals Priced Out of Cherry Hinton Village Centre

Saturday, May 29th, 2010. 8:20pm

At Cambridge City Council’s annual meeting on the 27th of May 2010 Cherry Hinton councillor Robert Dryden (Labour) put the following oral question to the Leader of Cambridge City Council Sian Reid (Liberal Democrat):

Has there been any progress with the investigation of restructuring the administration at the Cherry Hinton Village Centre on how it operates this facility to the benefit of the local community

Cllr Reid, who is new to the role of council leader, started by saying that her previous experience not had not equipped her to answer the question so she had researched the position prior to the meeting. She told the council that the SLM contract includes management of Cherry Hinton Village Centre and reported that in her opinion there is a case for re-examining this when the contact ends in 2013. (SLM is the company the council uses to run the city’s swimming pools and some other facilities. The council illegally in my view refused to let me view the contract during the open period for the council’s accounts but has released a redacted version of the contract in response to a FOI request).

Cllr Reid announced something which as far as I know is new. She told the council that: “elected members can attend quarterly meetings with SLM to review their performance”. While this is a welcome step, persuading the council to publish the dates of these meetings and what is discussed at them or even open them to interested members of the public – for example representatives of users of the swimming pools – would be further steps towards openness and transparency. Knowing when the meetings are is crucial so people can encourage their councillors to attend and speak at them.

Cllr Reid reported that Cllr Smith, the ex. Executive Councillor for Community Services, had picked up an issue with particular group (which she didn’t name) about their use of the Cherry Hinton Village Centre.

Cllr Dryden spoke following Cllr Reid’s answer to say that there are other groups with problems too. He said the “Friends with Disabilities” group, which meets on the first Tuesday of every month, has 60 members and is funded by the City Council couldn’t book the centre as SLM make more money booking to another group for the whole day than to them for their half day.

Cllr Dryden complained that in general the people of Cherry Hinton were getting out-priced by other groups who were taking “their” slots.

Council Leader Sian Reid was rather brusque, but possibly genuine, with her response saying that Cllr Dryden’s comments were: “something to be taken very seriously”; however she didn’t make any categoric commitments or promises to take action.

6 comments/updates on “Locals Priced Out of Cherry Hinton Village Centre

  1. Richard Taylor Article author

    Now my FOI request via WhatDoTheyKnow has resulted in the contract being easily accessible anyone can both look for how SLM’s current behaviour might breach the contract and get in touch with their councillors to suggest ways the management contract could be varied for the future, either under SLM or another operator.

    The variation Cllr Reid appears to be suggesting is removing the Cherry Hinton Village Centre entirely from the contract when it is up for renewal in 2013. Elsewhere in the City the Lib Dems are proposing to take community centres even out of City Council control and hand them over to local groups to run themselves, that might be a future option in Cherry Hinton too I suppose.

    The contract documents released don’t include SLM’s “Operational Plan” and the council’s maximum prices, both of which form part of the contact. SLM are given freedom within maximum prices though, and there appears to be no provision to ensure access to facilities other than to ensure free swimming for certain groups including schools and city council staff.

    In the past whenever any element of the SLM contract has been discussed at City Council meetings the press and public have been thrown out. In future I would hope councillors would argue against this in most cases on the grounds that so much of the SLM contact is now public.

    The current contract ran for seven years from 2003 till 2010; councillors last year decided to extend it till 2013. The terms of the extension have not been made public and a further FOI request to obtain them might be worthwhile – it may be for example (if our councillors were on the ball) ) that further customer surveys were requested – on which SLM and the council are bound to act “reasonably”.

  2. Richard Taylor Article author

    Andrew Martin (@neoncreative) has re-tweeted this article adding:

    “Happening all over the city affecting various groups”

    I have suggested he might like to comment on the article with further information.

  3. Cllr Andy Pellew

    I’m a trustee of Arbury Community Centre and it is already being run by a community group outside the City Councils control and is running profitably and provides a great deal of benefit to the local community.

    This is an excellent model and I’d recommend it to anyone.

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    Cllr Dryden has now helped Friends with Disabilities regain their regular booking, he cited the provision in the contract which protects their booking at a meeting between the council and SLM.

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