To the Editor,
In just one week we have had reports of the imminent loss of three important community facilities across West Berkshire: the Jubilee Sports Centre in Kintbury, the Youth Centre in Hungerford and Thatcham Priory which was, until recently, being developed as a Town Centre hub for the community.
I understand West Berks Council’s current frustrations at the short-notice reduction in our government support but why, after 9 years in power, have the Conservative team and our MP not set up additional income streams to protect grants to Town and Parish Councils and our public services?
In Portsmouth, the Council owns and lets large buildings to the HMRC and other commercial operators. Eastleigh Council is part owner of the Ageas Bowl Cricket ground, Hotel and Spa, a profitable enterprise, which supports their schools, libraries and community centres. Further afield, in 2007 North Yorkshire County Council set up NYNet, a public sector controlled limited company that delivers broadband services to outlying villages. This enterprise is reported to have already generated sufficient profit to subsidise two district nurses and a village library; last June NYCC actually increased funding for their at-risk libraries by £175,000.
Meanwhile, West Berkshire Council sells off every building it can for short-term gain. It is currently in the process of handing the Market Street development over to private owners, retaining no interest in any future rents. They have also in recent months allowed Hitachi, Amec and Bayer, one of Newbury’s largest employers, to slip through their fingers to Reading, taking all their business rates with them.
Compared to other Councils around the UK, West Berkshire seems regressive and unambitious. Our MP does little to encourage them to aim higher. How are we going to manage in the future without any imagination or ambition at the helm?