Oxford’s Labour group: out of their depth

by Stephen Tall on September 6, 2007

I suppose I could admire the Labour group in Oxford for its sheer effrontery. But sometimes political hypocrisy can be a little too blatant to be effective.

But a double helping of hypocrisy was on the table at this week’s meeting of Oxford city’s Full Council, when Labour proposed keeping open the Peers Sports Centre and swimming pool in Littlemore. Fair enough, you might say. But there are two problems with the Labour party’s position.

The first problem is that the Labour group, each and every single member of it, voted to pull the plug on the pool back in February during the City Council’s budget-setting. And so, for that matter, did the Lib Dems, and every other party on the Council.

The reason? It’s pretty expensive, and needs an estimated £200k refurbishment – more importantly, it doesn’t fit with the Council’s ambition of having two excellent pools serving East Oxford, one of competition standard at Temple Cowley, and a family-friendly one at Blackbird Leys. Pulling out of running the pool (which is owned by the County Council) will save the City Council £100k in the current financial year – a saving Labour happily banked without so much as a murmur of protest just six months ago when presenting their budget.

But there’s a second problem. The pool and sports centre are located at Peers Technology College – set to be the site for Oxford’s first academy. When the school becomes an academy – and it’s a when, not an if – its current buildings will be replaced thanks to the government bribes funding tied to such status. Oxfordshire County Council, as the local education authority, and the Diocese of Oxford have both already made clear they won’t rebuild the pool or sports centre as part of the new academy site.

Now last month, the City Council debated a motion on Peers academy plans. Guess what happened? Yes, that’s right: every single Labour councillor present voted in favour of them, even though they knew it would mean the inevitable closure of Peers pool and sport centre.

So, on two separate occasions – in February and in August – Labour had the chance to try and save the leisure facilities at Peers. On both occasions, they chose instead to vote for policies they knew would lead to their closure.

Of course, none of this has stopped Labour and their two Littlemore ward councillors from mounting a campaign to save the pool. A campaign they know full well is utterly doomed from the start, not least thanks to their party’s policies, which they fully support!

And then we wonder why the public is cynical about politics…