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Great example of "people power"

May 24, 2018 12:00 PM
By Cllr Ian Thorn

Cllr Ian ThornThe success of the campaign run by Lucy Gomes to reverse the potential closure our County's two Outdoor Education Centres at Braeside and Oxenwood is a great example of "people power". I congratulate Lucy, all those who spoke in support of the petition she organised and presented to last week's full Wiltshire Council meeting and all 16,000 Wiltshire residents who signed it.

Thanks to you, Wiltshire Council had to debate the closure decision. As Lib Dem Group Leader I was able to amend the Cabinet's resolution on the Centres. My amendment called on the Cabinet to use their very best efforts to sustain the Centres and to give equal weight to their social value and not just the price they might fetch if sold.

It was quite clear that Lucy and many other residents were shocked by the Cabinet's closure decision. This was taken in‎meeting‎closed to the public and media alike. The decision gave little time for consultation with staff and groups that might want to take over these Centres. That error was compounded by the setting of a needlessly high bar of an "outline business case" being required from those thinking about taking on the Centres rather than a simple "declaration of interest".

As a responsible opposition, the Lib Dem Group on Wiltshire Council "called in" the closure decision to a special meeting of the Council's Scrutiny Committee. Sadly, this opportunity to rethink was rejected by majority vote despite two Conservative Councillors voting with the three Lib Dem Committee members.

What has emerged since that meeting is a disgraceful attempt by the senior Conservative Councillor on that Committee to impose a Party whip on its Tory members to back the Cabinet's closure decision. The text of his leaked email suggests a threat to the two Conservatives who voted with their conscience.

As the relevant Cabinet member said in answer to my question at Council, Party whips have no place in Scrutiny Committees. We await the translation of those words into appropriate action by the Conservatives against the individual Councillor concerned.

Lucy's hard work, supported by many others, has won a potential reprieve for Braeside and Oxenwood. But the battle to save them is not over‎. We now need the Cabinet to work positively with those community groups who have expressed interest in the Centres to remove barriers, provide constructive help to them and safeguard the excellent Centres' staff.

For my part, I and my Councillor colleagues will pay very close attention to the Cabinet's conduct. We will do all we can to ensure that Wiltshire's young people of today and tomorrow can enjoy these outstanding Centres for many years to come.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Ian Thorn

Wiltshire Council Leader of the Opposition and Lib Dem Group‎ Leader


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