Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/15864
Southampton - Newtown public meeting
Last week councillors and council officers were summonsed to a public meeting in the inner city of Southampton.
Newtown Youth Centre was absolutely crammed with 200 overwhelmingly young people who use the centre and the adventure playground (also facing the axe).
Youth workers, community leaders, parents and young people are angry and bewildered at a proposal to close down all youth services in the area.
There is a general feeling that the inner city is being disproportionately affected by the threatened closures.
Unbelievably, councillor Simon Letts (Cabinet member for Resources) publicly referred to the facilities as being "good to have", though not essential!
Bevois, the ward in which the facilities are located, is in the bottom 15% bracket of deprived communities and both the youth centre and adventure playground work with and support young people from over 35 different nationalities, offering a range of activities and opportunities.
Many of the young people present spoke and told compelling and often emotional stories about their experiences.
Kahmal said "Kids from all over the city come here and mix culturally" with Olivia adding: "You are stopping us from playing, having ideas and adventures". "I just want to say to you lot, down here young people feel safe, people care about us", added another young woman. These comments and others were roundly applauded by the audience.
This seemed to register with councillor Sarah Bogle, the Cabinet member for Children's Services, who at one point seemed genuinely moved, before regaining composure, lamenting that this was "the most heartbreaking thing we've had to do".
In stark contrast, Clive Webster, the Director of Children's Services patronised the "articulate" young people, yet seemed unmoved by the case they presented.
This was abruptly ended by a man shouting: "Why don't you just tell the truth? You want to shut them down and you are talking bullshit. I know these 'nippers', they are good kids and they need somewhere to play".
Stormy applause and cheers followed and the meeting changed complexion entirely with people increasingly becoming more vocal and critical. Ali, from a community radio station asked: "Why don't you donate some of your councillors' salary?"
Councillor Bogle suggested that this was an opportunity for the community to show "resilience"! "Why don't you and your colleagues show some resilience?" I countered. "These cuts fall on the poorest and the hardest hit in the community.
"Why don't you do what you were elected to do, oppose the cuts and fight this government?" This was met by applause from around the room with some young people turning their heads round to smile and nod.
Socialist Party member Nick Chaffey was invited to speak and asked for a show of hands of all those opposed to the closures. This was unanimous except for councillor Dave Furnell, who for some reason was standing at the back of the hall in some sort of passive 'enforcer' role!
Nick went on to outline that the council could use its reserves to fund borrowing, negating the need for any cuts next year and providing breathing space for the council to launch a city wide campaign to build support for a fight against the government in conjunction with councils and communities up and down the country.
"It's illegal" shouted councillor Dave Furnell. "No it isn't" Nick replied. You have set aside £4 million for redundancy payments, why not borrow against those reserves to save jobs?"
Again Nick's comments were warmly received and roundly applauded. In sharp distinction, councillor Sarah Bogle and Clive Webster had to endure the sound of silence following their closing remarks.
Stephen Barnes-Andrews (the only ward councillor present) appeared genuinely troubled and perhaps finds the budget proposals hard to stomach. "This is what austerity looks like", he said. "I take on board Nick's points ... concerning ... fighting the government. I will not accept this youth centre going".
Opposition to these vicious cuts are beginning to grow and strengthen in resolve. The councillors present could not fail to notice where the sympathies of the meeting lay, especially with young people giving the thumbs up sign, shaking our hands and patting me on the back.
I predict many sleepless nights and much soul searching as Labour councillors begin to realise the true impact of what they are proposing and the inevitable resistance that will result.
Socialist Party members and supporters will continue to honestly, patiently and energetically campaign to oppose all cuts and to support anti-cuts councillors Keith Morrel and Don Thomas.
It is not too late for other Labour councillors to make a similar decision but they are rapidly running out of time and space.