Save Batley Baths demo Photo: Roger Bradley
Save Batley Baths demo Photo: Roger Bradley

Iain Dalton, Socialist Party Yorkshire secretary

Over 100 people crammed into the Al-Hikmah Centre in Batley, West Yorkshire, on 29 September to discuss how the cuts to local services planned by Kirklees Council could be opposed. In August, the council announced it had overspent by £27 million on last year’s budget and there was a black hole in this and next year’s budgets, amounting to £47 million.

Some of the details of the planned cuts to fill in these funding gaps have leaked. Two council-run specialist dementia care homes, Claremont House and Castle Grange, are due to be closed; 250 jobs are to be lost this year, Heckmondwike Town Hall is also to close. A further 750 jobs are estimated to go to cover next year’s financial gap.

And Kirklees Active Leisure – the arm’s length company running formerly council leisure services in Kirklees – is due to close further leisure centres on top of last year’s closure of Batley Baths, including Colne Valley Leisure Centre which won a reprieve last year, as well as Batley Sports and Tennis Centre, and Dewsbury Leisure Centre. If this goes ahead it will mean that three out of four leisure centres in the North Kirklees area have been closed in the last year!

The meeting heard from many people directly affected by these cutbacks, including family members of care home residents, a swimming club left homeless by the closure of the Dewsbury Leisure Centre and others. Some in the meeting already felt that the cuts were a done deal and were already talking about seeking Community Asset Transfers, but others wanted to fight. As one speaker from the floor suggested: “It’s up to us to demand what services we want from our councillors, not for them to impose upon us.”

I spoke from the floor on behalf of the Socialist Party, pointing out that demanding back the over £100 million stolen by the Tories from Kirklees residents in funding cuts since 2010 should be a key demand, including on Starmer’s Labour if elected at the general election. The council is able to utilise the £100 million in reserves as of March, and its prudential borrowing powers to balance a no-cuts budget and fund services in the meantime.

As was pointed out in the meeting, grassroots campaigns can win, campaigning earlier this year pushed back some leisure centre closures, and campaigning around the Huddersfield Royal Infirmary stopped the closure of the A&E. The next step agreed from the meeting was for a mass lobby of the next Kirklees Council meeting in Huddersfield on 18 October.