One issue that has started to hit my inbox in recent weeks is the worrying proposal by the Council’s Labour Administration to cut funding to both bowling clubs and allotments across the city.
At my regular Patcham Ward Surgery recently I had a visit from a member of a Bowls club who told me that the Council’s proposals could mean that they have no option but to more than double the annual fee they charge their members. He was rightly concerned that this level of increase, in one hit, would almost certainly lead to many club members having no option but to resign. In fact, they have calculated that such increases would lead to the closure of 6 out of the city’s 11 clubs, which in a city of almost 300,000 people is totally inadequate.
Bowls is enjoyed by residents of Brighton & Hove, particularly older residents for whom it is an important way of keeping physically and mentally fit and of maintaining social interaction in later life.
It is a similar story with allotments which provide enormous health benefits, as well as promoting local sustainable food production and encouraging wildlife.
Yet the Council is proposing to increase fees for allotment holders by 32%. I am told by the Brighton & Hove Allotment Federation that many plot holders on lower wages would find this increase hard to bear. As one correspondent said in an e-mail to me, allotments were traditionally intended for workers on low wages who didn’t have gardens, and it would be a travesty to price them out and turn allotments into a playground for the better off.
This is not the first time that this has come up. Back in 2012/13 the former Green Administration brought forward proposals to increase the fees for allotment holders in the city by 70% which thankfully, the Conservative Group, with support from the Labour Group, managed to block. Similarly, the Greens tried to introduce a huge cut in the funding provided to maintain bowling greens across the city which, following a petition from residents and a Full Council Notice of Motion from the Conservative Group, was substantially watered down.
And so now, it is déjà vu, with the Labour Party trying to bring in the same funding cuts that they so vociferously opposed under the Green Administration.
I fully accept (as do both the allotment and bowls representatives) that we should aim to make all clubs and activities supported by the Council as self-sufficient as possible. However, the frustrating thing for me is that these are relatively small amounts of money which the Council is looking to save, yet they have a disproportionate impact on residents. For example, the overall ‘subsidy’ for allotments across the city is around £40,000 – a relatively small amount when set against the Council’s gross budget of some £750 million.
These proposals in their current form are a false economy and the Labour Administration must go away and have a serious rethink.
Councillor Geoffrey Theobald OBE
Conservative Group Leader, Brighton & Hove City Council