Plans are afoot to make “catastrophic” funding cuts to the city’s nine adventure playgrounds and totally shut down 12 children’s centres. But the people of Leicester refuse to let our Labour Council extinguish our children’s hopes on the altar of Tory cuts.
Workers based at our city’s adventure playgrounds are not being cowed by the threat of closure, and are actively resisting the council’s plans. Indeed, earlier this month they proudly handed in a petition against playground cuts that was signed by 14,625 people who, it seems, are united in their outrage at our Labour Council.
Kevin Sherriff, who is the chairman of Leicester Play Fair, which represents the schemes, explained to the Leicester Mercury (November 16) that his group were “surprised that a senior councillor” didn’t even bother to accept the petition from their group. This news also came as a surprise for me, as just four years ago Sir Peter Soulsby politely posed for the press to receive a petition from a racist EDL (English Defence League) supporter (“Thurnby Lodge Scout hut row petition is handed in to Leicester City council,” September 27, 2012, Mercury).
Undeterred by the Council’s lack of interest in their petition, on the day the petition was handed over, Kevin pointed out to the Mercury reporter: “In a week where the Mercury has reported that 30,000 children in the city are living in poverty you will find our schemes are in exactly those estates where we’re needed most.”
And it is probably for this reason that our city’s Labour councillors were too embarrassed to accept the playground petition in person. Councillor Sarah Russell offered the paper-thin excuse that petitions are not normally accepted by councillors (November 16, Mercury).
Such bureaucratic nonsense is however befitting a councillor who opposed the socialist leader of her own party during this summer’s leadership contest. Although to be fair, Sarah was only joining fellow cutter-in-Chief Sir Peter Soulsby in his own active and vocal campaigning against Jeremy Corbyn – a leader who represents the first genuine anti-austerity the Labour Party has had for as long as most people can remember.
Nevertheless, even hardened pro-austerity cutters like Sarah and Peter can still be forced into U-turns by grassroots pressure, as was demonstrated by the recent victory of the Belgrave Library campaign. That is precisely why it is so important that anyone who cares about the future of local services in Leicester should try their best to join the lobby of the city council tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon. And on that I will leave the last word to Kevin himself, who in a recent online video made the following plea for help:
“At the moment we are facing Council cuts of 50% which will see them shut, and I know that we’ve had to fight these battles before. This will be the sixth time, the [Highfields] adventure playground has had to fight for its future. In 1972 local people got together and campaigned for an adventure playground for children, and for each of the nine adventure playgrounds across the city, none of them were given, they were all campaigned for by local people. And since 1972 to date, this is now the sixth time, and any one of those times, if people hadn’t campaigned to keep them open they wouldn’t have been here. They wouldn’t have been here for you, and they wouldn’t have been here for your children to use them. So although we’ve managed to keep the playgrounds open all those times, this is really important, because without your support this place is going to the wall like lots of other community things have gone to the wall… Just remember if people didn’t support us in the past it wouldn’t be here for you, and if people don’t support us now it won’t be here for the kids. We’ll be outside the Town Hall on the 24th November, that’s a Thursday, at 4.30pm for a full Council meeting, and we need to have as many people out there as possible. It’s not good sitting back and trying to let other people do it, this is your turn, do it for thekids, do it for the next generation of kids.”