Thursday, 3 July 2014

Carl Falkner's view on Rochdale Township

A couple of months ago I went along to a Rochdale Township meeting where someone called Gemma Singleton asked councillors to support the notion of a town centre theatre. What she had to say was very reasonable and well presented. The over-the-top reaction of Richard Farnell took me by surprise. His outburst was so sudden and laden with fake passion, that it was as if someone had flicked a switch or were operating him with a pedal. It had a real 1970s retro feel about it, and momentarily I felt like I was in an episode of The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club. It was so bad that after a few minutes of it, one councillor who could tolerate it no longer, stood up saying, "I'm off!" (well, I think that's what he said). It seemed pretty obvious to me that Cllr Farnell had little affinity with the arts.
Now, as leader of the council it would appear that he is not keen on money being spent on heritage projects either. As you will be aware, he and his cabinet were intending to have a private meeting about the opening of the Roch. After speaking at length with someone form the Department for Communities and Government, I had intended to call a halt to any attempt to discuss this matter in private and was reasonably confident of succeeding. However, on the day of the meeting, the council website suddenly changed its status to one of 'cancelled'. I still went down just to make sure and bumped into Greg Couzens who informed me that neither the High Street Foundation nor the Town Centre Management had been given any information about what was happening (he also advised me that my roots needed doing and gave me some tips on how to deal with split ends - so my trip wasn't entirely in vain).
I asked the council why the meeting had been cancelled and received the following response:
'The decision to cancel the Cabinet Meeting last night was taken by the Chair on the basis that the agenda item for consideration would be considered at a subsequent meeting of the Cabinet'.
Clearly, it's still on the agenda and we do have a right to listen to what is being discussed unless there are specific lawful exemptions (which the council must state and allow representations against in advance) and that the correct procedure has been followed.
My concern - and reason for this long-winded email - is that Arts, Culture and Heritage may once again be the easy target for savings, as it appears the new council leader's priorities lay elsewhere. I think we once again need to be vigilant, so as to ensure that any proposed cuts will be both fair and proportionate.

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