Council defends its community centre cutbacks

The Kenilworth Centre
The Kenilworth Centre
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Kenilworth Town Council has defended its decision to stop giving the Kenilworth Centre £30,000 a year, following an angry reaction by many in the community.

The centre’s chair of trustees, John Whitehouse, wrote an open letter to council leader Cllr John Cooke, aiming to address “factual inaccuracies” and stating that the centre “will not give up without a fight.”

We have a duty to fund things responsibly with ratepayers’ money.

Cllr John Cooke

In his letter, Mr Whitehouse claimed the ‘special relationship’ between the council and the centre had effectively come to an end, and that the town council’s assumption that the centre would be self-sustaining after three years ‘defies logic’.

However, Cllr Cooke (Con, St John’s) stood by the council’s decision, saying it took the issue very seriously and explained that the alternative proposal to consider annual applications for £7,500 towards its youth work was sound.

He said: “It was quite clear from our discussions with the Kenilworth Centre and after reviewing their business plan that even with continued funding of £30,000 per annum the centre would continue to make losses with its current style of management.

“The council was also particularly concerned how little youth work was being done in the centre which was its principal reason for funding it in the first place.

“Regardless of what the Kenilworth centre is saying, we never regarded the funding as being permanent.

“The council felt, however, that its outreach work was to be encouraged and therefore agreed to invite an application for up to £7,500 so that it could be significantly expanded to cover holiday periods as well as term times.

“As long as they apply and fulfil the criteria, we will give the centre this grant yearly. This will still leave the trustees with a rent-free property in which they can carry on the community element - which could be run on a more voluntary and sustainable basis.

“We have a duty to fund things responsibly with ratepayers’ money.”

The council’s decision has led Kenilworth and Southam Liberal Democrats to create a petition aiming to ‘save’ the centre, led by Cllr Kate Dickson (Lib Dem, Abbey), the only councillor who wanted to keep the funding as it was.

She said: “I was ashamed of my fellow town councillors at our meeting on December 10 (when the decision was made). They totally ignored a petition signed by 881 people in record time, and an impassioned plea from Rev Andrew Attwood for them to think again.”

When asked if there was a danger of the decision being politicised, Cllr Cooke said: “Yes. Although the vote was divided politically, it had nothing to do with how members voted.”

Referring to when Warwickshire County Council cut its funding for youth and community services in Kenilworth, Cllr Cooke added: “This has been going on since 2012, and politicisation has always been an issue.”

Mr Whitehouse’s letter can be seen in full on the Weekly News website, www.kenilworthweeklynews.co.uk.