Barry: Why it makes sense to keep the Festival of Light

IT’S going to be an emotional evening at Huddersfield Town Hall tonight.

IT’S going to be an emotional evening at Huddersfield Town Hall tonight.

Another year, another round of huge spending cuts on the agenda for Kirklees Council.

Twelve months ago it was adult social care which was on the chopping block.

This time round it’s libraries, children’s centres and monthly glass collections which are being eyed up for the axe.

Kirklees officers have proposed £15.7m of cuts in 2012/13 with each political party suggesting a few pluses and minuses around the edges.

As with last year’s budget meeting, the town hall will tonight host the slightly bizarre combination of socialist placard-wavers and Mrs Sunderland contestants.

We can only hope that the one group which doesn’t return tonight will be the private security guards who did such sterling work rubbing salt in the wounds last year.

With or without our bouncer friends, it seems certain there will be angry voices outside the council chamber this evening while the decisions are made about next year’s spending.

One of the most emotive of this year’s proposed cuts is to children’s centres.

Labour wants to reduce services on offer at 15 Sure Starts in richer areas – including my local in Slawit – in order to save £1.4m and protect the 17 centres in poorer parts of the district.

For obvious reasons, new father Barry Gibson is not a massive fan of this proposal.

But, in my horribly even-handed way, I can admit that the proposal could have been a lot worse. Kirklees, unlike some other councils, does not plan to close any of its children’s centres. Half a loaf isn’t great, but it beats no bread any day of the week.

My MP takes a different attitude to the looming Sure Start cuts. Jason McCartney appears to think that all 32 centres should carry on as they are while Kirklees finds the £1.4m of savings from somewhere else.

Speaking last week at Golcar Children’s Centre – which is one of the lucky 17 not in line for cuts by the way – the Colne Valley MP said the council’s budget was a matter for councillors.

But he added that parents should ask Kirklees “why they have 69 councillors and hold the Festival of Light while making cuts to

children’s centres.”

I agree with Mr McCartney on his first point. I don’t see why each of the 23 wards of Kirklees needs three representatives.

It makes sense to get rid of a third of councillors – not in the Mafia sense, I hasten to add.

Then each ward could be split in two, leaving 46 representatives, each with their own small patch to themselves.

So that’s a bit of money back in the Kirklees coffers if Mr McCartney had his way. But the Conservative MP is seriously mistaken to go on to suggest that the Festival of Light should also be tossed in the fire as well.

I’ve been to the last couple of events and thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment on offer.

But let’s not kid ourselves that Kirklees officials put on the annual shindig out of the goodness of their hearts, happily frittering money away which could be spent on children’s centres.

The Festival of Light is designed to bring punters into the town centre before Christmas – and it succeeds wonderfully with 50,000 people turning up last year.

This is a great boost for town centre businesses, particularly in Byram Arcade which hosts several events during the three-day festival.

There may even be a few shopkeepers who are keeping their heads above water thanks only to that one busy weekend in December.

I would have thought Mr McCartney, as a good Conservative, could see that it makes sense for the public sector to help the private sector during these difficult times.

If he really believes the Festival of Light should be scrapped to save children’s centres, he should go and make that point to the hard-pressed traders of Byram Arcade.

I think even the parents among them would disagree.

 

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