Community centres: 'Do those who shout loudest get heard?'

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WHEN Edinburgh City Council's ruling Liberal Democrat/SNP administration took the decision back in February that six community centres were to close to save £120,000, there was little surprise that the communities affected were outraged.

From mums and tots to the carpet-bowling elderly, the reaction of community centre users from Gorgie to Longstone, the Pleasance to Sighthill and Colinton Mains to Wester Hailes was one of dismay and anger.

The council is now likely to only close four centres, keeping the Colinton Mains Centre and Gorgie War Memorial Hall open.

While this is great news for their users questions still have to be asked why this decision is being reversed if it was based on sound financial advice in the first place.

Both centres ran high-profile campaigns in a bid to keep them open, so the council will no doubt say they've reacted to public concern,

Yet a feeling exists that the rule being applied is those who shout loudest do eventually get heard.

Could it be that the opposition politicians in the areas affected – Conservative in Colinton Mains, Labour in Gorgie – embarrassed the administration by suggesting the closures were politically motivated?

Or is the quick about-turn because the basis of the original decision was flimsy? Certainly Colinton Mains is one of the most efficiently run community centres in the city and has no staffing costs.

Once again, just as in the whole controversy surrounding the original announcement of school closures, there is a feeling that ill-judged decisions are being made by rather inexperienced councillors on advice from council officials which seemingly can be changed at will. In a different vein, but which has the same problem at its heart, there is also disquiet over the suggestion that education convener Marilyne MacLaren and education boss Gillian Tee should jet off to Sweden to see how it runs its nurseries.

Surely Councillor MacLaren and her boss Jenny Dawe realise that at a time when the council is facing massive budget cuts – cuts which will see the closure of three nurseries, nursery teachers losing their jobs and school nursery classes run by less-qualified nursery nurses – suggesting such a jaunt will irk the electorate?

It's now been three years since this administration took office. Getting to grips with their new responsibilities was always going to take time, but they need to decide what they really want to do while they are at the helm of the city.

Do they want just to be known for knee-jerk decisions which they later recant – or do they want to be seen as politicians who took hard decisions, but for the right reasons? The choice, as someone once said, is theirs.

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