by Rober Knotts

As a past and probable future attendee of Life Long learning courses held in Uppermill’s Lee Street Saddleworth Centre (my wife also attends a course there) I attended the consultation event held in the centre on 21 November 2012.

The Oldham Evening Chronicle dated 20 November carried a report that stated, and I quote; “Two lifelong learning centres are set to shut in July 2012, as part of a programme of cost cutting building closures.” The report continued: “Saddleworth Lifelong Learning Centre, Uppermill, will close at the end of the academic year, along with Oakbank Centre, Chadderton.”

The report also stated: “It will be up to the District Partnerships to decide if, how and where lifelong services are provided”.  Attendees of the consultation event were definitely advised that OMBC will not be curtailing Lifelong Learning opportunities in Saddleworth, just looking at possible relocation of courses. Again we seem to have been subjected to differing statements.

Despite the definitive statement in the Chron the head of Oldham’s Lifelong Learning department stressed on a number of occasions that a decision has yet to be made with respect to closure of the buildings. However, it was very evident that those who attended the consultation event were not convinced. On the assumption that OMBC would have issued a press release with respect to future of the centre one would have expected such a press release to emphasise that decisions have yet to be made; the Oldham Chronicle certainly did not allude to decisions not being made, it reported a definitive statement of closure.

Thus the statement made by the head of the Lifelong Learning department is totally at variance to the reported statement in the Chron. I notice that tonight’s Chron (21 November 2012) does not mention possible incorrect reporting by the Chron.

Those who attended the consultation event were totally cynical about decisions having yet to be made; they viewed that the exercise of consultation is just one of going through the motions. In light of the Chronicle report they view closure as a ‘done deal’.

Consequently I can well understand that those who attended today’s session are totally mistrustful of Oldham’s intentions. If Oldham has yet to make a decision on closure it will heavy to work exceptionally hard to preside people that that is the case and to gain peoples’ trust.

It was explained that a report, entitled “Corporate Asset Review”, produced by OMBC’s Corporate Asset team focused on two issues:

a.    Evaluation of the different buildings used by OMBC to see if they can be released.

b.    Looking to see if events held in these can be carried out elsewhere.

The consultation and review work will examine the use and cost of the Saddleworth centre. The attendees were advised that this work will be carried out by the District Partnership (DP). They were also advised that the DP was best placed to take a neutral stance with respect to the issues involved. Views were expressed by attendees that the DP could not be considered a neutral agency as it is part of OMBC. Perhaps Saddleworth Parish Council would be better placed to conduct the consultation and review work (my own view).

Some attendees stated that they could not gain online access to view the Corporate Asset Review report. One person stated that the report was so entrenched in ‘Council Speak’ that it was extremely difficult to understand.  One hopes that this was not a deliberate ploy on the part of Oldham Council. A request was made for the report to be re-written in ‘Plain English’ in an attempt to offer and gain full understanding of the situation..

Another attendee asked why the Saddleworth Centre and that of Oak Bank had been selected for review. Why were statistics supporting the need for the review not given in the Corporate Asset Review.

Saddleworth Centre houses two groups;

a.    Lifelong Learning groups with courses, which includes use of the facility, funded by the Government’s Skills Funding Agency.

b.    Community groups such as choirs, gardening clubs, painting and drawing groups. The groups pay fees for use of the facility.

Skills Funding Agency money cannot be used to fund community group activities, hence the reason why community groups pay for use of the Saddleworth Centre.

The centre is leased by OMBC; the Odd Fellows organisation owns the building.

I repeat that attendees were advised OMBC will not be curtailing Lifelong Learning opportunities in Saddleworth, just looking at possible relocation of courses. My view is that regardless of where the courses are held administration and room lease requirements still have to be funded; the obvious question focuses on associated costs.

The Oldham Evening Chronicle on 20 November also made a statement attributed to Mr J McMahon; “We need to save money as we have buildings scattered around the borough which may not be in the best place, position or used to their full potential.” His statement continues: “The other thing this does is support the town centre. It’s really important we bring people back into the town centre.” Is closure of the Saddleworth Centre part of an agenda to improve the lot of Oldham’s town centre?

In light of the variance in statements made by the Oldham Evening Chronicle and the head of Lifelong Learning, coupled with the reported Council Leader’s desire to bring people into the centre of Oldham I would say that today’s consultation event was an ineffective Public Relations exercise that portrayed a total lack of honesty. The people of Saddleworth have a right not to trust the statements attributed to Oldham Council which vary greatly from statements made in the consultation event. They also have a right to have meaningful discussions regarding the future of facilities in Saddleworth.

In tonight’s Oldham Evening Chronicle I must admit to raising an eyebrow on reading that a reporter was banned from the Oakbank Centre consultation event on the premise that it was a private meeting. If this was the case OMBC is totally out of order. The centre is funded by the public money and as such cannot deny the event being reported to the public.

Independent Parish Councillor, Robert Knotts

The views and opinions expressed in letters to the editor do not represent the views and opinions of the the editor. Letters may be edited.




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