The big question at tonight’s council meeting was: car park in Southall or libraries? Labour got a right pasting and at one point Labour’s leader Julian Bell was sitting with his head in his hands. No wonder. Normally councillors Bell and Mahfouz tweet through cabinet and council meetings. Both were silent tonight.
The softening up process started with a petition from 575 pupils of Hobbayne Primary School presented by a Mrs Rowena Vestey of the Hobbayne PTA. She spoke very well and was followed by the redoubtable Carolyn Brown of Hanwell Community Forum fame, asking a question on Hanwell library. Both pointedly juxtaposed the library cuts currently being consulted on with the idiocy of the Southall car park.
I got in the third, fourth and fifth blows. First I asked Cllr Bell how many spaces he would be buying with our Â£5.5 million. I have asked this before but this time I got a rough answer 100-200. Southall already has 451 under-used council car park spaces so we are talking about a 22%-44% increase in council parking spaces at a price of Â£5.5 million. I then asked Cllr Dhindsa, who is in charge of libraries, how much he would save by closing various libraries. The answers I wrote down were:
Northolt Leisure Centre: Â£75K
During the day my colleague Cllr Scott had asked the chief finance officer how much it would cost to borrow the Â£5.5 million required for the Southall car park. The answer was Â£515K. I asked Cllr Dhindsa if he was aware that by cancelling the Southall car park he could save all of the threatened libraries.
I have to say that Cllr Dhindsa did somewhat lose it at this point. He talked about “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and “taking from the poor and giving to the rich”. He said: “We have taken the needs of all the people of the borough into account and we have decided to prioritise the needs of the people of Southall above the needs of library users”.
This was only the preamble to the evening. We then spent about an hour debating “Save our 13 public libraries”. It was a debate that had Labour on the run all the way through. Even in the next debate, in the last speech of the evening, my ward colleague David Millican suggested that Cllr Dhindsa “would get eaten alive” if he repeated his comments in Northfield when he comes on Wednesday 13th April with the council leader Julian Bell and finance head Yvonne Johnson.
Come to Northfields Community Centre at 7pm on Wednesday 13th April. I am sure there will be no actual cannibalism, merely some light torturing I think.
I don’t see either of these two decisions sticking.