In a recent article at SwindonLink, the Leader of the Swindon Council David Renard sought to explain the official position regarding the transfer of Lydiard House and its surrounding parkland to non-council management.
As ever the vulnerable elderly, those with learning difficulties and vulnerable children formed the back cloth to Cllr Renard’s argument for disposal.
The tiresome rhetoric doesn’t vary which leads me to conclude that perhaps the real change should be in totally separating the above services from council control and revert to the traditional model of local government, surely a point for future debate which we could call ‘parishing’.
Cllr Renard allegedly recognises how important Lydiard is to the borough while at the same time exclaiming we can’t afford to keep it due to the difficult financial demands for those other services which Central government has decreed rank above cleaning streets, removing refuse and providing children’s centres.
The cost to council taxpayers of Lydiard House and Park is £458,000 per annum and according to Cllr Renard the facility will in the future require costly maintenance and improvements. According to Cllr Renard his administration did increase the number of staff to try to raise more revenue, which was reflected in higher costs.
However, that did not raise sufficient revenue – I wonder why. Could it be that in 2013 a management decision was taken to change the supposed outdated pricing structure at Lydiard Park and introduce a combined ticketing option? According to officers: “The primary reason for making this change was to simply introduce more visitors to the House, Church and Walled Garden and to make these fantastic attractions financially sustainable for the future’ I think we can take it as read the objective was not achieved , although……………..
In June 2015, only six months ago, officers were claiming: ‘To date the new pricing strategy has been a huge success and customers are enjoying the benefits of our new season ticket.’
Sadly the facts do not support the hyperbole which brings me to the wise words uttered by the ever erudite Cllr Holland who only last week said: ‘Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.’
I think we can all agree that it was wishful thinking on the part of the officers that raising prices and reducing access flexibility would result in increased visitor attendance or an improved revenue stream.
Cllr Renard in a moment of reflection states that: ‘Even if the subsidy were lower, it is still unaffordable in the present climate.’
And yet he says nothing about the affordability of the £250,000 subsidy for Steam Museum, and he freely admits a new Museum and Art Gallery in the town centre will also be subsidised. This amply reveals his dilemma, for, in using the term subsidy, he has failed to recognise that all council spending is a ‘subsidy’ as services cannot be provided without payment.
In Cllr Renard’s view:
subsidising Forward Swindon with £450,000 per annum is good, whereas £450,000 for Lydiard is bad;
subsidising Steam Museum with £250,000 is good, whereas £250,000 for Children’s Centres is bad;
and finally £250,000 to subsidise the yet-to-be-agreed and dreamed-of, Heritage Lottery Fund supported multi-million pound at art gallery and museum is good. It tells you all you need to know about Cllr Renard’s priorities.
Read Cllr Renard’s comments on the viability of Lydiard Park