Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Nice Mural, Shame About The Green-Wash

Reproduced in full below is the question and answer at Reading Borough Council's Policy Committee, held on 25 September 2017, concerning the future of the Central Club Building and mural in central Reading.

Cultural icon: The mural on the wall of the Central Club

Councillor White (Green Party) to ask the Leader of the Council:

Reconsider Aspire's bid to buy the Central Club Building

Green Party councillors have backed and will continue to back Aspire's bid to buy the Central Club building and save the mural.  The benefit  which Reading would gain from the bid in terms of heritage, culture and practical support is priceless. Does the Council agree that there were some inaccuracies with the summary of Aspire's bid in the report which went to the Policy Committee on 17 July 2017?

REPLY by Councillor Lovelock (Leader of the Council)

Firstly the Council completely rejects any suggestion that there were inaccuracies in the summary of Aspire's bid in the July Policy Report. By asking the question Councillor White is deliberately misleading the public and insulting the integrity of the officers who wrote the report.

The July Committee report explicitly listed the bidding documents as background documents that supported the recommendation on the night. The individual bids were available on request for inspection by Policy committee members and a hard copy of the bids - including any all (sic) correspondence on clarifications - was also lodged with Members services for ease of inspection. While the Council is still unable to make the bid public, unless Aspire gives permission for that, Councillor White as a member of Policy Committee is welcome to read the whole bid if he has not done so already.

However, from his question I can only conclude that Cllr White did not bother to read the background information and any of the bids, prior to coming to a decision on this very important matter in July. If he had done, surely he would have raised the alleged inaccuracies when the item was considered in closed session - he did not.

I understand that officers briefed Councillor White on this matter last week, and provided extracts of the bid documentation to address his concerns.

Since July the Council has been repeatedly frustrated by the fact it cannot make full details of Aspire's bid public. Despite requests to Aspire to waive confidentiality, this has been refused by Aspire. The fact that the Council cannot divulge the full detail of the bid has been used to mislead the public and I'm afraid your question tonight, Councillor White, is another example of that same tactic.

Once again, I will reiterate that Reading Borough Council remains  fully committed to securing the future of the mural. It is wholly inaccurate and disingenuous to suggest otherwise. It is also misleading to imply only Aspire bid would secure its future - that is simply not true. The mural is a cultural icon and remains of huge importance to the black community, the wider community and the Council as it represents Reading's long history of celebrating different cultures and promoting tolerance.

The Council is clear what it expects any offers received in the next round of bidding to include plans to secure the mural's future. We have also contacted the mural artist to invite him to discuss its future treatment and preservation.

The Council continues to make it clear that all bidders - including Aspire or any other community group - can either carry forward existing bids, or submit a fresh offer for the building as part of the new bidding process this autumn.

At a time when Government funding for public services is failing to keep pace with huge increases in demand, the Council owes it to the local tax payer to understand the full value of the property, what people ar willing to pay for it and to compare these bids with ones which make offers to keep elements for community use. The Council has asked Aspire to update or confirm their bid as part of this process so that it can be considered alongside alternatives.

I can only hope that Councillor White recognises the potential damage to wider community relations that such deliberately misleading statements can have and act more responsibly in future. Councillor White has a long history of jumping on any bandwagon with little regard for the facts - after all his time as a member of this Council I would have hoped he would have learned some integrity.

- End of answer -

The broadcast of this debate can be found on the Council's website here.

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