I’ve just been speaking to Sally Bercow. On Wednesday, Tory Shropshire council stopped her from going into The Grange – a daycentre for people with physical disabilities which the council revealed in December it would as part of its austerity plans.
The Grange daycentre is an adapted community facility used by people with conditions like multiple sclerosis, severe epilepsy and cerebral palsy. Many have had debilitating strokes. The Grange has computers people can use, community projects they can take part in, a lot of social events and experienced staff on hand if they’re needed. Without it – “I’ll be at home staring at the four walls,” centre users told me when I visited the centre in December last year. They talk about the part the centre plays in their lives in the video at the end of this post.
Local campaigners have spent six months trying to beat the council back, but the council plans to shut The Grange soon all the same. Sally Bercow turned up at the centre last week at the invitation of centre user Eddie Davies. She told me that her aim was to draw press attention to the worries of centre users – except that the council decided not. Bercow said that the council told her it couldn’t let her in, because it had a duty of care to service users and she hadn’t given prior notice of her visit (more on this soon).
Bercow said the council suggested another visit at another time if she wanted to see the centre as a guest of the council – although Bercow told me that she has no desire to visit the centre as the council’s guest. “Going on a council tour? – I don’t want that. I wanted to see it as guest of the person who invited me.” In the end, she, Eddie Davies and other service users met outside the centre in the carpark – after listening to a council staff member read a prepared statement on the prior notice issue. The local press enjoyed the fight hugely, as it would and should.
So. There are those who think that the council was quite right to throw Bercow out and, to get down to it, that Bercow is a Labour-party publicity-hound who’d happily put in a day trip to Shropshire if it came with a chance to splatter Shropshire Tories (you’ll see comments along those lines at the end of this local story).
I neither know, nor care about political motives here – or anywhere, to be honest. Political point-scoring is the least interesting offshoot of the local government cuts debate, not least because all parties are on the same page on the subject. Certainly, Labour councils have put the boot into frontline service users. Bercow’s is simply the latest in a long line of stories about council attempts to throttle coverage of cuts. I know this because I’ve been there – and in Shropshire, as it happens. The council tried to stop me talking service users in December last year and its “we can’t let you in, because we need prior notice” line to Bercow sounds an awful lot like the rot it was guffing out when I tried to get in.
The official line that day was that my visit would upset service users. Service users had their own views about their robustness for interview – they were so keen to talk to me about the impending loss of their daycentre that they were prepared to meet me in the carpark in the snow to chat. The thing is – I’m neither a member of the Labour party, nor, as I say, a fan of it. I have no interest in party turf wars, or the tribal posturing of the rest. I’d struggle to tell you which party I find most inferior. I’m just a hack who has spent a lot of time on the prickly end of council touchiness about cuts reporting.
Here are The Grange service users I talked to in December last year. They really were very upset about losing their centre, which is the main point. There is no shrouding that point in political fingerpointing, either: