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Conservative Councillor gets backing for swimming pool 'leaks'

John Freeman
The Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council has given his public support to City Council Conservative leader Roger Mace after he was relieved of duties for allegedly leaking details of a proposed deal between the city and county councils over three community pools that could save them from possible closure.

While the proposed closure of Lancaster Market is grabbing the headlines when it comes to this week's Full Council meeting - with a huge demonstration planned in protest - the fate of Hornby, Carnforth and Heysham's community swimming pools will also be discussed.

The city council's Cabinet has proposed handing back the management of the three pools to Lancashire County Council next year, but two alternative plans - one calling for reinstatement of city council funding until 2013, another calling for further negotiations with the county council to ensure the continued running of the pools - are to be debated.

Behind the scenes, just as with the future of Lancaster Market, there is anger on both sides at the secrecy and exemption notices that are hamstringing public debate on major issues facing the district as it again faces further reductions in government funding and demands that Council Tax rises be kept to a minimum - putting many services at risk.

Conservative Councillor and leader of the Conservative group Roger Mace has fallen victim to the consequences of allegedly leaking 'confidential' information - the latest in a long line of elected councillors who have had their knuckles rapped for breaking the ever-increasing number of rules and regulations that appear to prevent elected members from representing the electorate, pitted against Council staff who often cannot be named or held to task for imposing these 'rules'.

Lancaster City Councillor Roger MaceLast week, the Lancaster Guardian reported Roger had been relieved of his responsibilities for human resources and legal services following an allegation that he had leaked details of discussions between the city and county council (the report, "Fury as future of pools put at risk" does not seem to have been published online).

Lancashire County Council leader Geoff DriverNow, Geoff Driver, the Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council, has stepped into the fray to defend Roger.

"The claim that you leaked confidential information is utter nonsense," says Coun Driver in a letter to Councillor Mace. "I gave you that information without saying that it was confidential. Indeed, I gave it to you in the certain knowledge that you would make it public."

"Geoff Driver and I wanted the County Council's 'offer' to be in the open to ensure that the public knew exactly what was happening and why," explains Roger, who represents Kellet on the Council. "Lancashire County Council has most definitely made an 'offer' to Lancaster City Council that would enable them to keep the pools open for community use but the make up of this 'offer' involves several parts which could, albeit very loosely, be described as 'options'."

The possibility that the pools may be closed outright has been met with outrage from users. The Lancaster Guardian reported this week that for 69-year-old Anne Midgeley, chaining herself up in her bathing costume outside Hornby swimming pool would be a small price to pay if it secured the continued use of its facilities.

"For obvious reasons of setting expensive precedents across the county, we cannot simply say we will take over the running of the pools," says Coun Driver, "but we are prepared to work with the city council to enable them to make the savings necessary to enable them to keep the pools open. This would include, inter alia [for example], their taking on some of our 'public face' functions (for which we will pay) and our renting some of their spare accommodation."

"The suspicion is that City Council Leader, Coun Stuart Langhorn thinks that he can accept the County Council's 'offer' and use the savings/extra income for other purposes in the hope that the County will keep the pools open for community use," suggest Roger Mace.

"City Councillors should be under no illusions that our 'offer' is to enable them to keep the community pools open," says Coun Driver. "Our 'offer' will be conditional upon their keeping the pools open for community use.

"Surely that is what co-operation and joint working between Lancashire County Council and District Councils is all about!"

• Lancaster City Council Full Council will take place at 2.00pm on Wednesday 3rd March at Morecambe Town Hall. Click here for agenda details on the City Council web site