THE LABOUR candidate for Thurrock has written an open letter to the Secretary of State for Communities, Michael Gove.
Dear Secretary of State,
You will be aware of the financial crisis facing Thurrock Council and the immensely difficult decisions that lay ahead. Residents in the Borough are currently awaiting the conclusions of the ‘best value inspection’, being carried out by Essex County Council, but it has recently come to light that it is extremely likely that a decision will be taken to sell the local cultural hub, the Thameside Complex.
The Thameside Complex is a popular and much valued local asset and is uniquely able to provide a hub for the Borough’s growing cultural sector. It houses a popular library, the local history museum and archives and the Borough’s only for purpose public theatre. It also provides office space for a number of cultural and community organisations, including Arts Outburst, who have recently become an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation. The Thameside Complex itself is part of a £1m local consortium delivering on a Creative People and Places Arts Council fund.
Initial proposals to close the Complex in 2021, met with strong local opposition, which galvanised into a business case for the facility to transfer into community ownership and be run by two local organisations, Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions (TLS), a CIC with a long and impressive track record of delivering services in the Borough and Thurrock International Celebration of Culture (TICC).
Under the plan, the group aims to use a tapered system of funding from the Council (annually a third of what the facility currently costs to run), ultimately generating enough income and drawing in alternative funding to be self-sufficient in five years time.
While closing and selling the Complex, presumably for private development, will generate some income for the Council, this amount is negligible when stacked against the Authority’s colossal debt. Furthermore, the cost of losing this asset to the community cannot be overstated.
Put simply, in Thurrock, we cannot afford to lose the Thameside Complex.
The cultural sector is a key growth market and potential employer, particularly as the Borough continues to attract people from inner London to make their home here. The aspirational opportunities offered by the theatre and the performing arts organisations based in the Complex have had a life changing impact on young people in a low income area. The Museum is an ongoing source of civic pride and has carried out crucial work in developing a sense of place and cohesion across various communities.
I do not believe that selling an asset such as the Thameside meets the definition of ‘best value’ and I am deeply concerned that the proposals put forward by the community have not been given sufficient consideration. I am concerned that in a rush to sell everything monetizable, long-term considerations as to the social, cultural and financial cost of disposing of the Thameside Complex have not been considered.
Unfortunately, the community’s concerns currently do not appear to have been listened to. I would strongly urge you, to take whatever action you can to ensure that both the Commissioners and the Authority are not acting in haste and give due consideration to the business case put forward by the community, the benefits of which far outweigh any minor short term financial gain of disposal.
I look forward to your response.
Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Thurrock
cc. Thurrock Council Commission