Sunderland Conservatives slam councillors for spending £31,000 on Barnes Park event when security has been cut

The True Friends of Barnes Park hand over petition to Coun Peter Wood. From left Georgina Hammond age dnine and Gracie Cameron aged nine
The True Friends of Barnes Park hand over petition to Coun Peter Wood. From left Georgina Hammond age dnine and Gracie Cameron aged nine
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City Conservatives have slammed councillors for sanctioning the spending of £40,000 on family events at a park at the same time as security was cut because of budget constraints.

Papers show that a budget of £40,000 was allocated for a three-day “Road to Rio” community celebration at Barnes Park funded by the West Area Committee earlier this year.

“This surely is verging on mismanagement of taxpayers’ money, spending lavish amounts on celebrations whilst, at the same time, cutting funding for security which is much more important especially as there have been recent crime incidents.”

Peter O’Connor

A £78,000 budget for park security has been cut by the council leaving only Mowbray Park locked at night and 14 other parks in the city without any night-time security.

The chairman of the committee however has hit back at the Tories’ claims, saying that the cost of the event was just over £30,000, was attended by thousands of people and has already received positive feedback. Peter O’Connor, Conservative spokesman for Barnes Ward, said: “Sunderland City Council announced the removal of security from Barnes Park and stopped locking the gates claiming they did not have the funding available to continue this service which comes to £78,000 a year.

“Spending £40,000 on a one-off event is fine when the council has sufficient funds to cover basic services.

“However, it is reckless to spend this amount when the council claims poverty and they are unable to cover essential services.

“This surely is verging on mismanagement of taxpayers’ money, spending lavish amounts on celebrations whilst, at the same time, cutting funding for security which is much more important especially as there have been recent crime incidents.

“The amount of spending on this one-off event would have more than covered the reinstatement of security and locking of gates in Barnes Park, and at least one other park, for a whole year.

“When finances are tight, let us concentrate on providing important services such as security in our parks for all people, all year around not celebrations which do nothing to ensure the safety of city residents.”

A petition organised by the True Friends of Barnes Park group calling on council chiefs to reintroduce security patrols at the site gathered more than 2,000 signatures.

The Conservatives also uncovered through a Freedom of Information request that there were 13 instances where police have been called out to the park since June 1.

Councillor Peter Gibson, chairman of the West Area Committee, said: “The city council has five local area committees – East, West, North, Washington and Coalfield.

“Each committee gets its own allocated budgets and looks at where there are community projects and applications for grant funding.

“There are no Conservative councillors in the West Area of the city and so there are no Conservatives on the West Area committee.

“Members of the committee backed these event plans and the council helped oversee what was a well-attended event that had a spend of approximately £31,000.

“This three day Road to Rio event was attended by around 5,000 people, including hundreds of school children, and followed a popular local heritage event last year.

“Among the event’s aims were promoting the Olympic ideals of peace and friendship.

“These were alongside encouraging young people and the community to enjoy dozens of new sports and activities, and celebrating Barnes Park itself.

“I’m aware there’s been a lot of positive feedback about the event and a report is due to presented to our West committee.

“These committee meetings are open to the public and the Conservatives are welcome to attend and hear more, including how we have received many supportive comments from schools and the wider community.

“Sadly, the fact remains, and local Conservatives seem unable to grasp this, that cuts in services are a direct result of continuing Government cuts to council funding.”