Dear Michael Gove,
I am writing to you as you are the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
As you will be aware Thurrock council is effectively bankrupt after running up debts of 1.5 billion on what was effectively a ponzi scheme.
I understand Thurrock council is in talks with you and your department to borrow £636 Million to help balance its books. Thurrock Councils annual turnover is just 250 million – this gross overspend is threatening many local services.
I see from yesterday’s news that you have granted thurrock permission to raise their council tax bills to 9.99% beyond this year’s legal limit of 4.99% with you saying that Thurrock residents would have to find hundreds of pounds more and blaming “failures in their local leadership” by the Conservative-run council.
I am glad you acknowledged the impact on local taxpayers, who will have to pay for their councils in your words “very significant failings”.
Part of these consequences of their failings is the threat to close the local theatre in Grays. The Thameside theatre, this is personal to me as I grew up in Grays, the Thameside complex was basically the only corner of culture in Grays.
I don’t want it to be shut down. Kids there need a library, even if books can be downloaded on a kindle or a device now, having places where learning, public learning, people coming in to perform and create are vital. The kids deserve to have culture and access to learning, it is a popular theatre that has hosted millions of events since it opened in 1971.
I held an event there myself last November – the spirit of the event, good humour aside, was not about the recrimination or
condemnation or engaging the typical political arguments that create a kind of ossified oppositionism, it was about creating a situation where passionate members of the community can continue to use this asset to benefit the very community that it was created to serve.
The Save your Thameside theatre group have put forward a viable bid to keep running the theatre complex – and I have committed to helping them in any way I can including in holding future events there. We have further committed to this being at nil cost to the council and have asked the council to allow save your thameside’s bid to be amended to make clear it would run at no cost to the council.
The local taxpayers should not suffer because the council lost its path investing in ideas that have not yielded fruit – both myself and the campaigners simply want one thing: the Thameside Theatre be handed over to the Save your Thameside theatre Campaign.
It isn’t just a theatre – the complex is home to a multitude of arts and cultural entities, including performing arts studios, Thurrock Museum, the current Grays library and tenants such as Transvol and Thurrock lifestyle solutions, who work throughout the Borough promoting equal rights for the disabled as well as previously housing the Café at the front of the building. By closing the building and potentially losing the Theatre, we also lose local groups and a hub of the community from Zumba to coffee mornings.
The community should not suffer because of poor decisions by the council – especially as there is a viable solution. Now the council have postponed a decision on Thameside Closure to March 2023 – however they are widely briefing it is to be shut.
Indeed conservative MP Jackie Doyle Price (whose Husband is the leader of the council and whose son is a Cllr in Thurrock) is writing to her constituents telling them the decision has been made and the theatre will close.
As you have said, the Council under those Cllr’s I mentioned above leadership have had significant failings – and I understand that commissioners are monitoring Thurrock Council decisions – as they have clearly failed to make competent decisions over the last few years.
Closing the theatre would be another mistake, I urge you to intervene and ensure that those whose actions have put the theatre at risk are not able to close it down.
Would you please meet with me urgently to discuss the future of Thameside theatre, I would like to discuss with you options and what your department can do to ensure support for this vital community asset.
Please do meet me to discuss how nationally, locally, politicians and communities can all work together to save the theatre.
I look forward to your response.