PUBLIC sector cuts are biting and hurting the very fabric of our community.
When all that drives decisions is the rush to cut costs there will be consequences for residents and other public services.
Consultation has now ended on the Government’s proposals to close 91 courts and merge a further 31 across England and Wales.
This includes plans to close both Oldham Magistrates Court and Oldham County Court.
The rationale is narrow and focused solely on the departmental budget of the Ministry of Justice with little or no thought given to the knock-on effects this will have.
Firstly, access to justice and the right to be judged by our peers is a fundamental right of British citizens.
The more that the legal system removes itself from the communities it is there to serve the less likely you will be judged by your peers.
Secondly, the cost of our justice system is not met solely by the Ministry of Justice.
The judges and courts might be the supporting infrastructure but the impact is far wider.
For the police and local councils supporting victims, giving evidence and delivering well-informed and fairly balanced verdicts, the costs are considerable.
Relocating the court from Oldham to Tameside or Manchester adds significant travel and waiting times.
This is not free time but a real cost to the public purse. It also means officers will be tied up longer meaning either more resources will be required or cases and investigations backlog – or even worse cases begin to collapse.
Looking at a judicial system solely from an estates point of view is wrong and misjudged.
Group Leaders in Oldham across all political parties have come together to fight the proposal.
We don’t believe that closing the two courts has been properly considered and of course we have an eye on the wider economic impact: the loss of public facilities, the loss of footfall in the town centre and the potential that some legal firms may also choose to relocate.
We know more than most about the pressures to balance your books and that’s why we offered a counter proposal, which you can read here.
By bringing together the County and Magistrates courts into one building they can reduce operating costs and dispose of the redundant building but continue to offer access to justice to our communities.
We hope this plan is considered properly, but I fear it may not be.
Will a Whitehall official really take the time to look at a little town like Oldham?
Will we get lost in the consultation that covers the whole of England and Wales?
If the consultation is a genuine one then our counter proposal should hold weight.
We aren’t being stubborn here – we are showing maturity.
There is a wider question that in the new ‘Northern Powerhouse’ surely we locally should be making these decisions, not someone locked away in Whitehall?
Devolution can only work if it rests on strong foundations. With the cuts coming much quicker than the cash promised through devolution the very foundations it relies upon may quickly give way.
Is there a Northern Powerhouse difference?
The jury is well and truly out!
Thanks for listening,