Below is a letter from John Glen MP in response to an earlier email enquiry from us. Read our response underneath
Thank you for your email about this concerning situation, which I first heard about last week and have since received a number of emails from individual club members and supporters.
I am well aware of the strength of the club both in terms of the extraordinarily high standards it achieves and the success of its community outreach. It is a superb ambassador for Salisbury and I certainly do not want to see it put at risk.
As SWGS is an academy, directly funded by government and with complete control of its own budgets, it strikes me that the only reason the local authority would want to gift such an important and valuable asset to it would be in order to also hand over the cost and responsibility of running and maintaining it.
However, I would hope this could be done in a reasonable way that takes into account the special value of the A&RC to Salisbury and its inability to pay rent at a commercial rate.
Asa requested by the sender of the initial email, I made contact with the head teacher as a matter of urgency within an hour of receiving it and asked that club training sessions be allowed to continue as normal while the parties thrash out an agreement that allows both Salisbury institutions to continue to thrive. She responded that it was impossible to let children into the track as they are uninsured to use it until such time as an agreement is reached and documentation signed by the club.
I now appreciate that it is not just a matter of the level at which access charges are set but also the acceptance of rights over assets which the club has built and maintained over many years.
Although I have no direct power to overrule them, I am already urging the school to make as many concessions as it can afford because, the sooner the club is offered terms it feels able to sign up to, the sooner training can recommence as normal with the necessary levels of insurance in place.
I do think that the publicity around the situation has gone a long way to ensuring that it is as much in the school’s interests to keep talking as it is in the club’s interest.
I know that councillors and cabinet members are already involved and, if negotiations either do not recommence or don’t produce significant concessions soon, then I will be further pressing Wiltshire Council to clarify the basis on which they transferred the asset and the obligations to other interested parties that should have been written into that contract – in case they are liable in that regard.
I would be very happy to meet. I am afraid that, like all MPs, I am committed to be in London from Monday-Thursday and my Friday surgery is already full but I could offer you 45-50 minutes at 4pm on Friday 24th.
Since I have already made representations on the club’s behalf, I will leave it to you to reflect on whether there are other specific points you would like me to put to the school or the council or whether the session may be best used for me to chair a round table with all the parties. If so, I would be happy to extend invitations?
Very best regards
Thank you for your full and prompt reply. This has been made into such a difficult situation without good reason. You may be aware that this afternoon the Head sent out an “update” letter to the parents of pupils at SWGS. In it she says :
“Please be assured that we are endeavouring to communicate with the relevant bodies to try to resolve this matter as soon as possible.”
I would point out that at no point since the first lockout has the Club received any communication from the SWGS. The obvious conclusion is that the COSARC is not considered to be a “relevant body “ That has been the case throughout and there has been no meaningful consultation or involvement because they have not been considered to be relevant either by SWGS and, it seems, Wilts Council. Finding sufficient goodwill and trust to reach a mutually beneficial partnership is challenging to say the least under such circumstances.
The point the school makes about insurance is interesting. The Club has full 3rd party liability insurance to cover all its activities. If insurance is a problem for the school then I would conclude that they have been at risk ever since 2009 when they received freehold of the land on the granting of Foundation status. If it is a matter of signing an agreement then they could have presented us with the hire agreement and we would have signed at the previously negotiated price of £200 per month. This is clearly intended to be a distraction from the main point which is that they are trying to force the Club into signing an agreement which would override their rights acquired over 26 years or to so stress them financially as to make the future untenable.
Your insightful comment on the position of the Wilts Council in relation to acquired rights, suggests that you may have been in touch with the leaders of the Council which I would be pleased to hear. You will know they have received a letter from the Club lawyer. The Club, however, has received no contact from the Council and they can only conclude that they are what is referred to as the “relevant bodies” by the SWGS Head. I think it would be helpful if the senior Elected Members of the Council were to contact the Club for an early fact finding mission prior to the calling of negotiations to recommence. I say that because the SWGS said in their letter to parents today:
“It is regrettable that the school has been misrepresented on social media and in the press”
The Club is adamant that they have done no such thing. Indeed they have been open and honest throughout. When the facts become known then I am confident there will be red faces, none of which will be sported by Club. It would be helpful if you were to stress to Baroness Scott and John Thomson the value of a private meeting with the Club as one means of reassuring them that the Council perceive them to have value to the community that is Salisbury City and its surrounding areas.
This matter has attracted considerable publicity within the few days it has been running and has the potential to get very big indeed. The David v Goliath analogy always catches the public imagination and support. Athletes are known for their strength and stamina. I am certain that their fight for the future of the Club is going to display both qualities in great abundance. The Club would prefer to enter new talks with a clean sheet of paper as the means of resolving the issue. It is unfortunate that you are unable to find the time to meet this weekend but the Club appreciates the calls on your time. Please reserve a spot at your 24th Nov. surgery in case we all need it. Maybe the solution will be found before then. See you on the 24th !!!!
City of Salisbury Athletics & Running Club