Check your 'Purcell & Black' for irregularities and residue every month when you're in the shower.
Ah, Steven Purcell. Him leaving Glasgow City Council has been like one of those horribly awkward and protracted breakups that ends up sucking in a whole social circle, and you know the basic story of what happened but you get the feeling there’s more to it. Gradually, ever more horrible, cringeworthy and sometimes fucking funny details just keep leaking out. Of course, situations like that are gifts for gossipy petty folk who can’t get enough of delighting in the right people’s misery, and us folk at Leftfield are no exception. So it was with no small amount of schadenfreude that we learned that the Castro Centre, the new incarnation of the Glasgow LGBT centre which was forced to close down with debts of £300,000 looks like it’s about to close as well, because of *drumroll* big debts and possible massive corruption.
Please understand, it’s not the fact that Glasgow is possibly about to lose its only dedicated LGBT community centre for the second time that’s causing this glee. The fact that it may close again is a frankly ridiculous and outrageous situation. However, a large amount of disturbing evidence has emerged from various sources that suggests that not only has Solidarity Labour councillor Ruth Black (who ran the last LGBT centre and left her post just months before the centre was forced to close with crippling debts) only managed to find herself back in charge due to good old Purcell brand ‘irregularities’, but also that the centre is being run poorly and downright dishonestly.
When the LGBT centre first closed, people were understandably angry and upset. Groups lost a meeting place they’d had for years, and this was of particular concern to support organisations like Crosslynx Glasgow (a trans support group) who had very real concerns about finding a venue where they’d feel (and be) safe. As well as this, groups received virtually no notice that the centre was about to go under, and faced a frantic scrabble to find a new venue in order to stop a loss of momentum and members. As if that all wasn’t frustrating enough, what actually happened to the LGBT centre is still shrouded in mystery; all we really know for sure is that when it closed it was £300,000 in debt and that there were angry refutations of any suggestion of irregularity or incompetence in management posted to the GLGBT website before it was taken down for good. Also, there were whisperings in the papers that Ruth Black had essentially run it into the ground, but the stock response was she had left her job months before the closure and so had nothing to do with it. Which is a pretty pish counterargument, but oh well! Maybe, we hoped, Glasgow would have an LGBT centre again soon, and it would be better run and hopefully be a fun, useful and supportive place for LGBT folk to hang about. However, what actually happened was that Glasgow Labour cronyism did what it does best; ignored what was best for the people a service is meant to, you know, serve, and instead just did what was best for their councillors.
As The Herald reported, many LGBT people and organisations in Glasgow were unhappy to say the least when, after competing with Glasgay!, a group that runs an annual LGBT arts festival in the city, Ruth Black and her still not really existent backing organisation were awarded the right to run the new centre by Ruth’s colleagues at the council. That alone was an example of rank cronyism and quite bad judgement given the major role Black had in running a centre that collapsed amid piles of debt, but it gets worse when you consider that the money the centre owed was owed to Glasgow City Council. According to the publicly available documents on the bidding process, the council considered Glasgay!’s declaration that they would not repay the debt owed by the previous centre to be detrimental to their bid, but what kind of nonsense and pish is that?! Glasgay! had nothing to do with the running of the previous LGBT centre, and the thinking about the debt essentially seems to have been that whoever started to provide LGBT one stop shop services in Glasgow, they would have to pay off the big old collective queer debt. Despite Glasgay!’s track record of organising successful arts events and a promise that if awarded the centre deal they would branch out to provide meeting spaces as well as health and social services, still Ruth Black got the contract with a projection of bar takings that was significantly larger than Glasgay!’s figures and a promise to eventually pay back the money the council lost. It’s worth remembering as well that during her tender as centre manager Ruth Black managed to alienate a significant amount of people in the community by banning the popular magazine ScotsGay because of what she considered inappropriate ‘adult’ content. ScotsGay contains a wide variety of material, and apparently the option of keeping it away from children or putting an “available on request” sign up (apparently the magazine was inappropriate for a centre that wanted to welcome families) didn’t even occur to the centre managers, even after ScotsGay approached them about the issue.
Given how close Purcell and Black were while he was still in charge of the council, people were suspicious. When Purcell’s corruption and “chemical dependency” emerged, people got more suspicious. Lo and behold, the herald got hold of the minutes of a meeting that have Ruth Black telling other LGBT organisations that Purcell and other ‘senior Labour figures’ would be backing her bid, a full five months before the end of the tendering process. As well as this, according to the Herald’s report, the meeting was originally set up by Black in her capacity as Glasgow City Council Equalities Spokesperson (Oh, did we not mention that?) and then she sprang her own bid on the other organisations who were meeting with her to discuss the Glasgay! bid and the future of the centre in general. If these allegations are true then this will just be another scandalous addition to Purcell’s already corrupt leadership of the council, and will also show a wholesale selling out of the Glasgow LGBT community just so Steven’s pals could be happy.
It’s not just the award of the contract that’s the problem though. Before we even touch on what the media’s reporting, I’ll deal with my own personal observations about the Castro. The centre’s website is poor to say the least; SSY doesn’t have two pennies to rub together, never mind a fat contract from the council, but it’s safe to say our website is a lot better than this. The only blog articles on the site are to do with the rumours flying around about the centre (we’ll get to them in a minute) and a karaoke night, and there’s the distraction of the “GET A FREE WEBSITE’ bar at the bottom. A good website is important for such a vital public service, and there’s just no excuse for this kind of sloppiness when you’ve been funded to the degree the Castro has. Apart from the website, there’s a couple of other glaring problems. A quick glance at the About page shows that of the five board members, there are no young people and they’re all white too. But hey, give them credit, they do have a page asking if you’re interested in joining their youth steering committee. Unfortunately, it seems that committee’s pretty much going to be picked by the aforementioned board, and also has a very arbitrary cut off age of twenty-one. Please understand, this isn’t just a bitter twenty-four year old talking (WHY?!) but it’s genuinely the case that your special youth related LGBT needs don’t just stop when you turn twenty-one. Aside from the LGBT angle, SSY would direct the Castro board’s attention to the fact that anyone under twenty-five is still subject to state sanctioned wage and benefits discrimination, and if they’re single will only ever get fifty quid a week in order to keep up with their rent. Aye, all of this criticism is based on their website and what other people I know have reported. I’ve never been to the Castro. Know why? Because I didn’t even know it was open until I saw the articles saying it might be closing! I never saw one bit of publicity about the new centre, and that’s yet another failing.
Folk giving it yaldi at Stonewall
As I see it, the biggest issue is that a Labour council that has long since betrayed its original socialist politics and which actively works against the interests of Glaswegians has no business in deciding who gets to provide the Glasgow LGBT community’s only one stop shop that isn’t part of the commercial and often alienating scene. Like most of the scene world over, Glasgow’s is by and large targeted at young gay men, with very little provision for lesbians and trans folk (out on the Glasgow scene you’ll often be spoiled for choice if what you’re looking for is poisonous sexist and transphobic commentary on other customers), never mind the of course mythical, wily and elusive bisexuals or pansexuals. Sometimes people need an alternative to that, but a council that has shut schools, wants to sell off our parks and has already sold off our arts and heritage ‘assets’ to one of the many arms length ALEOs that they love so much (which has rebranded our museums as Glasgow Life) is not equipped to decide who’s best to provide essential services to marginalised communities. All they care about is profit and pals, and the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement couldn’t have been further from that agenda. At Stonewall, trans, lesbian, bi and gay people, many of them homeless, many of them sex workers and most of them poor who’d had enough of police raids and of the pro-assimilation and anti-violence rhetoric promoted by the mainstream LGBT rights proponents of the day rebelled. They drove the polis off in an emphatic declaration of their right to exist, their right to be free of state oppression, the right to organisation and what’s more their right to be different. This kind of collective action and emphatic rejection of assimilation into the mainstream is truly dangerous not only to heterosexist society but to governments and capitalists too. We must never fool ourselves into thinking that just because of the deeply embedded homophobia of society that capitalism has no interest in sidelining this dissent and using the LGBT community to make money. For example, most of the scene in Glasgow (and much of Edinburgh’s scene too) is owned and operated by one man, Stefan King of the G1 group. The venues peddle the same product, often leaving LGBT people who are marginalised within what’s supposed to be their own community with nowhere to go. Even on Pride day, which started as a political event celebrating the Stonewall uprising and demanding rights, advertisers now crowd the route of the march, hoping to cash in on the so called ‘pink pound’. Sometimes this adds up to people not knowing their own history and you get articles like this frankly embarrassing example from Gawker where the author declares that Stonewall was a load of gay men who fought back against the police. The rest of the community are erased, and a sexist, racist, transphobic, biphobic and affluent version of queer is sold back to us. With the poor running of the Castro Centre in Glasgow, there’s nowhere to escape that.
Of course, Ruth Black’s got a lot more on her plate than what I think. So, here’s a roundup of what other people (it wisnae us) are reporting. Not us, you understand. SSY has no interest in making allegations that we can’t prove.
The Herald has reported that the Castro “is on the brink of closure after an internal probe uncovered a range of financial irregularities”. They also report that a whistleblower has alleged that while tax and national insurance have been taken from staff pay, they have not been passed on to HMRC, which is an extremely serious offense in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the SSY Don’t be a Shitty Bastard Employer Squad. This kind of activity endangers the benefit and pension entitlements of employees and is blatant theft. The same whistleblower also alleges that while “excessive bills” are being paid to a Perth based gaming machine company, no profits are being declared from the machines, and that the council’s money is being used to run up huge mobile phone bills and lease private cars. There are also claims that the centre is sitting on tens of thousands of pounds worth of unpaid invoices and may be trading insolvently. Black’s response to the Herald was short and simple: “There are no irregularities.”
And then we get to the Record; we like to keep the really sensational stuff for last. They have reported that well known legitimate Glasgow businessman Paul Ferris has visited the Castro twice in recent weeks and has met with Ruth Black and her partner. This allegation seems likely to have come from the same whistleblower who has went to the Herald and the council. Black has responded that Ferris’ visits were connected with Unlock, an anti-reoffending and prisoners’ rights organisation that operates in England. A quick bit of googling shows that yesterday, five days after the original Record story was published, Ferris has chatted directly to The Sun about wanting to take who the police deem “their worst re-offenders” and to somehow teach them to go ‘straight’ but the idea is apparently still in its early stages. The article makes prominent mention of Ruth Black’s partner Jeannie McDougal, and Ferris says he is considering her as a tutor for his proposed program. He also says that he wants to meet with the head of Unlock towards the end of the month, but he doesn’t seem to have done it yet. So there seems to be some confusion about whether he’s chatting about Unlock or his own project. The Record also reports that the polis are investigating Ruth Black as they suspect her of selling speed at the City Chambers.
OICEBERG, ROIGHT AHEAD!
So, with all of this flying about in the press, and with the first google result for Castro Centre Glasgow being the Herald story about the possible closure (the actual centre being relegated to second place) the nervous and twitchy messages that adorn the Castro website are understandable. Call us cynical, but when us lot in SSY see the words “Please pay no attention to media stories which have no foundation and are based on rumour and speculation.” fall from the lips or fingertips of a politician who’s being investigated by the police and getting a lot of media attention we can’t help but suspect that some titanic calamity is about to befall them, and that maybe they’re wondering if that double hull of friends they’ve built up is quite watertight enough. Whatever happens to Ruth Black, whether corruption is uncovered or not, let’s hope that eventually the biggest city in Scotland finally gets the LGBT centre it deserves.