Who will run our leisure centres?
9:10am Tuesday 1st October 2013 in Latest News
THE COUNCIL is set to relinquish control of all the town’s leisure centres and golf courses by next year under plans being drawn up.
An advert will soon be put out inviting organisations to express an interest in taking over the venues, although not gain overall ownership.
The sites up for lease are Broome Manor, Highworth and Moredon golf facilities and Croft Sports Centre, Delta Tennis Centre, Dorcan Recreation Complex, Haydon Centre, Health Hydro and the Link Centre.
Ideally the council are looking for one organisation to take over all of them but the golf facilities and leisure centres could be transferred as two separate packages.
Talks are also ongoing to hand over control the Highworth Recreation Centre although this will be done independently of the other venues.
A 99-year-lease is being offered and the council will be seeking to take some rent from the successful bidder.
The offer is being made as part of the Leisure and Culture Change Programme which aims to reduce the costs of the towns museums, arts and sports facilities while keeping them accessible to the public.
As it stands it is understood the council have forecast a loss of £1.5m on the leisure centres and golf courses this financial year.
On top on that, a council report shows there are almost £6m worth of repairs on the sites, with nearly £1m being declared urgent.
Coun Keith Williams (Con, Shaw) , Cabinet Member for Highways Strategic Transport and Leisure, said: “This is something which many other local authorities have done with great success. It is just not sustainable to keep everything as it is now.
“If we transfer control we can keep the facilities without the cost and the money saved can be put towards children’s and vulnerable adult services which is our biggest expenditure.”
The council’s main priority is to maintain the current level of facilities although it cannot be guaranteed.
Coun Williams said: “We will be speaking to those groups who are interested and keeping services at their current level will be the biggest factor we consider.”
The council may also release a one-off fund of £3m to the successful organisation to go towards the group.
It is believed the high maintenance costs could act as a deterrent to groups so it is hoped the money, which can the council can borrow at a preferential rate, will sweeten any deal.
In May, a test was carried out to gauge interest in the market for taking over the facilities and it received a favourable response, with more than 20 groups, including national companies, non profit making organisations and comunity groups, expressing an interest.
However, many of the community groups were only interested in taking over one of the leisure centres. It was not considered viable to lease the venues individually as it would make it harder to transfer all of them, thereby excluding the community groups.
Coun Williams said: “When the changes happen people may see a change in uniform but hopefully not a lot else.”
Another issue raised in the exercise was the economic viability of Moredon Golf facility as several of the parties interviewed said it had very little use.
In a cabinet report, the possibility of closing the course and looking for other uses for the site was raised but Coun Williams said the cost of running it was low and while it remained on the leisure portfolio he could not foresee it being used for a different purpose.
Around £2m has recently been spent making-over the Link Centre in West Swindon, which has included replacing the roof, a major refurbishment of the swimming pool and the recent work to install a new ice pad.
Coun Williams said: “Some of the work, such as to the ice rink was vital, and had to be done.
“It is very much like selling a house and wanting it to look its best. As an authority we spend more on leisure than many others.
“We have credit for having some of the best facilities in the region.”
When any transfer is made, all staff will be move across to the new organisation in charge but there maybe job cuts if stream-lining is needed.
It is hoped all applications for control will be in by the end of the year with the take-over being completed in the second quarter of 2014.
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