Council plan to make savings by selling-off leisure centres

LEISURE centres in Preston could be sold off as Town Hall bosses plan to make yet more swingeing cuts.

Thursday, 13th October 2016, 6:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 7:14 pm
Fulwood Leisure Centre

“Radical changes” to the authority’s services are being proposed in an emergency budget, drafted to try to tackle massive reductions in government funding.

Council-owned buildings and the mayoralty are among the areas in the firing line, with leaders investigating the potential for “alternative service delivery providers” for West View and Fulwood leisure centres.

Coun Martyn Rawlinson, Preston Council’s cabinet member for resources, described the situation as “catastrophic”. The council’s chief executive Lorraine Norris said: “At the moment, all options are being considered.

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“We have significant savings to make and to achieve this we have to take time to seriously consider how we move forward and if there are alternative ways of working and providing services that will enable us to make that saving.”

Town Hall leaders have already made swingeing cuts to the services they offer, with “all options” now being considered to make further savings.

Coun Martyn Rawlinson said: “There are some small commercial assets we own that generate very little income that we might be able to sell, and that will create capital receipts which reduces our borrowing.

“It’s no secret that we are looking for another provider for the leisure centres.

“If the cost can be taken from our books to another provider then obviously that saves us money, but we want the leisure centres to continue so it’s not a case of just giving them to anybody.

“Like we did with the bus station and the Guild Hall, we’ve given them to people who want to keep them going and that’s a possibility for the leisure centres.

“Discussions are ongoing.”

Coun Rawlinson insisted, “We don’t privatise things”, and said: “The nearest we’ve got to privatising anything is the Guild Hall, which we did hand to the private sector but it was a local entrepreneur.

“We are not into handing public services over to corporations and we don’t intend to do that.”

The mayoralty is also under review, with the number of events attended by the Mayor of Preston expected to reduce.

Coun Rawlinson described the savings reducing that service would make as a “drop in the ocean” compared to the cuts needed, but said: “It is being looked at along with everything else.”

He said: “The kind of thing we are having to look at for savings like parks, if we are having to reduce things like that, the mayoralty seems a luxury.

“It’s wonderful having the mayor and having the mayor available to turn up to events, but how essential is that when you look at closing parks and other vital services?

“Even though it’s a small saving, it’s priorities.”

Coun Rawlinson said parks were being looked at but not in the same way as some other services, as they had already taken a “big hit” in previous rounds of cuts.

He said: “We could find all the savings really easily by stopping all the non-statutory services but we don’t want to do that, we’re not going to do that.

“That would mean closing every park and stopping the advice services which are keeping people off the streets.

“We are not willing to do that because we know people need these services, and we are going to find other ways of making the savings if at all possible.”

He described the situation as “catastrophic”. He said: “The officers have pulled out all the stops since December to come up with the information we need to find the savings, without destroying Preston Council as we know it.”

The council has a policy to avoid compulsory redundancies where possible, but Coun Rawlinson said they could not be “ruled out”.

So far, he said they had been kept to an “absolute minimum” compared to other authorities.

An emergency budget has been prepared to be discussed by councillors next week, with a report confirming the savings required “major and radical changes” in some areas to “avoid destructive and irreversible service closures and/or lower cost but poor quality service provision.”

Lorraine Norris, Preston Council’s chief executive, said: “At the moment, all options are being considered.

“We have significant savings to make and to achieve this we have to take time to seriously consider how we move forward and if there are alternative ways of working and providing services that will enable us to make that saving.

“Our elected councillors will make the final decisions, but officers are working closely with them to ensure they have all the necessary information.”

The authority says it will get no Revenue Support Grant from Westminster by 2019/20, and the impact of a new business rates retention scheme is still unknown.