‘Bleak’ future for leisure centres unless extra cash received

Leisure centres and swimming pools across East Devon may be forced to close as LED and East Devon District Council may be unable to afford to keep them open.

Daniel Clark www.devonlive.com

The picture and position facing the council has been described as ‘bleak’ by the leader of the council and chief executive in a letter they have sent to the region’s three MPs in calling for extra financial support.

And it warns that there is a real fear that they will be unable to afford to keep open the swimming pools and leisure centres with LED asking for a £1.3m bailout from the council as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

While in-house leisure services, such as in Mid Devon and Teignbridge, will see budget income replaced by 75p in the £1 – minus the first five per cent – by the Government, as LED is a charitable leisure trust, there is no support available either to the Council or LED.

LED have asked for funds in the region ranging between £616,000 and £1.276m, and it was expected that a decision as to whether to provide it was set to be made at next Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, but the Local Democracy Reporting Service understands that the item is no longer set to be on the agenda with concerns over the content of the draft report that had been prepared.

In the letter, written jointly by Cllr Paul Arnott and the council’s chief executive Mark Williams, to East Devon’s three MPs Simon Jupp, Neil Parish and Mel Stride, it says: “Put simply the position facing LED is now acute. As we go into Winter there is a real fear that we will be unable to afford to keep open our swimming pools and leisure centres.

“Faced as we are with an un-level playing field, the Council’s ability to plug the gap for LED is limited and we are finding it increasingly hard to explain to our residents why east Devon is being left out of the support programme that the Government has set up for other parts of the South West.

“The issue is now becoming urgent and we really need your help. Please let us know how you can assist in what would be a real good news story in showing that the Government understands the position we face and is willing to extend the same hand of support that Exeter and Mid Devon have received.”

A previous letter, written in August, had added: “The lifeline where leisure facilities operated by Local Authorities are going to be able to claim 75 per cent of lost income does not apply to authorities like East Devon which operate a model whereby its Leisure Services are operated through a charitable leisure trust. In our case this Trust (LED) is estimating a loss of £1.3m in the current year as a result of COVID-19 restrictions.

“For this model of operation there is no Government support available either to the Council or LED. If the Council wishes to see leisure services continue it will have to consider funding this loss, which will mean that we will have to make corresponding cuts to a wide range of frontline services that the public rely on.

“Why should a charity or the Council be penalised because the Government has chosen to only support one type of leisure service provider? We are sure you will agree that this position is not equitable and we would ask that you use your influence to ensure that either we or LED are placed in the same position as other Councils.”

The three MPs have written a joint letter to the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, although as of earlier this week, had not yet received a response.

While leisure centres in Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary, Axminster, Colyton, Exmouth and Honiton have reopened, Broadclyst and Cranbrook leisure centres remain closed.

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