East Devon Tories, with personal endorsements from Neil Parish and Simon Jupp, have really sunk to new depths in their latest newsletter. (Owl received a copy from an outraged correspondent).
Amongst the tendentious attacks on the performance of EDDC’s Democratic Alliance Coalition, is this mendacious little gem paraded as Example No4.
Does this stand a moment’s scrutiny?- The facts checked
Leisure East Devon Ltd was established as a not-for-profit Industrial & Provident Society (IPS) on 1 January 2006 with the specific purpose of managing the EDDC leisure activities previously operated through the Council’s Leisure & Lifestyles Team on a 30 year lease at a peppercorn rent, with EDDC paying an annual service charge. In other words Leisure East Devon was set up by EDDC’s Conservative councillors as an outsourcing operation.
[The name was changed in 2014 to “LED” when all IPSs were converted into regulated Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies. (Before that, unlike charities, IPSs were unregulated). This change also reflected the fact that LED had also taken over management of South Somerset District Council leisure facilities.]
The original ambition appears to have been to generate £1.6m working capital (on annual turnover of approx £5m) and gradually reduce EDDC support. This has never been achieved and EDDC has had to provide LED with annual grants, as required to balance the books. In 2012, for example, this grant amounted to £1.1m and in 2017 EDDC budgeted for £893,720. Over the years EDDC has also paid one-off sums for refurbishment. In other words Conservative controlled EDDC has always subsidised LED and it can hardly be described as “freestanding”.
In June 2015, The Tory EDDC engineered a take-over of the lease of Exmouth seafront “Ocean” facility by LED. Conservative Councillor Andrew Moulding, chairman of Exmouth Regeneration Programme, said: “This is fantastic news for everyone who lives in Exmouth or who comes to the resort for holidays or leisure” Some disagreed when they looked at the generous guarantor terms provided for LED (tenant) and Harlequins (landlord) by EDDC. In other words EDDC Conservatives were quite content to subsidise one business over another and intervene heavily in the local leisure market.
In March 2020, although the Conservatives lost control in 2019, EDDC, under the Ben Ingham regime, completed the acquisition of the Ocean Blue leisure complex on Exmouth seafront for £2.7m using the council’s Commercial Investment Fund. (Ben Ingham, despite claiming to be “Independent”, continued with Conservative policies). The East Devon Watch post: “The sad planning saga of Exmouth’s Albatross, the Ocean Bowling Alley.” chronicles the events from 1993 to 2020. This purchase is the inevitable result of the Conservative led strategic interventions in the “regeneration” of Exmouth Seafront over this period which has turned out to be a commercial failure. In other words it is Conservative intervention in the local leisure market over more than two decades that has been a signal failure.
In June 2020 Democratic Alliance Coalition inherited this mess
In October 2020 LED estimated a loss of £1.3m in the current year as a result of COVID-19 restrictions over the leisure centres it operates in the East Devon area. It asked for funds ranging between £616,000 and £1.276m from EDDC. As a charitable trust it is unable to claim 75 per cent of lost income under a central government scheme whereas leisure facilities operated directly by Local Authorities can do so. Note that this is a Conservative imposed double whammy.
Yet in March 2022 Conservatives have the cheek to proclaim:
“EDDC owned leisure facilities have taken a huge financial hit during the Covid pandemic with the Council subsidising the activities of LED, a standalone company. Conservative councillors are concerned about these costs and are questioning the use of tax payers money to subsidise one business over another. This money could have been spent on keeping our public toilets open and prevent car parking increases.”
Owl’s question to Conservatives:
When did you first have qualms about using taxpayers money to subsidise the “standalone” LED you created, especially in its relationship with the Harlequins “Ocean Blue” centre in Exmouth?
Have you sanctioned Councillor Andrew Moulding for his playing off one business against another in 2015?
Why did Conservative councillors intervene so heavily in the local leisure market, with little or no consultation, for over two decades?
And has Simon Jupp MP fought really hard to get the 75% covid rebate paid to LED? East Devon deserves better (to coin one of his very own phrases).
Owls’ advice: Take anything said by a Conservative with a great big pinch of salt. Like Boris Johnson, it won’t stand much scrutiny.
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