The running of our four leisure centres is to be outsourced as a package to a management operator, with the District Council retaining ownership of the buildings.
Councillors voted unanimously at a special meeting on Thursday 1 December to start the process with a consultation with key stakeholders to help define the specification of the contract. A tendering exercise will start in May next year, followed no later than the end of May 2018 by a report to council outlining the findings of the tendering exercise and the financial impact before a final decision is made.
The sports development operation will be retained in-house. View the full report online.
Thursday's meeting heard that continuing pressure to find budget savings prompted the District Council to review its leisure service, including the four leisure centres in Ashbourne, Bakewell, Matlock and Wirksworth. And although efficiency savings of more than £110,000 have already been achieved as part of the review process, councillors agreed the best way of safeguarding the future of this discretionary service is to outsource the running of the four centres to a management company.
The aim of the leisure review was to examine ways to reduce this financial burden by exploring the feasibility of alternative delivery methods as the current situation is not sustainable.
Addressing Thursday’s meeting, Leader Councillor Lewis Rose OBE said:
“This is one of the important decisions we've needed to make for some time as it affects the whole of the district. This is a discretionary service we don't have to provide but I like to think over the years we have not blown our own trumpet enough about the excellence of the service we have provided.
“Not only did we open the leisure centre in Wirksworth in 2000 and, in 2011, probably the pride and joy of the district in the Arc, in between times we provided the Bakewell Pool and considerably improved Ashbourne Leisure Centre despite attempts to burn it down on one occasion.
“So our record has been an excellent one of which we can be justifiably proud. That is why this is such a fundamental decision because it might break some of our hearts to feel we are parting with a great friend. But I don't think we are parting - we are entering into an arrangement, possibly with a non-profit making operator, who will have to provide that service to an agreed specification - and it's absolutely vital we get that specification right.”
Referring to the continuing pressure on the authority’s finances, Councillor Rose added:
“If we are being honest with each other and with the public, if we were not to make a decision like this we would have to make some pretty horrendous decisions which might have involved closure of our leisure centres or shutting down some other service, so let's not delude ourselves. Accepting the recommendation tonight is an easier option than facing what might be the reality if we don't.
“So I'm not happy to move to the recommendation, it's rather a moment of reflection and inevitability that we have to make a decision that other councils before us have already made and, the way local government finances are going, others will be obliged to do sometime soon.”
The debate was streamed live on the District Council's YouTube channel and can be watched again below.