Questions raised about new leisure centre company
Fears have been raised that the price to use leisure centres including Rhyl’s SC2 could go up.
A board of directors will be appointed to oversee a not-for-profit company set up to manage Denbighshire’s leisure services, but one councillor said a commercial venture could hike prices.
Earlier this year Denbighshire County Council approved the creation of a local authority trading company for leisure services on behalf of the council.
The council expects the new enterprise will save it £800,000 in its first year though savings on VAT and non-domestic rates.
The facilities proposed to be included are the county’s seven leisure centres as well as the Prestatyn Nova, SC2, Rhyl Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl Events Arena and events function, North Wales Bowls Centre, Rhyl Town Hall, Ruthin Craft Centre, Llangollen Pavilion, 1891, Café R (Ruthin) and Strategic Leisure.
But Lower Denbigh county councillor, Glenn Swingler, felt there was too much uncertainty with the plans.
He said: “I’m very uncomfortable with a local government organisation setting up a private company in order to avoid paying taxes. This is the kind of action that got the country into a financial mess in the first place. If everybody found ways of avoiding paying their taxes then we wouldn’t have any public services at all. I understand why the council are having to look at novel ways of bringing in new money.
“This is already an excellent service with enthusiastic, dedicated staff. How can it be improved by being privatised? If it has to become more commercial and make money how do we know that prices won’t rise or facilities won’t be closed down if they make too much of a loss?”
But a spokesman for Denbighshire County Council said: “We are very proud of our leisure services in Denbighshire. Investment by the council over the past ten years has seen visitor numbers increase and our facilities are now first class and up-to-date, comparing favourably with the best leisure facilities in the industry.
“We have recognised the need for on-going investment at times of significant financial challenge, as we can clearly see the benefits to people’s health and well-being. We have also listened to the public as the demand for leisure sessions grew and continues to grow across the council.”
He added: “This model will allow a more flexible, innovative and entrepreneurial approach to commercial leisure, whilst allowing the council to retain control through the creation of a brand new board that will be responsible for running the company.
“This will ensure the company continues to deliver a high quality leisure provision long into the future, but as the company would be solely owned by the council, it will be the council that sets the priorities for the company and the level of service expected to be delivered.
“As such the public should see very little difference in terms of the quality of the services provided or the ‘look and feel’ of the facilities themselves.”
The council’s cabinet will be asked to endorse this approach before the plans are put to full council for approval later this year.
By Shane Brennan – Local Democracy Reporter
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