Leisure centres in Tameside could close as trust faces funding crisis

SOME leisure centres in Tameside could close permanently as the borough’s main provider of gyms and swimming pools faces a funding crisis.

Hyde Leisure Pool

The executive cabinet has agreed to front £845k as an advance payment for services it commissions for vulnerable children and adults from the Active Tameside leisure trust.

This would cover services until the end of the financial year, but is only enough to keep the trust solvent until the end of October.

At a meeting at the end of August, the cabinet was told that the coronavirus pandemic has worsened an already difficult financial situation within the trust, which was already facing ‘significant challenges’.The trust’s pools began reopening on July 27, but Active Etherow, Active Longendale, Active Ken Ward and Active Oxford Park remain closed to the public with all other centres running a reduced programme and time table.

“Going forward there will be significant costs of re-opening services and the trust is predicting a major loss of income as it implements social distancing and reduces capacities,” a report to cabinet states.

“This immediate shock comes alongside the budget pressures of the council.

“Given this combination of financial pressures Tameside Active will need to consider all options, including the possible permanent closure of some facilities.”

The £845k is the second advance payment agreed by council bosses, with an earlier £600k being signed off in June.

The latest payment takes the total council support to more than £1.4m.

The town hall has also agreed to delay the repayment of £788k prudential borrowing by the trust until ‘at least’ 2021/22.

And in April the authority paid the total value of the management fee for this year – a sum of just over one million pounds.

Debbie Watson, assistant director of population health said that 30pc of the trust’s staff are still on furlough currently.

“Their income generation strategy is built on direct debits and so you can imagine that has taken quite a hit in terms of the financial forecast for this year,” she added.

“In terms of cashflow, the organisation has enough revenue to take them to the end of August.

Tameside wellness centre in Denton

“For the past 18 months we’ve worked quite hard and the organisation has worked quite hard to ensure that we balance the budget and ensure that we have got a financially sustainable model going forward.

“But there has been significant challenges even before the Covid situation.

“If you think about the significant costs of reopening, in terms of loss of income and reducing capacity within the facilities together with the financial pressures of the council and the continued pressures of Covid – this combination of things mean that it is clear that a significant review will be needed around our leisure offer.”

She added: “Cabinet will need to consider all options in order to deliver our strategic objectives, including using services differently, using buildings differently, and potentially considering options to not reopen some of the facilities which are not financially sustainable going forward.

“It’s a very difficult time.”

A further report will be brought back to the cabinet in October outlining the options for the trust and its eight gyms and five swimming pools.

Council leader Brenda Warrington: “Certainly we do need that report in October. We need to see which direction we’re going in, and we need to know the kind of ideas or suggestions in relation to how Active Tameside functions for the future.

“That is going to be crunch-time.”

If Active Tameside were to become insolvent the facilities would return to council control, and along with them any on going liabilities associated with their operation.

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