Leisure could face cuts if Newport council keeps control
8:54am Saturday 10th May 2014 in News
SPORT and leisure services in Newport could face significant cuts if the city’s council keeps them in house, a report on a proposed leisure trust has warned.
Newport council cabinet documents make a stark warning that if the services stay in house it will be difficult to make needed savings of more than £400,000 without shutting facilities.
The group of senior Labour councillors is to consider again on Monday whether the authority should transfer its leisure services into a trust, after they expressed caution and put off the decision at a meeting last March. The sites which would potentially go over to a trust include Newport Centre, the Active LIving Centre in Bettws, Newport Velodrome, Newport Stadium and the Tennis Centre, Spytty.
Labour cabinet member for leisure and culture Debbie Wilcox says she’s signed up to the plan, and the state of local government finance led her to change her mind.
If it is given the go-ahead, the trust could be operational by 2015.
The report to cabinet explains that cabinet members have been given further briefings on the proposals since the March meeting.
Newport council is aiming to save £412,000 within the sport and leisure services department by 2017, under current budget projections.
But the report explains it is “unlikely that a saving of £412,000 could be achieved in the short term through continuing with an in-house service without further facility closures and a significant reduction in services for residents”.
Savings of £412,000 can be achieved through tax relief on business rates that would be available to a trust, the report explains, and the body would also be exempt of VAT on certain income.
Setting up the trust will cost £865,000, which would need to be funded out of the council’s invest-to-save fund.
Labour cabinet members at their meeting in March had expressed caution about the plans.
Councillor Bob Poole said he didn’t like giving the family jewels away, and Cllr Wilcox said the proposed saving was small.
But Cllr Wilcox yesterday said her lukewarm welcome to the proposals at the last cabinet meeting “came from the fact that my natural sympathies and political stance is that we provide services for people”.
“I just had to revise that view looking at the current state of local government finance,” she said.
She added she was now signed up to the plan: “We can’t keep on doing things the way we have done them, because we don’t have the money.”
Labour backbench Cllr Chris Evans, who sat on a panel of councillors that reviewed the project, expressed concerns at the implications of setting up a trust in order to save tax, describing it as a tax dodge.
He said: “Is it right and proper that a Labour council effectively endorses dodging tax?”
Cllr Matthew Evans, Tory group leader, said people across the city are not “particularly precious about who runs services.
“I can’t understand the ‘council must run this’ mentality,” he said.
Leisure trusts are not unique to Newport – Torfaen already has one established, while Blaenau Gwent is looking to set one up in the summer.
Cabinet members will consider whether to push ahead with the trust at their meeting on Monday.
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