SPORT and leisure services in Newport are set to be transferred from council control to a trust after senior city councillors gave the go-ahead after a meeting today.
Despite their apprehension at a meeting back in March, senior elected members of the Labour-run authority have now backed the transfer after further officer work found there could be more benefits than previously thought.
Newport is the latest authority in Gwent to decide to move its leisure services into trust control – with Torfaen having already taken the plunge and Blaenau Gwent set to establish its own in the summer – as councils try to find new ways of providing services amid swinging cuts.
Officers will now go and develop a business plan for the trust and have been given the authority to put the new organisation into operation.
If all goes well the new body could be operational by 2015, with around 500 council employees to be transferred over.
Facilities involved include Newport Centre, the Velodrome, the Active Living Centre in Bettws and Newport Stadium.
Newport Council leader Bob Bright said the officers’ work had “made them more comfortable with the process.”
“We’ve examined it in detail. We’re recommending this is the best model for Newport individual situation,” he said.
Leisure and culture cabinet member Debbie Wilcox told cabinet that extra scrutiny work by officers, requested by cabinet in March, found that there would be more benefits for going with the trust option.
It is hoped that the trust will make a saving of £412,000 thanks to relief on business rates.
There had been concern from cabinet in March that this was a small amount of money – but after the meeting Cllr Wilcox told the Argus: “We’d brought up further savings in terms of VAT”.
She said: “The key is in the name of the organisation, it’s a non-profit distributing organisation. We’re not selling it to the highest bidder, we’re not going to the private sector.
“We’re handing over a really good set of services... We’ve already got a good set of kit, we want to make it better.”
The Argus asked if the new trust could sell off the services. “It won’t happen,” Cllr Wilcox said.
Cllr Wilcox said she noted concerns from Labour backbencher Cllr Chris Evans over the trust avoiding tax: “We’re never ever going to do anything that is outside the realms of what we’re allowed to do. Perhaps it was just a little bit of political naivety on his part.”
Cllr Wilcox added Newport council would still own the assets of the trust and have representation on the board.
Rogerstone Cllr Chris Evans said: “I wouldn’t say we were naive. It’s important to note the policy review group, of which I was part of, was set up to look independently and non-politically at leisure trusts and we recommended the model be accepted, despite voicing some concerns.”
The trust has cross party support – Tory group leader Cllr Matthew Evans said: “Clearly if we can run services for a similar quality for less money, in this day and age the alternative is trying to find hundreds of thousands of pounds of cuts elsewhere.”