New Forest leisure centres set for £5 million annual loss

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New Forest leisure centres
New Milton leisure centre in Gore Road

THE five health and leisure centres in the New Forest are set for a £5m income loss during 2020/21.

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Cabinet member for leisure, Cllr Mark Steele, revealed the figures after he was challenged by the Liberal Democrat opposition over a £1bn support package announced by the Prime Minister.

When quizzed by the A&T Cllr Steele revealed £900m of the £1bn figure had been split between UK-based council’s – NFDC was given £204,463 – to assist “additional expenditure pressures” they faced over the current winter period.

Cllr Steele further clarified: “The remaining £100m of the £1bn package was set aside to introduce a new fund to support council leisure centres.

“Although guidance on this scheme has not yet been received, it is understood that this is targeted at authorities who have outsourced leisure centres, so not applicable to this council.”

He went on: “The council is expecting to lose around £5m in leisure centre income during 2020/21. The government has set up a sales, fees and charges compensation scheme to assist with the losses, and we have submitted a claim under this scheme.”

The NFDC said would receive some government money to help through the sales, fees and charges scheme, although it did not clarify how much. The first tranche will arrive tomorrow (Friday).

As reported in the A&T, NFDC is pursuing outsourcing the running of its health and leisure centres at Applemore, Lymington, New Milton, Ringwood and Totton, and invited private firms to bid for an initial decade-long contract.

But the idea has provoked objections from opposition councillors, protests and a petition attracting thousands of signatures.

The Unison union has already said it is opposed to the scheme, because it believes it is “politically ideologically driven”. Last week the customer focus group which represents leisure centre users revealed it had walked away from stakeholder talks because it disagrees with the plan.

The process has now reached the stage where NFDC has chosen its three preferred providers – the identities of which have been kept secret – and further developments are expected in the new year. Cllr Steele said the £5m loss supported the council’s outsourcing plan.

“Whilst the latest tranche of support funding, and the introduction of the income support scheme are most welcome, they simply help with the new expenditure pressures faced by the council and help to compensate some of the lost income that will be borne in the current financial year, they do not in any way support the medium-to-long term financial sustainability of the our services, including our five leisure centres,” he said.

“The council must deal with these matters through its financial strategy planning, including identifying options to provide services at a lower net cost to the taxpayer.”

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