Harrogate council approves major management overhaul of leisure centres and £23million upgrades
Harrogate Borough Council has approved its plans to hand over management of its leisure centres to a council-controlled company.
Council leaders last month revealed their proposals to set up the company - to be called Brimham's Active - after estimating they could save around £400,000 a year in business rates relief and VAT benefits at its 11 leisure venues.
The plan – which will also see the council borrow £23million to upgrade some centres and build a new gym and swimming pool in Knaresborough - was backed by cabinet in July and tonight unanimously voted through by full council.
This was despite criticism from opposition Lib Dem councillors over the way members of the public were consulted on the plans.
Lib Dem leader Pat Marsh said she backed the central aim of the proposals but added many people had "no idea" what was being proposed.
Coun Marsh said: "I have had several complaints from leisure members and users of our facilities who were not consulted.
"There were only 433 responses which possibly indicates that the consultation was not as effective as it could have been and many feel that they have not been afforded an opportunity to have their say on their facilities.
"Amongst those not consulted in an effective way have been councillors, we have not been involved in the final draft until now, thus the reason for amendments at this late stage in the decision making.”
Lib Dem's Coun Chris Aldred said councillors were briefed on the proposals at meetings in December, but were told not to share any details with members of the public.
He said: "It was stressed to us very much as councillors that you don't repeat anything you hear in this room, so we have had our hands tied behind our backs a little bit."
David Houlgate, branch secretary at Unison Harrogate, also echoed his concerns over the terms and conditions of council staff - some 400 of whom will be transferred across to the new company.
Mr Houlgate said he was glad to hear that staff would keep their current terms during the transition - but asked for a guarantee that this would remain the same thereafter.
Coun Stanley Lumley, cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport, responded: "You've asked us to guarantee that the terms will always be the same as for council staff. However hard we try we simply cannot predict the future nor can we tie any future administrations' hands."
Coun Lumley also tried to allay fears that the creation of the company is a step towards privatisation.
He added: "The Local Authority Controlled Company will be controlled by Harrogate Borough Council and council members - and it is the only way we can protect and enhance the great service that we offer."
Previous concerns from Lib Dems over customer charges and accountability of the company were addressed at tonight's meeting as opposition councillors put forward amendments to cabinet's proposals.
The council will spend £300,000 on company start-up costs and launch the company by August 2021.
Six council officers or elected members will be given unpaid roles as directors on a board, alongside three company appointments.
Coun Lumley previously said the council’s approval of the plans is the “biggest financial decision” it has made for “many years”.
The proposals were unanimously backed by councillors.
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter
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