Harrogate council reveals extra £400,000 cost of plan to overhaul management of leisure centres

Harrogate Borough Council has revealed an extra £400,000 cost of its plan to hand over management of leisure centres to an at arm's-length company.

Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 5:48 pm
Updated Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 5:50 pm

The council is creating a Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC) to run its 11 leisure venues in Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Nidderdale in a move which it previously hailed as a "new vision for the future" of services.

The company - to be called Brimhams Active - won the backing of councillors in summer last year when it was estimated it would give annual savings of £400,000 through business rates relief and VAT benefits after £300,000 is spent on management and branding costs to get the project off the ground.

However, in the council's upcoming budget set to be approved this week, an extra £400,000 of taxpayers' cash has now been earmarked for a new customer booking system and "additional operational costs" over the next two years.

Harrogate Hydro

It means the annual savings of £400,000 will be reduced to £250,000 once the extra costs are taken into account. Despite this, the council has insisted that the LACC will still meet its aim to save money.

A council spokesperson said: "The ongoing revenue budget implications are an increase in costs of circa £400,000 across two years. However, when income is taken into account along with VAT and rate relief savings attributable to the LACC, the overall impact on the revenue budget across two years is actually budgeted to be a net saving of around £250,000 per year. This is expected to be an annual ongoing saving."

The overhaul of how Harrogate's leisure centres are run did come without its critics when it was approved in July.

Union officials had raised concerns about how it will affect 400 members of staff set to be transferred across to LACC, whilst councillors also questioned what it will mean for customers and decision-making.

Councillor Pat Marsh, leader of the Liberal Democrats on Harrogate Borough Council, was appointed as a board member on the LACC. She said while good progress had been so far, it remained to be seen whether the move will prove to be a success.

She said: "The LACC goes live in August but in the meantime the board is pulling everything together, including making sure staff are kept up to speed. So far, no issues.

"As for how this is all going to work long term is difficult to say until the LACC actually launches and we will keep a keen eye on all those issues and concerns we raised when agreeing to this.

"Always in the back of our minds was that this service is not discretionary and therefore the council could just stop doing it tomorrow."

Councillor Marsh added: "The money in the budget is to set up a management system that links all the leisure facilities making it easier for people to book and pay for the facilities not just online but when they arrive at the facility, bringing the council into the 21st century.

"It is not just about maintaining services but it is about expanding quality, affordable services for all our residents. One thing that Covid has proved is that keeping ourselves active is so important, not just physically but mentally as well."

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter