Overhaul of leisure services in Harrogate one step closer after approval from cabinet

A plan to hand over management of Harrogate's leisure centres to a council-controlled company has moved a step closer after being approved by the borough's councils Conservative cabinet.

By Jacob Webster
Wednesday, 17th June 2020, 8:40 pm
Updated Wednesday, 17th June 2020, 8:42 pm

The plan - which would see the council borrow £23million to upgrade leisure centres and spend a further £300,000 on company start-up costs - was tonight unanimously backed by members and will now go before full council on Wednesday, July 8.

Council officers say the company - to be called Brimham's Active - will run its 11 leisure venues in Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Nidderdale to give savings of around £400,000 a year.

Refurbishments to Harrogate Hydro and the construction of a new leisure centre in Knaresborough at a location to be decided are also included in the proposals.

Sign up to our daily Harrogate Advertiser Today newsletter

Pictured is The Hydro in Harrogate.

Multi-million upgrades are already underway at Ripon Swimming Pool.

Bosses have also estimated the council's leisure venues could become entirely self-funded under the plans if Starbeck Baths were to be closed, although the move is not being proposed.

It follows a public consultation which saw nearly half of respondents disagree with the company plan, with residents raising concerns about how services would be run.

Cabinet members unanimously backed the plan which will now go before full council.

The plan was first drawn up two years ago - and the council was also criticised for only starting to consult with residents in April.

Councillors and officers tonight tried to address some of those concerns during a virtual meeting.

Coun Graham Swift, deputy leader of the council, said: "This is not a privatised company. Indeed, this is nothing to do with privatisation. This is clearly, simply, an administrative process to enable us to capture the savings that otherwise wouldn't be available to Harrogate Borough Council.

"Even though there are costs incurred in establishing it, they are one off and modest compared to the perpetual hundreds of thousands of pounds of gains year in year out".

Michael Constantine, the council’s head of culture, tourism and sport, also insisted service users would not be hit with hiked-up prices under the plans.

If given the full go-ahead, the plan would see six council officers or elected members given unpaid roles as directors on a board, alongside three company appointments.

Meetings of the board, however, would not be held in public.

The council has so far proposed its chief executive Wallace Sampson, director of economy and culture Trevor Watson, and cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport Coun Stanley Lumley to take up three of the board positions.

Coun Lumley said full council's approval of the plans would be the "biggest financial decision" it has made for "many years".

He added: "It is such a tremendous way forward I think for the council and it is a very exciting future".

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter