Q&A: What is next for Harrogate council's plan to overhaul leisure centres?

Within the space of a few weeks Harrogate Borough Council has revealed and given an early nod of approval to its plan to hand over management of its leisure centres to a council-controlled company.

Monday, 22nd June 2020, 5:36 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd June 2020, 5:38 pm

Now, the proposal will just need a rubber-stamping from full council on 8 July before it can go ahead.

A senior councillor has hailed the plan as a "vision for the future" of leisure services in a move which will also save hundreds of thousands of pounds - but it has not come without its critics.

Union officials, opposition councillors and residents have all raised concerns about what is being proposed, how it has been presented and why it is now pressing ahead.

The Hydro in Harrogate is one of the leisure centres which could be upgraded as part of the plan.

Here is everything you need to know.

What is the plan?

The council wants to create a Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC) to run its 11 leisure venues in Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Nidderdale.

Officers say the company - to be called Brimham's Active - will give savings of around £400,000 a year.

The move has sparked concerns over privatisation and what it could mean for customers. But councillors and officers insist it has nothing to do with privatisation and stress the company would remain under council control.

In the words of Coun Graham Swift, deputy leader of the council; "this is clearly, simply, an administrative process to enable us to capture the savings that otherwise wouldn't be available to Harrogate Borough Council".

The council says it will be able to save the £400,000 through business rates relief and VAT benefits.

It wants to use the savings and £23million of borrowed government cash for refurbishments at Harrogate Hydro and the construction of a new leisure centre in Knaresborough at a location to be decided.

Upgrades at other centres are also planned.

And councillors have insisted there are no plans to close down Starbeck Baths after a report suggested the 150-year-old facility’s future “would need to be considered”.

How will it work?

If given the go ahead, the plan would see some 400 members of staff transferred across to the Local Authority Controlled Company (LACC).

Union officials have raised concerns over employment terms and conditions, but officers say staff will receive the same pay and conditions.

Six council officers or elected members will be 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.

How much will it cost?

On top of the £23million which the council wants to borrow, it will spend £135,000 on temporary managerial roles to oversee the LACC conversion.

A further £84,000 will be spent on "professional advice", legal costs and taxation, whilst £30,000 would be spent on branding.

Human resources costs - including staff terms and conditions transfers, pensions, advertising and training - will total £45,000.

A temporary three-month role of a Harrogate Borough Council relationships manager would also be created at a cost of £6,000.

And once the LACC is up and running, the council estimates it will initially give savings of £284,000 per year - and this could rise to £585,000 if Starbeck Baths were to be closed, although the move is not being proposed.

What will it mean for customers?

Michael Constantine, the council’s head of culture, tourism and sport, is the lead officer on the plan. He said customers would not be hit with hiked-up prices - and added he has hopes the planned rebranding and upgrades will attract more customers.

What are the concerns?

Officials from Unison Harrogate - which represents council workers - were the first to raise concerns over the proposal. They said they received "no proactive contact" from the council to address their concerns over staff terms and conditions.

They also said the consultation shows there is "no overwhelming public support" for the plan.

Harrogate Liberal Democrats also criticised the council for an “abysmal lack of communication”. Councillors on the opposition group said concerns “fell on deaf ears” and added many people were unaware that the consultation was being run.

The Liberal Democrat councillors have also set out a series of demands that they say need to be met before they can support the company plan.

These include transparency, affordable prices and investing profits back into leisure.

What do residents think?

Nearly half of the 433 respondents to a consultation said they either strongly disagreed or disagreed with the plan.

Around 27 per cent neither agreed or disagreed with the proposal, 19 per cent agreed and 8 per cent strongly agreed.

Concerns from residents ranged from higher prices, privatisation and the size of the predicted savings.

Which leisure facilities is the council in charge of?

Harrogate Hydro, Ripon Leisure Centre, Ripon Spa Baths, Nidderdale Leisure Centre, Knaresborough Swimming Pool, Starbeck Baths, Harrogate Turkish Baths, Jennyfield Styan Community Centre, Knaresborough Community Centre, Fairfax Community Centre and Little Explorers Day Nursery.

What is next?

The plan will need approval from full council on 8 July before officers can move to the next stage of getting it off the ground.

And if it is given the go ahead, the company could be up and running by August 2021.

By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter

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