Union welcomes delay to decision over future of Ripon crèche

Public sector union UNISON has welcomed Harrogate Borough Council's decision to defer its vote over the future of Ripon leisure centre's crèche.

By Finola Fitzpatrick
Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 4:18 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 4:40 pm
The decision has been deferred until March.
The decision has been deferred until March.

The council's cabinet were due to be asked to approve the closure of Harry's Place at their meeting on February 6, following the publication of a report which said the crèche continues to lose money, despite a recent push to promote it.

The council revealed that between April and December last year, there were an average of just two children in each two-hour crèche session, which required a subsidy of £114 per child.

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A Harrogate Borough Council spokesperson told the 'Gazette that the decision has been deferred until March to allow more time to consult with staff.

UNISON Branch Secretary at Harrogate Borough Council, David Houlgate, said deferring the decision is welcome, but has criticised the report from the council as being prepared with the "sole intention" of closing the facility down.

Mr Houlgate said: “It’s still unclear what staff are being consulted on, but this delay will allow us and the staff at risk of redundancy to make a case for keeping Harry’s Place open.

"We have now seen the report that has been prepared and we are very unhappy with it. It’s clearly been prepared with the sole intention of closing down the facility. We do question its accuracy and we are seeking further information in relation to it. We also note that there is hardly any mention of the new swimming pool which is planned for the site and which will see footfall more than double.

"How can this not be a factor? Ripon will probably have the biggest leisure facility in North Yorkshire once the leisure centre and new pool are brought together on the site, you would think that was relevant."

Responding to UNISON's comments, Harrogate Borough Council’s cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport, Coun Stanley Lumley, said: “We take the matter of closing facilities very seriously and are disappointed to hear of the union’s comments. It was certainly not a forgone conclusion; since the summer we have asked for feedback, adapted the service we provide and promoted Harry’s Place, but the number of children using it hasn’t increased enough as we had hoped.

“Although there are exciting plans for the leisure centre in the future, these are still in in the early phases. The new facility isn’t due to be open until 2021 and to run at a loss of almost £40,000 on a chance that it might succeed in the future does not make business sense, nor is it fair to council tax payers.

“We will of course be working closely with staff affected, should the decision be made to close, and offer redeployment where possible.”

But Mr Houlgate said the findings of the trial period were promising, and indicate that usage of the crèche. will grow.

He said: "As we’ve previously stated, usage has grown during the trial period, and we firmly believe it is likely to grow further over the next 12 months if it is allowed to. What people need to know now though is that Harry’s Place is open for business and they should continue to use it. Numbers are up not down."

In the summer last year, the council consulted with leisure centre users to find out why the facility was no longer popular and if anything was preventing them from using it.

Nearly 100 people responded. Some said the crèche sessions didn’t match with the times of classes or fitness activities they wanted to join.

Others reported that cost was an issue. The need for a parent or carer having to stay on site at the leisure centre while a child was in the crèche was also said to be a barrier.

In response, the ‘stay-on-site’ restriction was lifted. Harrogate Borough Council said there has been a slight increase in the number of children using the crèche since the consultation, even with a price rise, but the council said it is not enough to make it financially viable.

In the long-term, Harry’s Place would require a subsidy of £20,000 every year.