A plan to make leisure and culture provision in the town sustainable will be discussed at Swindon Council’s cabinet meeting on 20 March.
Councillors will be asked to develop a Leisure and Culture Commissioning change programme, which will look at alternative ways of providing the town’s current leisure and cultural services in the wake of the challenging financial pressures facing the council.
Having recently agreed £15m of savings for next year’s budget, the council is estimating a similar budget gap for the 2014/15 financial year.
The cost of providing leisure and culture in the borough for the current financial year is £3.6m and, although £500,000 will be saved next year, it is unlikely the council will be able to reduce this figure significantly if it continues to operate facilities as it does now.
It is also estimated that the cost of keeping the council’s facilities operational and attractive to users is currently about £11.6m and this figure is expected to increase over time.
Link Centre in West Swindon, pictured above, which will have had over £1 million in refurbishment spent on it by the end of 2013.
The change programme, if supported by cabinet, would ask other organisations to submit expressions of interest to provide services at the council’s leisure centres and golf courses at significantly reduced cost as well as exploring alternative uses for the sites.
Proposals could include transferring operations to a third party, similar to the deal agreed with Moirai Capital Investments for the Oasis Leisure Centre, pictured right by Richard Wintle www.calyxpix.com
Seeking a new home for museum and modern art collection
The cabinet will be asked to authorise an investigation into the relocation of the Swindon museum collections to either STEAM or Lydiard House, while also look at options to move the borough’s art collections to the second floor of the Central Library, the former Reference Library in the old Town Hall which is currently vacant, or another suitable location.
Options to eliminate or reduce the current net service costs at the Arts Centre and Wyvern Theatre will also form part of the plan, as will a proposal to explore and identify further commercial and/or charitable opportunities at the Platform, Lydiard House and Park, Coate Water Country Park, Stanton Park and STEAM.
Other key elements of the programme will involve preparing a business case for the possible establishment of Create Studios as an independent charitable organisation.
Financial pressures on council taxpayer
Cllr Keith Williams, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure and Strategic Transport, said: “The cost of leisure services provided by the council is £1m less than it was five years ago and we have continually been driving out efficiency savings. However, several of our facilities do not meet their operating costs and we are facing a multi-million pound repair bill over the next few years just to keep them open.
“Something has to be done to address the challenges we face, which is why we feel we need this change programme to explore all the options.”
Cllr Garry Perkins, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Culture said: “By developing this plan the Council will have a much clearer idea of what the options are for the continued provision of our leisure and culture services.
“We are facing unprecedented financial pressures as a council and we cannot go on as we are. We need to explore what options are out there to ensure our services are sustainable and contribute to our social and economic outcomes.”
In response Cllr Junab Ali, the Labour group Lead for Leisure & Culture Services, said: “Bearing in mind the cuts councils like Swindon’s are having to make, I think it is appropriate that Swindon Council looks at the options it has available to reduce its public subsidy to leisure and culture services.
"The important thing for me is that these leisure and cultural attractions are still available to the public, even if that means private or voluntary providers having to operate these attractions.
"Simply continuing to fund these attractions in the future as we have done in the past will mean that the Council will have to look at others areas of council spending to cut. And we believe retaining council spending on services that affects everybody, such as on roads, waste & recycling collection and social services, are a higher priority.”