Serious discussions about the future of leisure facilities

The future of Sheffield’s leisure facilities – and how to fund them – needs serious consideration, says the council’s finance chief.

By Lucy Ashton
Monday, 28th October 2019, 12:05 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th October 2019, 2:39 pm
Ponds Forge.
Ponds Forge.

The council has bailed out Sheffield City Trust, also known as Sheffield International Venues, after it got into serious difficulties.

It received £1m earlier this year, will get an annual £2.8m subsidy and will also get another £3m towards health and safety costs and maintenance.

But council chiefs have warned the cash is short term to stop leisure facilities closing imminently, and there needs to be a long term strategy on how they are managed and funded in the future.

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Eugene Walker, executive director of resources, told a scrutiny meeting that austerity had hit the leisure industry hard.

“Sheffield International Venues have been trying to run services for 10 years through an austerity period,” he said.

“We have got to a point where it’s actually incredibly difficult to run public leisure facilities without a subsidy and this is proving that. There was a plan put forward to do it at zero subsidy and it has not worked.

“We now need to fundamentally assess all those assets and what the long term future is because it is frankly going to have to involve us thinking about more significant investment than the £3m to upgrade some of our facilities.”

The council has a complex contract with SIV, which it has had to unpick.

Mr Walker added: “We have very different facilities across our portfolio. We have some very new ones like Graves and that actually costs very little to run because it’s modern.

“But some are 30 years old and we really need to think about them and how cost effective that is.

“Over the next six months we need to really seriously think about how facilities can be run for the future.

“There’s some difficult conversations but the council and SIV are both trying to maintain a positive outlook. We need a full review of where we have got to and what the longer term strategy is.”

Mr Walker said he believed there would need to be a wider discussion with members of the public too.

“There is a serious issue about doing a proper appraisal about where leisure facilities are going in the city and there’s a conversation with members of the public about what that looks like.

“At some point it may be something to have a public debate on the future of leisure facilities in the city.

“Thirty years on, what is the right business model for running the right kind of leisure facilities in Sheffield? Because a lot of time has passed and austerity has definitely had an impact.

“We need to get into some questions about how the facilities should best be run for the next 20 or 30 years.”