Sheffield City Trust row with Liberal Democrats over £63 million repair bill ‘insult’

Sheffield City Trust has hit back at criticism from the Liberal Democrats over the £63 million cost for repairs and maintenance of the city’s biggest leisure and entertainment venues.

Thursday, 11th November 2021, 5:44 pm

Sheffield City Trust (SCT) has operated the biggest venues in the city – including City Hall, Sheffield Arena, Ponds Forge and the English Institute of Sport Sheffield (EISS) – for the council for more than 30 years.

But it has come under fire in recent years for what council officers described as it “haemorrhaging” taxpayers’ money, forcing the council to spend millions of pounds to keep it afloat.

Arrangements between the council and SCT are coming to an end in 2024 so the council is planning to put the facilities out to tender, meaning SCT could potentially face fierce competition to keep running the venues.

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Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of Sheffield Liberal Democrats, has criticised Sheffield City Trust - which runs the city's major leisure and entertainment venues including City Hall, Sheffield Arena and Ponds Forge for the council - and said it should pay some of the £63 million repairs and maintenance cost.

As part of this new leisure strategy, the council is investing £100 million in facilities which will include rebuilding Springs Leisure Centre, Hillsborough Leisure Centre and Concord Sports Centre and improvements to Sheffield Arena concourse and hospitality spaces.

Of that, £63 million will be spent on repairing and maintaining facilities between now and 2028.

Councillor Shaffaq Mohammed, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “It’s scandalous that despite SCT receiving tens of millions of pounds of council taxpayer funding these venues may be handed back to us in such a bad condition that it will cost Sheffield council taxpayers millions to repair them.

“It is not unreasonable for the council to demand SCT fund at least some of the repairs that the venues now need. It’s like if the council had rented a flat out to a tenant and it was handed back with holes in the walls; the council would always expect the resident to give back the property in reasonable condition, it’s simply not good enough.

“The council needs to do better and make sure the organisations it is asking to run the venues it owns are maintaining them properly. Being left with a bill of over £63 million to repair these properties is going to hit the council hard when it is already struggling financially.”

Andrew Snelling, chief executive of SCT, hit back at the claims and invited him and other Lib Dems to meet with the Trust so they can understand its situation better and stated that an independent report in 2019 said it had done a “tremendous” job of keeping buildings safe and open.

He said: “As the city’s health and wellbeing charity we’re pleased to see the proposal for £100 million investment in the city’s leisure facilities over the next three decades.

“It is great news for the city and its people and we look forward to continuing to serve Sheffield to improve our health and wellbeing.

“On a day with such positivity, it is very disappointing to see Cllr Shaffaq Mohammed’s comments regarding the investment needed in upgrading facilities managed by SCT.

“On what should have been a very positive announcement for the people of Sheffield that the city’s sporting provision will be receiving much-needed investment, Cllr Mohammed has chosen to wilfully misunderstand the role of the charitable Trust.

“Cllr Mohammed’s comments are an insult to the hard-work of everyone at SCT.”