Leisure Management Strategy
The committee to ask questions of the Cabinet Member for Community and the Group Manager for Customer Services.
Cllr Burford explained that the Cabinet report had been published on Wednesday 2 May and many members had attended the leisure strategy presentation on 26 April.
Cllr Hale, Cabinet Member for Community, said that the Group Manager for Customer Services would answer any questions relating to the presentation and report.
Cllr Smart said that she had been pleased to see the positive article in the Forester newspaper regarding leisure centres and hoped that it would allay fears among residents. She thanked the group manager for the presentation.
Cllr Winship agreed that the presentation had been very helpful and had been a good example of inclusiveness that she would welcome more of. It showed that the Cabinet was listening and giving the opportunity to other members to contribute.
Cllr Burford commented that it was interesting to note that of the five centres only Newent Leisure Centre made a profit.
Cllr Hale replied that Newent Leisure Centre had benefited from a £600,000 investment, the staff were committed and the returns were clear.
Cllr Robinson, Cabinet Member for Finance and Planning Policy, said that it was important to have a shared view across the membership on leisure services. The council could commit finance and ensure a management approach that offered good value for that finance, but the key was working with partners, in particular those owning the land where the leisure centres were situated. It was vital to send the united message from the council that it wished to keep facilities on all sites.
Cllr Burford agreed, adding that the council should do all it could to maintain and enhance the service.
Cllr Pugh expressed delight that there was a council-wide positive attitude. He asked what the position was regarding the theatre at the Coleford college site.
The Group Manager for Customer Service replied that the council had had no direct input into the theatre for many years and the matter was outside the scope of the strategy. It represented a useful, but different debate.
Cllr Bill Evans asked what the cost would be of any proposed means testing for leisure service concessions.
The Group Manager for Customer Services replied that there had been no work done to date. The consultants, KKP, had simply put a marker down that work would need to be done properly to ensure that support was targeted where the council wanted it.
Cllr Burford said that the Leader had agreed with him that there was a clear need for a proper scrutiny inquiry to help inform the Cabinet decision. He emphasised that the report being presented to the Cabinet in June did not require a decision and that there would be a further report in October. He suggested that the committee hold a one-day scrutiny, similar in format to the car park inquiry, in early September to inform and feed into the report to the Cabinet. The committee agreed.
Cllr Horne asked how much such an inquiry would cost.
Cllr Burford said that the general wisdom was that one-day inquiries were more cost-efficient than holding several shorter meetings.
The Head of Paid Service advised that it would be important to hold the inquiry late enough in the process to encompass draft recommendations.
Cllr Burford agreed, but said that it was equally important for scrutiny to be able to feed in before that stage.
Cllr Winship commented that if the inquiry day were to be public, there would be no point in raising expectations, if recommendations had already been made. The scrutiny should gather evidence that would be listened to.
Cllr Bill Evans agreed that the council needed to regain the confidence of the public in the light of the parking management issue.
Cllr Burford replied that the difference in the leisure strategy case was that the scrutiny process would be 'ahead of the game', rather than chasing it.
Cllr Robinson explained that as the initiative progressed, the leisure centres would be at different stages at different times and actions might not even be in the same financial year.
Cllr Burford accepted the point, remarking that scrutiny would work around that.
Cllr Whitburn said that the matter of the theatre's future would come up and the council needed an answer. Cllr Pugh agreed.
Cllr Molyneux, Leader of the Council, replied that while members could look at and determine a view on the matter, the council currently had nothing to do with the theatre, and costs would need to be very carefully considered, given that there was no provision in the budget.
Cllr Burford asked Cllr Hale to prepare an answer to possible questions relating to the theatre.
Cllr O'Neill asked if there would be an explanatory leaflet for the one-day inquiry. If there were no structure, different groups might just give views from narrow perspectives.
Cllr Burford replied that there would be a press release for what was essentially an evidence gathering exercise. He suggested that the Cabinet might want to organise a 'roadshow' to give the public more information.
The Group Manager for Customer Services said that until he had put some detail to the KKP recommendations, it might be pre-emptive to hold an inquiry, which could raise expectations. He did not envisage that the report in October would ask for decisions on all aspects of the strategy; some would be progress updates. He thanked members for their endorsement of the approach taken with this strategy and said that the council would report to all members as the strategy took shape. His main focus at this time was to work closely with partners and he was not sure about an inquiry.
Cllr Hale said that the strategy represented good news and the council needed to work with the college, but not to put it under too much pressure.
Cllr Burford replied that scrutiny's problem was that it wanted to help inform decisions rather than wait and call them in.
Cllr Robinson believed that the matter was one suited to councillors' role as community leaders. The council could find out the community's needs, aspirations and concerns over leisure provision, which would be very useful evidence when talking to partners to frame decisions using that knowledge. He believed that the matter of the theatre should remain separate, since it was not directly linked to leisure centres. The strategy involved the aim of investing to save. However the committee could work to form a view on the provision of recreational facilities to include theatre, cinema and others.
Cllr Winship agreed that the community should be involved in saying how they could help with the strategy. She also thought it was a good idea to separately consider recreational facilities.
Cllr Burford said that he would welcome a scoping document regarding recreational facilities.
Cllr Frankie Evans was concerned about the risk of putting off potential third party funders.
Cllr Burford thought it a greater risk if Cabinet made a decision, which was then scrutinised retrospectively.
The Group Manager for Customer Services said that the debate had been useful. He welcomed members finding out what the community wanted out of a venue, be it a dedicated theatre or a multi-purpose space. The council needed to find out what the community wanted without raising expectations.
Cllr Bill Evans commented that the issue was complex, given that the leisure centre was integrated with the college in Coleford. It would be important to know when the trustees were going to decide.
Cllr Burford remarked that it might even be possible that the scrutiny inquiry would help to inform the trustees' decision.
Cllr Molyneux agreed that the matter was complex, comprising five strands. The Newent centre was performing well. There were options to act quickly at the Lydney and Wyedean centres. In Cinderford the change in the status of the school would lead to an increase in the number of partners. As community leaders the council could see a vision for Coleford, talking to all partners. The committee needed to work out what it wanted and what there was to gain through an inquiry.
Cllr Burford agreed that the committee needed to be clear on those issues. Cllr Robinson added that the Coleford part of the strategy was about the site and working with various possible partners recognising that the college had choices to make.
Cllr Burford proposed a fact-finding visit to the five leisure centres to take place before August 2012.