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Overhaul of leisure services approved by Harrogate Council

Overhaul of leisure services approved by Harrogate Council

Published by May Norman with contributions by Local Democracy Reporter Jacob Webster at 6:55am 18th June 2020.

Brimham's Active set to run 11 leisure venue's across Harrogate district

A plan to hand over management of Harrogate’s leisure centres to a council-controlled company has moved a step closer after being approved by the borough’s councils Conservative cabinet.

The plan – which would see the council borrow £23million to upgrade leisure centres and spend a further £300,000 on company start-up costs – was tonight unanimously backed by members and will now go before full council on Wednesday, July 8.

Council officers say the company – to be called Brimham’s Active – will run its 11 leisure venues in Harrogate, Ripon, Knaresborough and Nidderdale to give savings of around £400,000 a year.

Ripon pool construction site
Work on the new Ripon pool began in December 2019

Refurbishments to Harrogate Hydro and the construction of a new leisure centre in Knaresborough at a location to be decided are also included in the proposals.

Multi-million upgrades are already underway at Ripon Swimming Pool.

Bosses have also estimated the council’s leisure venues could become entirely self-funded under the plans.

It follows a public consultation which saw nearly half of respondents disagree with the company plan, with residents raising concerns about how services would be run.

The plan was first drawn up two years ago – and the council was also criticised for only starting to consult with residents in April.

During a meeting on Wednesday (17 June), councillors and officers tried to address some of those concerns during a virtual meeting.

Coun Graham Swift, deputy leader of the council, said:

“This is not a privatised company. Indeed, this is nothing to do with privatisation. This is clearly, simply, an administrative process to enable us to capture the savings that otherwise wouldn’t be available to Harrogate Borough Council.

“Even though there are costs incurred in establishing it, they are one off and modest compared to the perpetual hundreds of thousands of pounds of gains year in year out”.

Harrogate Hydro

Michael Constantine, the council’s head of culture, tourism and sport, also insisted service users would not be hit with hiked-up prices under the plans.

If given the go-ahead, the plan would see six council officers or elected members given unpaid roles as directors on a board, alongside three company appointments.

Meetings of the board, however, would not be held in public.

The council has so far proposed its chief executive Wallace Sampson, director of economy and culture Trevor Watson, and cabinet member for culture, tourism and sport Coun Stanley Lumley to take up three of the board positions.

Coun Lumley said full council’s approval of the plans would be the “biggest financial decision” it has made for “many years”.

He added:

“It is such a tremendous way forward I think for the council and it is a very exciting future”.