Northumberland's leisure centres face £4.5million shortfall as pandemic bites

Northumberland’s leisure centres face a £4.5million black hole in their budget, as councils await details of a £100million Government funding package.

By Ben O'Connell
Thursday, 10th December 2020, 6:00 am
Leisure facilities have been hit hard during the pandemic, with months of closures, and strict covid regulations and lower visitor numbers when they have been open. Tier 3 restrictions allow for gyms to open, but not for exercise classes to take place.
Leisure facilities have been hit hard during the pandemic, with months of closures, and strict covid regulations and lower visitor numbers when they have been open. Tier 3 restrictions allow for gyms to open, but not for exercise classes to take place.

The figure is revealed in a review of the second quarter of 2020-21 by Active Northumberland – the charitable trust that delivers leisure services for Northumberland County Council – which is being presented to councillors next week.

It states: ‘Despite all measures being exhausted to reduce costs, recover staffing costs from the furlough scheme and using most of its financial reserves, the company is currently facing a shortfall of circa £4.5million from its budgeted position.’

Given the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on leisure facilities, which have had to close for large periods this year, the Government announced a £100million support package, as part of £1billion for local authorities, in late October.

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However, it was confirmed at the Tuesday, December 8, meeting of the county council’s cabinet that the allocations per council and details of this scheme have not yet been received.

In an overview, the Active report says: ‘After a forced closure of four months due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Active Northumberland was one of the few operators nationally to reopen some of its facilities on July 23, with the rationale that it was created to provide health opportunities to local communities and, after a significant period of national lockdown, health inequalities in the area had invariably grown.

‘Since July 23, the company has systematically opened most of its facilities to the wider communities and has worked hard to build consumer confidence and optimise participation in adapted safe environments, albeit continued operation is with a deficit funding model.

‘Across the nation, public leisure facilities and charitable trusts are facing significant financial challenges as a result of long closure periods and the current inability to reach previous income levels as a consequence of Covid-compliant restrictions resulting in vastly reduced occupancies and the inability to provide services and activities.

‘However, the case to support public leisure remains strong and compelling because the trust delivers the benefit of supporting the health and wellbeing of the county, which has never before been so important given the need to stay active and healthy to combat the risk of Covid-19.’

It adds: ‘With ever-changing guidance and legislation, the company continues to face operating and financial challenges on a daily basis, but with a successful partnering arrangement with the council, will continue to provide a required service that also delivers an enormous economic benefit through generating savings in social value and savings to the NHS and social services in avoidable costs.’

The review is part of a comprehensive report to the Tuesday, December 15, meeting of the council’s communities and place committee, which will also look at the current arrangements for monitoring the performance of Active Northumberland, its performance information for 2019-20, and its draft service plan for 2021-22.

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