Leisure trust plans in spotlight

Trust status? ... The Customs House.
Trust status? ... The Customs House.

RADICAL plans for the creation of a charitable trust to run leisure facilities in South Tyneside are poised to go ahead.

A review of how such services are run has been carried out in the borough, after the Gazette first revealed the idea back in March.

Members of the council’s jobs and enterprise committee have paid fact-finding visits to Peterborough and Stockton to see examples of leisure trusts in action.

And when committee members meet at South Shields Town Hall tomorrow, they will be recommended to pursue trust status.

Under such a move, the Temple Park Centre in South Shields, Hebburn Swimming Pool and Jarrow’s Monkton Stadium would be given trust status. It could also potentially affect libraries, the Customs House theatre in South Shields, South Shields Museum and Art Gallery and Bede’s World in Jarrow

With the authority needing to make £35m in savings over the next year, setting up a charitable trust is seen as a way of cutting the borough’s £11.53m annual leisure budget.

Under the plans, money would be saved as charitable trusts receive relief from the payment of non-domestic rates and partial exemption from VAT. Nationally, more than 100 local councils have set up sports and leisure trusts.

A report to the committee says: “Even given the new leisure facility being built at Pier Parade in South Shields, our current leisure portfolio is in need of refurbishment and modernisation.

“The current economic situation that the council faces means that the trust model would appear to be the only viable option for rejuvenating the assets, making leisure facilities more attractive and thus increasing revenues “

The establishment of a trust could also see the creation of more community hubs in the borough – where leisure, health, libraries and other services are provided under one roof.

The proposal involves 220 staff jobs – not including the museum, Bede’s World and Customs House workers.

Coun Tracey Dixon, the council’s lead member for culture and wellbeing, has previously said any change adopted would need to be “beneficial to residents in South Tyneside.”

Union bosses are closely monitoring the plan, although they would prefer the service to remain in-house. The cost of setting up a trust is estimated at £100,000.

paul.kelly@northeast-press.co.uk