Councillors to consider steps to address costs of running Worcester’s leisure centres

The swimming pool at Perdiswell Leisure Centre

Worcester city councillors are to be asked to support a range of measures to tackle the increased running costs at the city's three leisure centres, to ensure that residents will continue to have access to sport, fitness and exercise facilities.

The proposals are in response to the recent rises in energy bills that have left Freedom Leisure, the not-for-profit trust that operates the Perdiswell, St John's and Nunnery Wood centres on the Council's behalf, facing a £585,000 funding gap in the next financial year.

The City Council's Communities Committee will be asked to support the making of a payment of up to £315,000 to Freedom Leisure in 2023-24, to help the operator keep the centres' running costs at a manageable level.

When the committee meets on Wednesday 25 January it will also be asked to support a one-off investment of £550,000 in energy efficiency measures in the Council-owned buildings, alongside an increase in prices that customers will pay, in order to raise £230,000 a year, plus cost reduction measures that will save an annual £40,000 a year.

Councillor Owen Cleary, Vice Chair of the Communities Committee, said: "Leisure centres across the country have been struggling since the pandemic to keep the doors open and the lights on. With customer numbers down across the board and energy prices spiralling upwards, a number of councils have had to take the tough decision to close one or more of their centres.

"In Worcester we believe it's essential that residents continue to have access to high quality public leisure and sports facilities, to help people boost their own health and wellbeing. The proposals in this report will help ensure that this remains the case."

The report says that the payment of up to £315,000 to Freedom Leisure is required to help meet the increased costs of running the three Council-owned leisure centres.

Also recommended is an investment of £550,000 in measures to reduce energy usage and CO2 emissions at the three sites. This will produce savings of £147,000 a year, with the investment fully paid back within four years.

The proposed energy-saving measures include solar panels, more efficient lighting and new chemical controls at the Perdiswell swimming pool. If this proposal is supported, a detailed business care will be prepared for approval by councillors.

In addition, the committee is being asked to support changes to opening hours at the Perdiswell and Nunnery Wood centres, to deliver savings of £40,000 a year. Freedom Leisure is also asking for permission to increase customer prices at the leisure centres by an average of 8.8% in the next financial year, in order to raise £230,000 to help meet energy costs.

If all these measures are supported by the committee, they will go forward for inclusion in the City Council's 2023-24 budget.

These proposals follow the agreement by the Council's Policy and Resources Committee in September 2022 to provide £255,000 to Freedom Leisure in the current financial year, to help it meet the large increase in energy costs.

The City Council commissioned an independent review of its contract with Freedom Leisure. The Communities Committee report sets out how the review concluded that, despite rising costs, the arrangement with Freedom Leisure still represents better value for money than the Council managing its leisure centres in-house, or through setting up a trading company. 

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