Rossendale Borough Council (RBC) and Rossendale Leisure Trust (RLT) have announced that Whitworth Leisure Centre will close in July.
The current cost-of-living crisis has seen councils across the UK face inflationary pressures and rising demand across all services. As higher proportions of council budgets are absorbed by statutory and frontline services, councils’ ability to maintain provision in sport and leisure has come under increasing under pressure.
The challenges and the impact of inflationary pressures along with the operating costs is forcing RBC and RLT to implement a wide range of actions to ensure both the Council and the Trust can continue to operate.
RBC and RLT took over the running of the leisure centre from Community Leisure Association Whitworth (CLAW) three years ago when it was at risk of closure. Although the centre was losing money at that point RLT had a solid plan to reduce the loss. But the pandemic and the subsequent massive increases in energy bills, along with staffing costs has seen this loss balloon to £280k per year. The Trust’s overall costs for wages and energy have increased by over £1m since before Covid.
A report by independent financial experts Grant Thornton has stated that if action is not taken to immediately address the budget deficit, both the Council and the Trust could be at significant financial risk over the next two years.
Recent *evidence from UKactive, a not-for-profit industry association, showed that operators face bills up to 200 per cent higher this year compared to 2019, with costs set to grow by up to 240 per cent next year. This is on the back of the withdrawal of the fuel cost support by the government from April when swimming pools and leisure centres were no longer classified as vulnerable.
One of the recommendations made by the independent consultants is that Whitworth Leisure Centre, should be closed as soon as possible.
The closure will come into effect from July, with the leisure centre remaining open as normal until then.
A Council spokesperson said: “The decision to close Whitworth Leisure Centre has not been taken lightly and comes largely as a result of the cost-of-living crisis, which has resulted in a huge increase in energy prices. As well as higher fuel bills the council has faced increases in interest payments and staffing costs, all of which need to be absorbed into already squeezed budgets. We must ensure the council can operate properly to continue to provide the essential services that our residents rely on.”
“Rising demand across all services means a higher proportion of council budgets are absorbed by statutory and frontline services whilst we’re also facing severe inflationary pressures. This means our ability to maintain levels of service provision in sport and leisure is increasingly under pressure. The need for a continuing national discussion and action for offsetting these immediate financial pressures in public leisure remains.
“The closure of the leisure centre is a real blow for the community, but the financial issues faced by the Trust mean we don’t have a choice. We need to address these financial issues urgently and it is important to note that other facilities may also be at risk if immediate action is not taken.
“We urge our residents to understand the seriousness of the financial situation and the need for this immediate action to ensure sustainability of both the trust and the council.
“We will continue to work with the community in Whitworth to ensure that the closure of the leisure centre is carried out in a way that minimises the impact on the wider community as much as possible, and to ensure they benefit from our wider leisure vision which was agreed at Council in December 2022. This include proposals for a new facility in the East of the Borough when funding is identified, and we’ll continue to lobby Government and other parties for this much-needed investment into Rossendale. We thank residents for their understanding and cooperation during this challenging time.”