Leisure trust gets green light

In deep water? The council's leisure services are to be handed over to an arms-length trust
In deep water? The council's leisure services are to be handed over to an arms-length trust

Plans to hand over East Renfrewshire’s cultural and leisure services to an independent trust have been approved by councillors.

The proposal — included in ERC’s budget plan as part of £17.6 million in cuts to meet a £20m budget shortfall — will now see the council’s sports and leisure facilities, and their staff, transferred to an arms length organisation by summer 2015.

The package will include Eastwood Park Theatre, the Active Schools service and sports centres, libraries and community halls — but ERC maintains that “services to the public will not be affected by the move”.

A spokeswoman said: “No centre or hall will close as a result of a transfer to a trust - the trust will not be able to close any of the facilities. The council will keep control of all its properties. Jobs will not be at risk by the transfer.

“The main reason is to provide improved services, and to protect jobs. As a trust with charitable status, it is able to claim some rate and VAT exemption — it is estimated that up to £470,000 a year would be saved.”

Discussions are ongoing with affected staff and trade unions, who protested the move at an initial council vote in June this year.

Steven Larkin, of Unison East Renfrewshire, told The Extra that the unions will now be represented on the trust board, marking “a degree of victory”.

He added: “We have reservations about the unknown at the moment. The trust is sown in with budget savings, and it’s still unclear how those savings will be made.”

Councillor Mary Montague, convener for community services and safety, added: “The council would still be very much involved and will be represented on any trust board.

“Our customers will not be affected — the public service they get from their library, sports centre or community facility will be exactly the same as under the council.”

Other plans included in ERC’s budget proposal continue to cause controversy among residents and officials, including an ongoing protest against the privatisation of ERC’s only remaining care home, Bonnyton House (see this week’s Extra for more).