This afternoon Cornwall Council's Communities Scrutiny Committee voted by 8 to 2 in favour of my proposal to save Camelford Leisure Centre. We now have to hope that the Cabinet accept the recommendation.
When Cornwall Council set its budget in November last year, the recommendation (which Lib Dems voted against) was to withdraw from operating Camelford Leisure Centre. After a lot of protest from the local community, the Council agreed to provide some 'tide over' funding from the Leader's Contingency and from the Children Schools and Families budget. But this money is due to run out in April next year.
At the same time, the Council is handing the leisure centres that it manages to a new trust. The trust will still have to live up to detailed service contracts (so the service should stay the same) but will be able to make savings on VAT and rates.
The staff at Camelford and the local community have also been working hard to cut costs at the facility. From a net subsidy of £174,000 last year, they have reduced their costs and increased their income to such an extent that the net subsidy forecast for the current year is just £65,200. The money coming in from memberships has risen from just under £400 per month to £3000 per month (compared with nearby Wadebridge where the membership income is £1100 per month).
And yet the Council were still proposing to end funding for Camelford in April. The new trust would take the operation on, but there would be next to no time to find a long term solution before it was closed. So at today's meeting, I proposed that Camelford be treated on an equal footing with all the other council managed leisure centres including Launceston, St Austell and Bodmin. I think that if the council is making huge savings by moving to a trust then a small amount of these savings can be put aside to ensure that the large population in and around Camelford keep their leisure centre.
That's not to say that the efforts of the staff and local community were not needed. I don't think there would have been a hope of convincing my colleagues if the savings made to date had not been found. And for the future, all leisure services are going to require a degree of community support such as that which is being established by the Friends of Camelford Leisure Centre.
The other addition I was able to get for the new leisure trust contract is that the trust should be made to do specific work to enable people from very low income households and people with disabilities to access their leisure facilities. The danger is that the new trust works only with people who don't cost a lot to provide a service for. It may not be 'cost effective' to provide special classes for people with disabilities, but it is the right thing to do and I want to make sure that the trust does so.