NHS cash could help leisure bosses kick woes into touch

edinburgh Leisure will look to attract private sector cash as it aims to plug a financial black hole – and may even ask the NHS for help.

: Former Scotland rugby international David Milne, far right, in 1986. Picture: TSPL
: Former Scotland rugby international David Milne, far right, in 1986. Picture: TSPL

A host of sports facilities are facing closure after the city council drew up plans to cut funding by £2 million.

The unprecedented cull could shut as many as eight public leisure centres.

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Speaking as he was named its new chairman, former Scotland rugby cap David Milne said “nothing was off the table” as Edinburgh Leisure searched for fresh income streams.

The 56-year-old refused to rule out commercial sponsorship and using privately-run venues, and suggested future funding could be sought from NHS Lothian.

He said: “It’s about providing the services people want. We think we can continue to provide these services and perhaps look to extend them, which might include working with the private sector.

“Nothing is off the table.”

He added: “One question mark is, should the health boards be giving us money? We are keeping people healthy and active, so should some of our money come from them?

“I know the government is very focused on the NHS and the services they provide – so why can’t we be part of a discussion of what we can bring to it?”

Almost a third of public sports centres across the city face the axe amid council plans to cut funding for venues from £9.6m to £7.5m over the next three years.

But Mr Milne, who hails from Edinburgh and has held board positions in five businesses, said: “I’m not going into this thinking it’s all going to be smelling of roses and honey.

“There are challenges, but they are no different from the challenges every business is going through.”

Last year saw the resignation of former Edinburgh Leisure chief executive John Comiskey, leaving one of Mr Milne’s first roles as chairman to seek out a permanent replacement – a task he hopes to complete by early summer. And the former rugby star, who was capped for Scotland in 1991, insists future cuts to Edinburgh Leisure’s budget are yet to be set in stone.

He said: “We know we are going to have budget challenges but that does not necessarily mean there are going to be 
closures or redundancies.

“The picture that has been painted was a little bit blacker than maybe it actually is. 
Everything is up for discussion.

“The council is under cash constraints – that’s no secret. They are a major funder of ours, but we have different ways of cutting the cake. If we do 
get less money from the 
council, we will have to look at different ways of filling that funding gap. If we are faced with a blunt, straight cut to funding then yes, services will have to go.”

Mr Milne replaces Charles Winstanley, who agreed to stay in his post for a further six months from July last year as the organisation struggled to find a replacement.

A spokesman for the board of Edinburgh Leisure it was “delighted” to appoint Mr Milne.

And Councillor Richard Lewis, the city’s sport leader, insisted Mr Milne’s “energy and eye for business development” would stand him in good stead.