Budget Scotland: List of eight Edinburgh Leisure venues that could shut due to £3.6m financial black hole revealed
Eight Edinburgh Leisure venues could be forced to shut down without significant extra funding from the council amid a £3.6 million financial black hole.
Portobello Swim Centre and pitches at Meggetland Sports Complex are among Edinburgh Leisure venues included on a ‘closure list’ of potential venues which could be affected if additional council funding is not found.
Across the eight facilities at risk, there are 160 people employed, with 85 full time and 75 part-time staff members. The arms-length organisation is facing a £3.6m black hole in its finances due to increased energy costs, inflation and other factors such as the introduction of non-domestic rates on pitches.
Edinburgh Leisure chief executive June Peebles has said she “fears for public leisure services” amid the grim financial backdrop. While being “committed” to keeping “all our venues open,” she said there were “no easy solutions”.
The stark list – drawn up as part of 2024/25 financial planning – sets out the potential closures, which would save just under £2m in a bid to bridge the gap.
The Edinburgh Leisure venues being considered for closure are the outdoor pitches and pitch venues at Niddire’s Jack Kane Sports Centre, Meggetland Sports Complex and Saughton Sports Complex
Portobello Swim Centre, Kirkliston Leisure Centre, leisure facilities at Wester Hailes High School, Gracemount Leisure Centre and Glenogle Swim Centre in Stockbridge would also shut under the proposal.
A council source said: “The situation is so grave that Edinburgh Leisure have even identified eight sites they would close and hand the keys back to Edinburgh Council.”
The source said the council would have to increase its funding settlement for Edinburgh Leisure by a “seven-figure sum” if the looming closures are to be avoided.
However, the council will struggle to hand over significant additional sums needed to keep centres open as it looks to close its own budget gap of more than £10m when councillors agree spending and savings proposals for the year ahead next month.
Other options being considered by Edinburgh Leisure include increasing charges by up to 8 per cent and reducing opening hours, the report to the council’s policy and sustainability committee said.
The warning comes as cash-strapped councils across Scotland grapple with the cuts needed to balance their own budgets.
North Lanarkshire Council announced in September it planned to shut down nearly 40 community facilities, including libraries and swimming pools, only to reverse the decision after less than a month amid intense political and community pressure.
Stirling Council in November set out proposals to either close up to half of the county’s public libraries, or to shut all but the city’s central library and replace the facilities with mobile vans. The local authority had said it was facing an estimated budget black hole of £13m in the next financial year.
Glasgow Life separately last year flagged problems with keeping libraries open due to staffing problems.
A report to the council’s policy and sustainability committee this week said while the “net benefits” of venue closures were “not certain”, it was estimated achieving a £1m saving “would require the closure of approximately six wet/dry sport centres”.
In a statement, Ms Peebles said: “The financial challenges facing the organisation in 2024/25 are significant. Inflation continues to affect our cost base and we have estimated a £750,000 increase in energy costs; meaning our gas and electricity costs in 2024/25 will be £2.75m higher than pre pandemic levels.
“We’re also having to meet additional costs due to the introduction of non-domestic rates on pitches/green spaces and increases in water/drainage charges. I do fear for public leisure services and, more importantly, the health and well-being of our citizens.
“The contribution physical activity makes to people’s physical, mental and social health and well-being is well documented, indeed it is referred to by many as a ‘miracle pill’.
“Meanwhile our national health service is under considerable pressure – surely as a country we should be doing all that we can to support people of all ages to be active and keep them out of doctor’s surgeries and hospitals. Investing in physical activity is effective and far less costly than many other health interventions.
“To date, due to the support from the City of Edinburgh Council, partner organisations and our customers, Edinburgh Leisure has avoided any closures or significant reductions in service.
“We are committed to doing everything in our power to continue supporting the health and well-being of the city, keep all our venues open, and work towards paying the Real Living Wage.
“However, as evidenced in the report delivered to the policy and sustainability committee, there are no easy solutions to these financial challenges. Meanwhile we continue to work with the City of Edinburgh Council to safeguard the health and well-being of our city.”
It comes amid criticism by SNP councillors of Edinburgh Leisure withdrawing from the Real Living Wage scheme. The company, which until last year paid its all staff the rate – calculated to be the hourly wage of pay people need to “get by” – said it did not have the funds available to do so in 2023/24.
Speaking at Thursday’s council meeting, SNP councillor Kate Campbell called the situation “unacceptable”, adding it was “actually astonishing” that administration councillors were defending paying “poverty wages for people delivering services on behalf of this council”.
However, Labour council leader Cammy Day said: “If we insist now that Edinburgh Leisure deliver the living wage, which of course every one of us in this room want to happen, on the same budget it will effectively mean closures of facilities across the city.”
Cllr Day added: “I want to pay credit to officers at Edinburgh Leisure and our own who have worked together to try and resolve this.”
He said a report would be published soon with options to help the company’s funding situation “in the short term,” adding: “But there needs to be a different discussion about how we work together going forward.”
An SNP addendum calling on the council to “demand the immediate implementation of the real living wage” for all Edinburgh Leisure staff was rejected by committee members.
SNP group leader Adam Nols-McVey said: “Soaring inflation and the cost-of-living crisis obviously affect businesses like Edinburgh Leisure, but they’re also having a real impact on staff. So it’s galling to see Labour argue against the Real Living Wage for every employee using the exact same arguments that the Tories used against the minimum wage in the 1990s.”
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