Richmondshire District Council, which sparked controversy by agreeing to give a leisure trust almost five per cent of its budget to run a swimming pool, has approved granting it a further £75,000 to help cover its energy bills which have risen by 400 per cent.
Amid concerns being raised over the amount of taxpayers’ money spent on the pool, Richmondshire District Council’s corporate board also agreed to pay compensation to Richmondshire Leisure Trust of up to £85,000 as a result of the loss of income of the £1.9m revamp the authority is undertaking on the facility.
The pool, which is the only such public facility in the district, has been leased to the charity by the council since 2005 in the hope of cutting costs to the taxpayer.
Earlier this year the council agreed to give £313,000 annually to the trust to support the operation of the pool, despite numerous councillors expressing dismay that the trust the council set up to attract external funding had not managed to raise more than it had.
The trust recently announced it could no longer run Colburn Leisure Centre due to escalating energy costs.
The corporate board meeting heard in April the trust had almost £213,000 of reserves that it could use however it saw fit, and with the new energy contracts they faced additional costs of up to £100,000 relating to the pool.
Councillor Kevin Foster said given the trust’s coffers, the council should explore the possibility match-funding plugging the black hole.
He said: “It feels like we are being held to ransom again. I’m focused on their reserves and I’m wondering if they can meet us half-way with some of this.”
Councillor William Heslop said he had “deep reservations about the trust’s efficacy”, while Councillor Yvonne Peacock said the trust had “been coming cap in hand for the last five, ten, 15 years”.
Councillor Helen Grant added: “I hope that they get themselves on their feet, get themselves a plan and get going forward.”
Councillors agreed to cap the energy payments at £75,000 that they would scrutinise the performance of the leisure trust.
Richmond councillor Phillip Wicks said if the trust was left to use its reserves, it could leave the incoming North Yorkshire Council with an immediate problem to resolve.
He said: “The investment we have made in the pool was about putting both it and the trust on a sound footing going forward, a sustainable asset for the people of Richmondshire, and that’s what we should still be trying to do, even though it hurts.”
After the meeting, the trust’s manager, Austin Gordon, said at the end of September the trust had suddenly gone from having “a very favourable energy contract” to one which would see its energy costs rise by 400 per cent.
He said: “With inflation running at ten per cent it is also adding significantly to the other operating costs too. Leisure centres and swimming pools have become very expensive to operate overnight.”
Mr Gordon said he was hoping solar panels and ground source heat pumps that the council had bought for the pool would help ease energy costs when the pool reopens after a major revamp in the new year.
He said criticisms of the trust’s attempts to raise funding were unfair as it had generated well over £200,000 of grants over the past decade and provided significant advice and support to other organisations that have been able to benefit from our expertise.
Mr Gordon said: “The trust has faced austerity and has been very resourceful, very creative and has not sat on its hands in any shape or form.”