Questions about the leisure services consultation
We've received a lot of questions since our Leisure Services consultation went live. These are the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
- Hundreds of children depend on leisure centres in Gateshead for family and statutory Key Stage 2 swimming lessons. If any swimming pools close, there will be insufficient capacity within the borough for them all. Transport costs and travel time will increase. How will these issues be addressed?
- A number of the leisure centres house Changing Places toilets, needed by over a 1/4 million people in the UK to get out and about and enjoy the day-to-day activities. If a leisure centre with a Changing Places toilet is closed will alternative Changing Places facilities be developed locally?
We own and operate seven leisure centres across the borough. The exception to this is Birtley Leisure Centre where the gym is operated by a private company.
The seven leisure centres are Birtley Leisure Centre, Birtley Swimming Centre, Blaydon Leisure Centre, Dunston Leisure Centre, Gateshead International Stadium, Gateshead Leisure Centre and Heworth Leisure Centre.
Why isn't Gateshead International Stadium part of the Leisure Services Review and this consultation?
Whilst the Stadium is managed by Leisure Services, it supports professional sport and a significant education offer in addition to leisure centre fitness provision. The future direction of Gateshead International Stadium will therefore be considered under a separate review.
We agreed in 2015 for Leisure Services to become self-funding and, despite its best efforts, this has not been possible due to major barriers. The pandemic and tough economic situation has led to a widening gap between the amount of income generated by Leisure Services and the cost of running services. In the context of forthcoming significant building maintenance costs, spiralling running costs and sustained budgetary cuts to the Council over the last 12 years (totalling £179m), we have found that the number of leisure centres we own and operate is no longer affordable. The Leisure Service is currently overspent by £2m in year. There is no longer the budget available to continue to run our leisure centres as we are currently.
No decisions have yet been made about any leisure centre closures. In October 2022, it was agreed to begin a comprehensive consultation to understand the impact that some leisure centre closures would have. This information will inform decisions on which leisure centres should close and which should remain open
We have no statutory obligation to provide sport, leisure or recreation, services and facilities. This is unlike many other demand driven legally mandated services, such as adult social care and children's services, which we do have a legal duty to provide. However, we do recognise the importance of having these centres and what they mean to our communities.
No decisions have yet been made about any leisure centre closures. In October 2022, it was agreed to begin a comprehensive consultation to understand the impact that some leisure centre closures would have. This information will inform decisions on which leisure centres should close and which should remain open.
To make an informed decision about which leisure centres should remain open, for each leisure centre we have undertaken an evaluation of a range of strategic, financial, usage and performance measures.
It's also really important however that we find out the impact our proposals will have on customers who use leisure services, and any difficulties they might face in switching to alternative facilities.
The evaluation outcome, the consultation results and an equality impact assessment will all form the basis of the decision about leisure centre closures. No recommendation will be made about which sites should remain open and which sites should close permanently until the impact of closure is understood through the consultation.
Based on the work that we have done on the evaluation so far, the sites that appear at this time to be least sustainable are Gateshead Leisure Centre, Dunston Leisure Centre and the Sports Hall at Birtley Leisure Centre.
We have previously agreed for Leisure Services to become self-funding and, despite our best efforts, this has not been possible due to major barriers including the Covid-19 pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.
For the financial year 2022/23, we agreed a budget of £2.2m for Leisure Services, (including a Public Health grant of £0.98m), however the service projected, as at the end of July 2022, a £2.1m overspend which will require us to fund Leisure Services to a value of £4.3m (including the approved budget, overspend and undelivered saving).
This is not a position we want to be in and we know that people are passionate about local facilities. However, we need to make difficult decisions, prioritising statutory services.
No recommendation will be made about which sites should remain open and which sites should close permanently until the impact of closure is understood through this consultation. We want as many people as possible to contribute to the consultation so we can make an informed decision based on the full picture. The results of the consultation will help to inform our decision making.
Why do you need to close leisure centres when you say that bringing in an external organisation to manage leisure centres will save money?
After exploring different ways of delivering leisure activities to find a new approach which is affordable, we have chosen is to procure a partner organisation to manage our remaining leisure facilities, with us retaining ownership of the buildings. Partnering with a specialist leisure services provider will offer opportunities for economies of scale (cost advantages) which will allow us to reduce leisure services funding over time and benefit from a dedicated service provision
It will take several years to put in place the new management arrangements and get to a point where our funding of leisure services can be reduced significantly. The only way of making the size of savings required now is to close some leisure centres before the new management arrangements are put in place. This will help to provide and protect remaining leisure centres in the longer term.
Why do you want to close leisure centres when sport and exercise is so important for physical and mental health?
No one can dispute the importance of sport and leisure in improving health, social and economic outcomes. We understand that good leisure provision helps people of all ages stay healthy, active and socially connected. However, we have to consider this within the context of funding other competing priorities. Our first duty is to provide the statutory front-line services we are legally obliged to provide for our residents within a balanced budget.
Physical activity is not limited to activity that takes place in sport and leisure centres. Most physical activity takes place in informal settings like green and open spaces such as walking, running and cycling. Currently, most of our funding for Leisure Services is spent on our operated centres that only a minority of Gateshead's residents use. Our long-term ambitions are to expand our focus to support people to be more active where they live, in the space around them. We particularly want to target areas where health inequalities are the greatest.
Would you consider transferring the management of any leisure centres, which the Council closes, to local community organisations?
We are ready to work with any local community groups that believe they could offer a solution capable of making any facilities, which following the conclusion of the consultation are earmarked for closure, financially viable. The cost of running and ongoing maintenance of some very old buildings is likely to be challenging to community organisations but we are willing to explore this with any organisations that believe they are able to develop a sustainable business plan to take on this challenge.
If you close some leisure centres now, can you guarantee there will be no further closures in the future?
From the work undertaken on the Leisure Services Review, we have undertaken over the last 18 months, we have concluded that closing the least sustainable leisure centres now and then seeking an external partner organisation to manage the remaining leisure centres on our behalf, is the best way of easing current cost pressures and protecting remaining leisure centres in the longer term. However, there are a number of factors we cannot predict including the future economic climate and future leisure centre use.
Gateshead is not alone in facing tough decisions about the future of leisure centres. Similar proposals are being considered across the country.
Leisure services are expected to be reduced or lost entirely in 40 per cent of council areas before the end of March 2023, according to a survey by UKactive. The non-for-profit organisation said that its members are facing bills up to 200 per cent higher this year compared with 2019, and Swim England warn than more than 100 pools are likely to be under threat of closure in the next six months.
When the operation of leisure centres is transferred to an external organisation will charges go up or services be reduced?
The decision to procure an external partner has only just been made so it is not possible at this stage to say definitively what services will look like and the level of charges. However, we will work very closely with prospective providers to ensure the best leisure service offer to residents and it is affordable. Robust monitoring arrangements will be put in place which will include pricing and service quality.
Why did leisure centres in Gateshead take so long to open after the pandemic and why have there been temporary closures and sometimes reduced services and opening tines, since they re-opened?
After the first waves of the pandemic, we made the decision not to open our leisure centres as quickly as other leisure operators. This was due to high infection rates in the North East and the continuing need for our Covid response involving Gateshead leisure sites for essential testing and vaccinations. The sites were also used as our community hubs and support networks. When we began to re-open leisure centres, we re-opened them on a phased basis so as not to negatively impact Gateshead's Covid-19 response.
Since re-opening, Leisure Services have been severely affected by Covid-19 related staff shortages due to sickness and self-isolation and nationwide shortages in the recruitment of staff such as lifeguards and swimming teachers. This has affected opening times, class timetables and on occasion necessitated temporary closures. The service continues to be under extreme pressure.
The impact of the pandemic and cost of living crisis, including spiralling energy costs are why we find ourselves in such a difficult situation. Many leisure centres, across the country, are also finding it difficult to regain pre-pandemic customer numbers. In Gateshead there are a number of private gyms and competition for health and fitness members continues to increase. The operation of swimming pools depends upon the income from health and fitness membership.
Staff shortages due to sickness and self-isolation and national shortages in the recruitment of staff such as lifeguards and swimming teachers have also exacerbated the challenges we are experiencing.
Due to their size, condition and age, our leisure centre buildings are not energy efficient, and some require major investment to undertake essential maintenance in the short to medium term. Condition surveys undertaken to understand the future maintenance requirements for our leisure centres highlight that a large amount of essential maintenance investment (minimum of £13.3m excluding leisure facilities at Gateshead stadium) will be required over the coming years. This is essential maintenance to ensure the safety of the electrics, mechanical equipment, and some of the fabric of the buildings (including a potential full roof replacement). It is important to note that the condition surveys are based on the current condition of the centres and as each year passes, they are likely to face further challenges. The figures do not include cosmetic refurbishment and updating.
Following the consultation, we will consider all the responses received and feed them into our evaluation of Gateshead leisure centres. A report will be taken to Cabinet in January 2023 setting out the results of the evaluation, including consultation findings, and recommendations about which leisure centres should remain open.
Why is Gateshead Council considering closing leisure centres when neighbouring councils are investing in new leisure centres?
We cannot afford to invest huge sums in Leisure Services because we simply do not have the money to do so. If we were to borrow capital funding, we would have to pay the interest and the capital borrowed and this would increase our revenue costs and add to the overspend position and make our funding gap wider in the coming years. In addition we believe that the time is not right to be investing in building new facilities because there are shortages in construction materials, huge ongoing price increases being faced in the construction sector, and the construction labour market is struggling to cope with demand. We therefore cannot invest in leisure facilities at this time, however, in a few years' time once we have a new delivery partner in place who can help us to seek external funding, we can review our position and hope the situation might be different
Will my GO Gateshead membership be refunded or reduced if you close leisure centres that I use regularly?
Following a final decision about the future of leisure centres in Gateshead, GO Gateshead members will be able to cancel their membership if there are any significant changes to the GO Gateshead offer, for example a leisure centre closure.
At this time, if you are sure you want to cancel your GO membership you will need to provide 30 day notice.
For all cancellations it is very important that you inform us first before you cancel your direct debit with your bank, failure to do this will default your payment when DFC try to collect on our behalf.
You should only cancel your direct debit once we have confirmed your membership has been cancelled.
To discuss your options, or cancel your GO Gateshead membership, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information:
- cancel your membership
- membership number
- name and address
- reason you would like cancel
A member of the team will contact you to confirm that your membership has been cancelled.
As we are the only provider of public swimming pools in the Borough, if one or more leisure centres with swimming pools close, we will need to decide how we prioritise the use of remaining swimming pools. Given the high costs of operating swimming pools, it is unlikely that private companies would fill this gap.
Through the consultation we want to understand how you think activities should be prioritised in remaining pools. Current swimming pool use includes Gateshead school swimming lessons, private lessons, swimming club bookings, private hire and public swimming.
Hundreds of children depend on leisure centres in Gateshead for family and statutory Key Stage 2 swimming lessons. If any swimming pools close, there will be insufficient capacity within the borough for them all. Transport costs and travel time will increase. How will these issues be addressed?
We appreciate that swimming lessons are highly valued by families and schools and that school budgets are also under considerable pressure. Through this consultation we want to understand how you think activities including swimming lessons should be prioritised in remaining pools and any ideas that you have about how to lessen the impact of reduced swimming pool capacity.
If Leisure Centres are closed and sites sold will the money from the sale be invested in Leisure Services in Gateshead?
No decisions have yet been made about which Leisure Centres will remain open and which may close. We are facing extremely challenging economic times and all financial decisions will be made in the context of our agreed financial priorities at that time.
A number of the leisure centres house Changing Places toilets, needed by over a 1/4 million people in the UK to get out and about and enjoy the day-to-day activities. If a leisure centre with a Changing Places toilet is closed will alternative Changing Places facilities be developed locally?
There are alternative Changing Places facilities in other council buildings across the borough, for example in libraries and Gateshead Civic Centre. We will explore applying for funding to provide additional Changing Places facilities in the future as opportunities are launched.
A comprehensive Integrated Impact Assessment, including a full climate change and environmental sustainability assessment, will be developed and published. This will consider amongst other elements the environmental impact of leisure centre closures, and this will inform decision making.
A comprehensive Integrated Impact Assessment will consider amongst other elements the equalities impact of leisure centre closures and this will inform decision making. This consultation is an important way of understanding the equalities impact on different types of groups, including those with protected characteristics. We encourage all residents to complete the survey and the About You information to help us gather this information.
How can the Council support the implementation of its Health and Wellbeing Strategy but want to close leisure centres?
We want to make Gateshead a place where everyone thrives. Since 2010, cuts in Government funding means we can no longer do everything we did in the past. Poverty and health inequalities are placing an increasing demand on our services, so we need to focus our work and the money we have to spend on essential services to those most in need. No one can dispute the importance of sport and leisure in improving health, social and economic outcomes. We understand that good leisure provision helps people of all ages stay healthy, active and socially connected but we can no longer afford to subsidise these non-statutory services. Following the work that we have done on our Leisure Services review over the last eighteen months, we have concluded that closing the least sustainable leisure centres now and then procuring a partner organisation to manage our remaining leisure facilities, is the best way of protecting and providing remaining leisure centres in the longer term.
We ask for information about you to help us understand the views of, and potential impact on, different groups of people within Gateshead. This information is not mandatory, you do not need to share it with us in order to complete the survey and have your say. All survey responses are anonymous and any personal information provided is confidential.
As a council, we need to comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty within the Equality Act 2010. This means considering the impact of our proposals on all groups of people as part of our decision-making process and ensuring we do not discriminate against any residents.
Collecting information on who uses our services and their protected characteristics, and any potential support needs to access our services, helps us to understand the impact of proposals to change leisure services. We can also analyse the consultation responses to ensure we have heard views from all groups of residents within Gateshead so that overall it is representative of the whole community.