Current high subsidies for sports pitches and pavilions aren’t sustainable
With local authority budgets facing an unprecedented squeeze due to austerity, Bridgend County Borough Council wants to talk to more rugby, football and cricket clubs over the possibility of them taking over the running of the outdoor pitches and pavilions they use.
On average, the income received by the council from charging users only makes up 20 to 25 per cent of the actual costs of providing and maintaining the facilities, so the council is typically providing a financial subsidy of up to 80 per cent.
In 2018/19, the council expects to receive £93,000 from pitch and pavilion charges while its expenditure on the facilities will top £452,000.
The council has confirmed that it won’t be able to continue subsidising sports pitches and pavilions to such a level, while also being able to afford the investment required to ensure that facilities continue to meet the necessary standards.
Cabinet Members have agreed that the council will consult with sports clubs and local organisations who currently use the facilities as well as Town and Community Councils and relevant sports governing bodies to find out their views on the local authority’s proposals to significantly raise hire charges and also explore any alternative ways of running local sports pitches and pavilions in the future, such as Community Asset Transfer.
We want to be as open as possible about the seriousness of the financial situation we face, and start conversations with sports clubs and organisations to find a solution.
The hire fees for pitches and pavilions don’t go anywhere near covering the costs associated with them, while the current level of subsidy is not sustainable. If no action is taken then it is inevitable that we’d be forced into a position where facilities will need to close.
We don’t want that to happen, but we must find a way for the facilities to be provided without such a financial reliance on the council within the next couple of years.Councillor Richard Young, the council’s Cabinet Member for Communities
As a result of austerity, Bridgend County Borough Council has already had to save more than £30m through measures such as streamlining its senior management structure, reducing council staff by more than 400, transferring specific services to partners such as Awen Cultural Trust, and making reductions in areas such as public conveniences and street cleansing.
But with a further £35m shortfall predicted within the next few years, the local authority’s Medium Term Financial Strategy proposes a saving of £150,000 to be made from its Parks budget in 2019/20 and a further £350,000 in 2020/21.
One of the solutions being put forward for sports pitches and pavilions is for clubs to take on direct responsibility for them via ‘Community Asset Transfers’.
Several clubs have expressed an interest in potential asset transfers, and a small number have already progressed to an advanced stage including Bryncethin RFC and Caerau Football Club.
To help support Community Asset Transfers, the council has set aside £1m to be specifically used for investing in buildings that require improvements prior to any proposed transfer, subject to a successful business case.
Councillor Young continued: “We want to raise this issue early to give clubs plenty of time to start working on Community Asset Transfers if they would like to take on the direct responsibility for running and maintaining facilities.
“There are many excellent examples from across the UK where Community Asset Transfers have been beneficial for all parties involved, but it is also possible that alternative proposals could be suggested that would create the same level of required savings.
“We fully recognise the important role that sport and physical activity plays in our communities and are aware that the vast majority of sports clubs are operated by a small number of volunteers who already face other challenges and financial pressures in maintaining and running their teams.
“This is a complex situation which isn’t a straight forward one to resolve, but we want to start the conversation and are looking forward to hearing people’s views.”
Following the consultation exercise, further reports will be presented to Cabinet Members and councillors who sit on the relevant overview and scrutiny committee.
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