A new way of preserving and improving leisure and cultural opportunities in the county will be back for further discussion at Durham County Council’s Cabinet next week.
Proposals outlining the possibility of a ‘not for profit’ charitable trust managing a mix of sport, leisure and cultural facilities were initially discussed in January this year.
A paper indicated that significant financial savings from business rates and VAT relief, plus broader opportunities for external funding, could deliver both savings and improvements for customers.
However, discussions were put on hold following announcements by the Government regarding changes to the Business Rates Retention Scheme which could impact on the financial viability of such a trust.
This review looks set to halve the amount of money the council would save in business rates from around £888,000 to £444,000.
But Cabinet members will hear that, together with the other benefits linked to the trust, the proposal still looks to offer a good way forward. Overall the change could deliver annual savings of around £866,000.
Cllr Maria Plews is the Cabinet member for leisure, libraries and lifelong learning.
She said: “It is widely understood that the council is required to make very large financial savings in the coming years due to reductions in Government grants.
“It is therefore extremely important that we look in depth at all proposals which have the potential to protect services but save money at the same time.
“In this case I am asking colleagues to initiate further detailed work on the real practicalities and benefits of a sport, leisure and culture charitable trust.
“This study would then result in a further paper to Cabinet before any final decision is made.”
Subject to further detailed work and a robust business plan, a charitable trust could include sport and leisure facilities, libraries, museums and art galleries, as well as outdoor learning facilities.
Any trust would have trustees and a management board but the council would retain influence over the services provided and ownership of the buildings and assets.
Other benefits to customers could include:
● Greater opportunities to access grants not normally available to the council
● More potential for investment and expansion in facilities through reinvestment and grant awards
● Wider opportunities for community involvement
● A guarantee that any profits are put directly back into service improvements