A possible new way of safeguarding leisure and cultural services for the future will be considered by Durham County Council’s Cabinet this week (Wednesday).
In light of large scale reductions in Government grants the council must make savings of at least £145.8M over the next five years.
As a result the authority is looking at new ways to provide services which protect them for the future but which help the council meet its financial savings requirement.
One option for protecting services like leisure centres, libraries and the Gala theatre is to place them in a not for profit charitable trust, referred to as a Non Profit Distributing Organisation (NPDO). This status has significant financial advantages and is something which the council’s Cabinet members will be asked to consider agreeing ‘in principle’ when they meet at County Hall.
Cabinet member for leisure, libraries and lifelong learning, Cllr Maria Plews, said: “In these difficult times the status quo is almost certainly unsustainable and a trust like this could prove the best way to protect and even improve these services.
“Whilst we are currently considering the full range of sport, leisure, cultural and library services further consideration will be given to exactly which areas will transfer prior to a final decision in the autumn.
“In depth research will ensure we follow a tried and tested line which will deliver the best service for residents and the financial savings we have no choice but to make.”
An NPDO would have trustees and a management board but the council would retain influence over the services provided and ownership of the buildings and assets. It’s a potential move which could save the council more than a million pounds a year.
Terry Collins, corporate director for neighbourhood services said: “It’s important in the current climate that we remain open-minded about new possibilities.
“The savings to the council are not in doubt, the non domestic rate and VAT relief alone would deliver much needed savings. But what is most important is that there is a great deal of good evidence to suggest that establishing this sort of trust could both protect current services and greatly enhance their chances of improvement by opening up new routes to funding.
“A trust also offers communities much better opportunities to get involved in how their local services are run.”
Other benefits to customers could include:
• Greater opportunities to access grants not normally available to the council
• more information on a wider range of facilities and events for residents and visitors
• greater potential for investment and expansion in facilities through reinvestment and grant awards
• greater opportunities for community involvement
Should Cabinet agree making an ‘in principle’ decision to transfer services to a charitable NPDO then schedule of work would begin immediately before any firm and final decision is considered by Cabinet in the autumn when a further report will be presented.