PLANS which could see the Abbey Stadium handed over to a leisure trust have been branded ‘a con’ by a former council leader.
Redditch Borough Council is exploring a range of options which could see responsibility for running the Bordesley Lane site – as well as other leisure centres in the town and possibly Forge Mill Needle Museum and the Palace Theatre – passed to an independent organisation.
Although no proposals have been presented to or voted on by councillors as yet, the move is expected to go through at some point in the next year and council chiefs are already predicting it will save £150,000 in the first six months of the arrangement.
But Coun Carole Gandy, who headed up a task and finish group which suggested the idea of a leisure trust, said the proposal was being treated as a ‘quick fix for saving money’ rather than as a way of using savings to invest in improving the building.
“It was made clear to us on every visit we made that going forward as a trust was not a quick fix for saving money. That was never the reason for doing it.” she told an overview and scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday (February 17).
“We want to go out to a trust, grab the business rates, stick them in a pot and that’s our savings. I can’t support that. It’s obscene and I think it’s a con.
“I think the whole task and finish was a complete and utter waste of time. We are farming it out to a trust because we want money in, not because we are trying to improve the Abbey Stadium and put things in there we could not afford to do when we first built the property.”
But Jayne Pickering, executive director of finance and resources, said head of leisure John Godwin had been tasked to look at all the options which would come before overview and scrutiny and the executive committee. She said an independent report had said it should be possible to deliver £300,000 of savings in the first financial year and other councils, including Malvern Hills District Council, were doing the same.
The committee recommended to full council on Monday (February 23) they believed there was a ‘high risk’ associated with the potential savings on the leisure trust and it will be debated further as part of the budget setting process at the meeting.