sports development in the region and the active sports service which runs holiday and after school activities for school pupils in the Borders are currently the responsibility of Scottish Borders Council’s education department but the council is looking at transferring them to the Borders Sports and Leisure Trust which runs most of the region’s leisure centres and swimming pools.
Councillors will discuss the report suggesting integrating all sports services into the trust when they meet next week and if it gets the go ahead the transfer is likely to take place on July 1.
Transferring these services to BSLT will mean that the only sports services remaining under direct council control will be the outdoor education and adventure sports, the reason being that the council has statutory responsibilities for school trips and specific curriculum needs.
In the current financial year the council’s sports budget is £2.65 million: £1.5 million goes to BSLT for management fees; £117,133 to active schools and £651,879 for sports development.
SBC’s reasons for transferring more sports services over to the region’s sports trust are to prevent the services facing possible major cuts as the council continues to struggle with a restricted budget, and secondly because the transfer may well help the trust access more funding.
SBC’s director of education, Glenn Rodger said: “The vast majority of the facilities in the Borders are run through BSLT. It makes sense in the long term for BSLT, sports development and active schools to be run under the one umbrella in order to maximise the use of facilities.”
The sports and leisure trust was set up in September 2003 when the council transferred a number of its sports facilities to the new trust, including Eyemouth Leisure Centre. It came hot on the heels of the council’s major financial crisis when they had a £4 million deficit to deal with - and the council’s original response to dealing with it brought Borderers out on the streets in protest at the proposed closure of facilities such as Eyemouth Leisure Centre, resulting in a new political regime in the region,
Borders Sports and Leisure Trust took over the running of eight swimming pools and leisure facilities (Eyemouth Leisure Centre, Galashiels Swimming Pool, Gytes Leisure Centre, Kelso Swimming Pool, Peebles Swiming Pool, Selkirk Leisure Centre, Teviotdale Leisure Centre and Tweedband Sports Centre). At the time there was speculation about the future of many of the facilities if the trust failed to attract funding. And similar reservations have arisen again about the sports services being proposed for transfer.
The leisure trust’s first major capital investment was at Eyemouth Leisure Centre in 2005 when a £1 million plus refurbishment programme was carried out. A sportscotland grant of £300,000, capital investment of £300,000 by Scottish Borders Council, who still own the building, and a business loan taken out by the Borders Sport and Leisure Trust for the balance, financed the work.
And it is the ability to attract match funding for capital investment in the sports facilities that may persuade councillors next week that the sports trust should run more of the region’s services, at a time when the council’s finances are again under pressure.
The report going before councillors reads: “Prolonged underinvestment has resulted in service decline and consequent underperformance. The services are becoming increasingly vulnerable. These challenges are particularly acute now, when local government budgets are under severe threat.”
Set up costs would not be significant and the move would be fully funded by the council. A council post would be retained to manage and maintain their link with the sports trust.
There are currently 20 people employed in the sports development and active schools service and the transfer plans do not include reducing that number, although no guarantee could be given about future savings.
“We think efficiencies could be made along the way as often happens when an integrated trust is formed,” said Mr Rodger. “We are in the business of doing things better. We know the financial situation is not going to get better. The trust model is more the norm now than the exception. There is no question of jobs being lost.”
Unions have been consulted on the proposals and one-to-one meetings are to be arranged between staff affected by the change and human resource specialists.
A BSLT spokesman said: “We would fully support a transfer of SBC’s sports development and active schools unite to Borders Sport and Leisure Trust.”