Edinburgh council’s finance chiefs have identified an additional £3.2m for the city’s cash-strapped leisure centres, averting a “worst case scenario” which could have seen venues earmarked for closure.
The cash injection for Edinburgh Leisure will include £800k to enable the organisation to return to paying all staff the real living wage – £12 an hour – after it opted out of the voluntary scheme last year to save money.
Financial pressures have intensified for the publicly-owned arms-length company due to increased energy bills and inflation in recent years, culminating in a forecasted £3.6m deficit for the year ahead.
Internal documents shared with the Local Democracy Reporting Service this month showed the potential closure of eight pools, gyms and sports facilities to save just under £2m was presented to Edinburgh Leisure’s board as part of “worst case scenario” financial planning for 2024/25.
Other measures to balance the books under consideration included reducing centres’ opening hours, raising charges and reviewing employees’ pension contributions.
The shortfall has since been reduced to £3.2m which will be met by the council if approved when the budget is set next month, a report to this week’s finance committee confirmed.
Council leader Cammy Day said he was “committed to providing quality sport and leisure facilities for our residents”.
He added: “The Labour-led Administration have been working alongside senior council colleagues to ensure we safeguard these facilities and I am proud to say that we’re finding the funds in our council budget, set later next month, to do so.”
SNP councillors welcomed the move but accused the administration of “choosing to hold off” funding and “allowing staff to be paid poverty wages and putting our leisure centres at risk”.
Lib Dem group leader Kevin Lang said it was a “huge relief that the money has been found to keep Edinburgh Leisure’s venues open,” adding: “It was frightening to hear that some leisure centres and swimming pools were at risk.”
The additional monies will be made up of £1m Covid support funding due to be allocated to Edinburgh Leisure over the next three years but now being accelerated in 2024/25, with the rest directed from “other sums previously set aside for continuing Covid impacts,” the report said.
It added: “The precise profile of this funding will be subject to further discussion between the council and Edinburgh Leisure as this revised model develops and the final deficit figure is agreed.”
Councillor Day said: “Physical activity is vital for the physical and mental health of our city and is a key priority. The Labour-led Administration have been working alongside senior council colleagues to ensure we safeguard these facilities and I am proud to say that we’re finding the funds in our council budget to do so. I’m incredibly grateful to Finance and Resources Convener Councillor Mandy Watt, senior council colleagues and Edinburgh Leisure for their huge efforts on this.
“We’re also working to find a resolution on paying the real living wage to Edinburgh Leisure’s employees.
“However, we also need to face up to the stark financial situation that we find ourselves in.
“Local authorities have suffered a decade of continuous real term income cuts from central government and Edinburgh is no exception. In fact, Edinburgh remains the lowest funded council per head in Scotland, despite the unique pressures which come with being Scotland’s capital city such as our projected population growth, the climate crisis, and our well documented housing emergency.
“High energy bills combined with inflation have also brought significant pressure on both Edinburgh Leisure and the Council’s wider estate. These factors are putting us under unprecedented pressure and are completely unsustainable.
“I’d call on all representatives in our city to demand that the government properly fund Edinburgh so we can continue delivering the services our residents deserve. “
SNP councillor Kate Campbell said the funding needed had been “available all along” and accused the Labour administration of “choosing to hold off, allowing staff to be paid poverty wages and putting our leisure centres at risk”.
She added: “I’m glad Labour have finally caved and all staff at Edinburgh Leisure will get the real living wage as a minimum, and our local sports facilities are no longer at risk.
“It’s just a shame that, for around 300 workers, it’s taken months of pressure from the SNP and trade unions to get here.”
Councillor Lang said: “It is a huge relief that the money has been found to keep Edinburgh Leisure’s venues open. With a growing crisis in terms of the organisation’s finances, it was frightening to hear that some leisure centres and swimming pools were at risk.
“It’s now important to get Edinburgh Leisure onto a solid financial footing for the long term. As part of that, I hope SNP councillors will never again threaten to withdraw all the organisation’s funding. In my seven years as a councillor, this was one of the most irresponsible and dangerous moves I’ve seen from a political group. I sincerely hope it’s never repeated.”
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