Councillors have united in calls for more funding for Edinburgh Leisure to avoid a “worst case scenario” amid a £3.6m funding shortfall.
Political leaders say more cash for the council-owned company will be a “key priority” when they meet to agree the budget next month.
It comes after a presentation entitled “venue closures” presented to the company’s board – and shared with the Local Democracy Reporting Service – showed eight venues listed as part of ‘2024/25 financial planning’ – which would save the organisation just under £2m.
On the list was: outdoor pitches and pitch venues at Niddire’s Jack Kane Sports Centre, Meggetland Sports Complex and Saughton Sports Complex; Portobello Swim Centre; Kirkliston Leisure Centre; Leisure facilities at Wester Hailes High School; Gracemount Leisure Centre; and Glenogle Swim Centre, Stockbridge. In total 160 staff members are currently employed across the eight facilities.
A council source said the situation had become “so grave” that bosses had “identified eight sites they would close and hand the keys back to Edinburgh Council”.
One councillor said it “shows the impact the cash crisis would have on some of our best loved Victorian swimming baths in Portobello and Stockbridge”.
However Labour council leader Cammy Day and Edinburgh Leisure CEO have said the list represented a “worst case scenario” situation and there are currently no plans to close any venue across the city.
In an email to staff last night, Ms Peebles said the list was shown to the board “to illustrate the extent of the closures to venues and services to address the estimated funding gap in 2024/25”.
Councillor Kevin Lang, leader of the Lib Dem group, said it was “clear that we will need to inject significant new money if we are going to avoid seeing venues closed”.
He said: “We simply cannot stand by and watch swimming pools closed, leisure centres shut, and sports clubs withdrawn, not at a time when we are all working to encourage better health and well-being through sport and physical activity.
“Finding this money in the budget is now a key priority for Liberal Democrat councillors.”
Conservative leader Iain Whyte said his group “will be considering this very carefully in our budget proposals with the aim of increasing Edinburgh Leisure’s funding”.
He said this would “restore some of the SNP cuts of recent years and put the business on an even keel”.
He said: “It is imperative that we help Edinburgh Leisure keep these venues open and I hope this news will put an end to politically motivated campaigns over wages which are rightly an issue for the company. After all, the council’s key aim should be maintaining and improving services for residents.”
He added: “The financial situation for Edinburgh Leisure is dire and the closure list shows the impact the cash crisis would have on some of our best loved Victorian swimming baths in Portobello and Stockbridge.”
Details of the increasingly difficult financial picture have surfaced amid a row about Edinburgh Leisure withdrawing from paying all its staff the Real Living Wage.
The organisation has said it “aspires” to pay the Real Living Wage but was no longer able to due to “significant financial challenges” caused by rising energy costs and inflation among other factors.
The SNP group say it is “unacceptable” some leisure staff are on “poverty wages”. However the council leader said during a meeting this week if the council insists the company signs back up to the living wage scheme this “will effectively mean closures of facilities across the city”.
SNP councillor Kate Campbell called the list “really worrying”.
She said: “It’s shocking that this only came to light because SNP councillors have been pushing to get more information about why Edinburgh Leisure stopped paying the real living wage.
“We proposed to increase Edinburgh Leisure’s budget this year but that was shot down by the Labour administration with help from their friends in the Tories and Lib Dems. And now it seems we’re at crisis point.
“Those parties need to step up and finally join the SNP to put in place a plan for how Edinburgh Leisure can pay staff a decent wage and keep our much loved sports facilities open in our communities.”
And Green group co-convener Ben Parker said: “It is vital that everyone in Edinburgh has access to affordable sports and leisure services, and so any potential closures are obviously deeply concerning.
“Greens – and we hope all political parties in Edinburgh – will be acutely aware of the challenges facing Edinburgh Leisure and other arms-length organisations when it comes to making budgets proposals this year, in a deeply constrained funding picture.
“We’re also increasingly concerned that Councillors are being presented with what seems like a false choice between service closures and paying all staff the Real Living Wage; we are steadfast in our view that books should not be balanced at the expense of the lowest-paid workers and will look to explore alternative solutions with Edinburgh Leisure in the next month.”
Ms Peebles said: “The financial challenges facing the organisation in 2024/25 are significant. Inflation continues to affect our cost base and we have estimated a £750,000 increase in energy costs; meaning our gas and electricity costs in 2024/25 will be £2.75m higher than pre pandemic levels.
“We are committed to doing everything in our power to continue supporting the health and well-being of the city, keep all our venues open, and work towards paying the Real Living Wage.”
“The list of venues (as detailed in your article) was put together for a Board presentation to illustrate the magnitude of the financial challenges the organisation is facing in 2024/25 and not for decision making purposes.
“The information was prepared to emphasise significant venue closures would not address the estimated funding gap.”
She added: “We identified in a report which went to the Policy and Sustainability Committee just this week that if we closed six venues it would realise £1 million, but it was very much illustrative and worst case scenario planning.
“But even at the committee councillors raised the matter of the ensuing costs if venues were transferred back to the council who would then have to pay rates etc.”
Councillor Day said: “I can categorically confirm there are no plans to close any venue across the city. What we’re trying to work with Edinburgh Leisure to do is to ensure we can pay the living wage to all their staff to improve their pay and conditions and that we do that without any closure of any facility across the city.
“I understand there has been a board discussion at Edinburgh Leisure to look at if the worst case scenario was ever to hit them what would the savings be if they closed particular venues across the city or playing fields etcetera”
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