Sheffield City Trust: Council to review how sports facilities are being run due to cost concerns

Sheffield Council is reviewing how sports and leisure facilities are run in the city amid concern about how much it is costing.

The city’s major leisure venues are currently run by Sheffield City Trust (SCT) on behalf of the council, which is now looking into the contract which runs until 2024.

A notice on the council’s website says it is looking at three options for the venues, which include the City Hall, Pond Forge swimming pool complex and Sheffield Arena.

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The first would involve bringing leisure services in-house and managing them from within the council; the second would be to establish a local authority trading company to operate them; or thirdly to appoint an external partner to run the venues after putting it out to tender.

Sheffield City Trust (SCT) runs Ponds Forge, City Hall and Sheffield ArenaSheffield City Trust (SCT) runs Ponds Forge, City Hall and Sheffield Arena
Sheffield City Trust (SCT) runs Ponds Forge, City Hall and Sheffield Arena

It comes amid concern about the amount of money the council is spending on leisure and warnings from officers that the council needs to “drastically” reduce its subsidy.

The council had an overspend of £12.8m on leisure last year which helped facilities reopen after being closed for Covid-19 lockdowns.

When the current budget was approved earlier this year, Ryan Keyworth, director of finance, said: “We are hoping that ongoing subsidy won’t be needed beyond the next financial year but we will obviously come back to members if that is the case.”

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In a report recently published by the council, officers warned leisure will become a serious problem if subsidy levels do not reduce from the current £15m to around £3m.

However, facilities are also in need of significant investment in order to be modern, welcoming, accessible and inclusive.

The council said it had explored management and investment options to achieve the most cost effective way to operate facilities while ensuring they are fit for purpose, affordable, sustainable and give the council better control over the services than under the current arrangements.

A report on the review is due to be published on Tuesday ahead of a co-operative executive meeting on November 17 but parts will be kept private because it relates to business matters.

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The Liberal Democrats said the management of leisure venues should be overhauled.

Liberal Democrat councillor Martin Smith said: “We have been raising concerns about the decision making and financial sustainability of SCT for several years.

“It’s good to see the executive is finally taking our lead and reviewing its relationship with the Trust but why has it taken them so long?”

Sheffield City Trust has come under fire in recent months after it was revealed that the leisure pool at Ponds Forge would remain closed until January amid concerns about the state of the flumes.

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It said the damage occurred during the time the building was closed for Covid-19 and the estimated cost of repair was said to be £500,000, which will come out of the existing maintenance budget given by Sheffield council to SCT.

And last month the trust was criticised for firstly accepting and then cancelling a booking at the City Hall by controversial comedian Chubby Brown.