Saturday 3 January 2015

Privatising the City of Culture (or can we trust trusts?)

Only a year after being awarded the accolade of the 2017 'City of Culture' Hull City Council are proposing to set up a "leisure company" to take over the running of their leisure facilities, libraries, museums, park ranger and catering services. Now one thing strikes me straight away about this; why are libraries part of the bundle, after all they are statutory and they aren't in my opinion solely a leisure service?
The answer to the above question probably lies in the fact that most councils place their library services in 'Culure & Leisure' directorates, that someone including the LGA has been perpetrating the myth that libraries are non-statutory, that we have a government and a Sec of Sate who fail to intervene to stop library cuts and closures and that we have a chasm in the leadership and promotion of the national service. Libraries have become easy to offload.

So what is a 'leisure company' or 'leisure trust' and what are some of the issues with this model of privatisation?

"What a Leisure Trust means in practice:

Leisure services are outsourced to a separate organisation/company. The Council

retains ownership of the facilities, which are leased to the Trust.

Virtually all the savings come from rate reductions and VAT savings, which are much

smaller initially because of the high set up costs.

Direct democratic control of the service will cease - elected member representation on

a trust is limited to less than 20% of the board. Company law requires that Board

members must put the interests of the leisure trust before those of the local authority.

After a year the Trust will usually cease to use council services and will be responsible

its own procurement and contracting or corporate and other services."

Unison Scotland have also raised concerns;

"UNISON is concerned that large sections of public service delivery are

being shifted off to arms length bodies with very little research into the

effectiveness of such change."

Recently in Renfrewshire there have been protests against plans to pass the running of similar services to Renfrewshire Leisure Limited (RLL).

And there are similar plans being proposed by Angus Council and Unison have yet again raised concerns;
“Unison is not convinced that farming out leisure facilities to arm’s-length trusts improves the service for the public or the staff.
“They are not an alternative means of community ownership of public assets. In fact the policy tends to be used to save local authorities tax.
“Our experience so far is some trusts perform satisfactorily after the initial separation but the promised savings, extra funding and other benefits tend not to materialise.
“There is no evidence the public see an improvement in the service nor will the trust see a higher rate of private donations, which are often the reasons put forward.”

For more on leisure trusts see;

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