Jobs axe at trust

News story
News story

JOBS are to be axed as Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust hands some of its powers back to the council.

Much of the talk coming from Wigan town hall today was of “strengthening partnerships” and “working closer together” to get more people in the borough healthy and active.

But the fact remains that £40m of savings have to be made, there is a pledge to freeze council tax bills and Wigan wants to keep the cost of visiting leisure facilities among the lowest in the region. So something has to give.

Bosses say job losses will be kept to a minimum and talks are taking place with unions.

Specifics are hard to come by at this stage, but it appears that back office staff – where there is most duplication between council and trust –would be worst hit.

The move is something of a reversal for the borough. Wigan Council relinquished responsibilities previously held by its leisure department 11 years ago when the charitable trust was established.

As part of the deal WLCT will focus more on managing the services that have the greatest impact on health, such as leisure centres, sports development and its Active Living programme.

The council has also committed to a significant investment programme in sports and leisure facilities, such as Howe Bridge and Robin Park sports centre with further details announced soon.

Some services currently delivered by WLCT, such as libraries, heritage and the teams that maintain the borough’s green spaces, as well as some support services, will move back to the council.

WLCT employs around 500 staff who are roughly equally split between the services it is retaining and those it is relinquishing. It also provides leisure services for councils in Cannock, Staffordshire, and Selby in East Yorkshire.

The council and trust have been careful to stress two points in particular: library services will continue to operate and Haigh Hall will not be sold although services operating from the Hall and the country park will be “reviewed.”

The council says it will continue to implement the ambitious regeneration project for the park which could include turning the hall into a hotel and expanding leisure facilities in the grounds.

Coun Paul Kenny, council cabinet member for leisure, said: “The health and well-being of Wigan borough residents is our top priority.

“By allowing WLCT to focus completely on health and leisure activities, we believe together we can build on their excellent track record of increasing the levels of participation in sport and activities in the borough. We see this as a strengthening of our partnership which will help people to live longer, happier and healthier lives.

“At the same time, the council still needs to save a further £40m by 2016/17 so this new relationship must provide value for money for Wigan borough residents. This review is consistent with our policy to drive down the cost of services, by working more efficiently.

“It also helps us to achieve our commitment to keep council tax frozen.

“By bringing some services back in-house, where there is a natural fit with our other services, we believe we can make significant savings while protecting and improving frontline services.”

Andy Wiggans, Chairman of WLCT, said: “We are extremely proud of the achievements made over the past decade here in Wigan borough and are delighted that our partnership with the council will continue and with the associated investment plans.

“Fundamental to this new working relationship is a renewed focus on supporting residents to make informed lifestyle choices and, as part of The Deal, we will carry on working hard to help residents live healthier, happier lives through a sustainable leisure, health and wellbeing offer.”

A council spokesman said that funding for public services has changed dramatically since WLCT was formed in 2003, and the new deal offers the best financial package in operating the council’s services.

He added that borough residents will only see “subtle changes” to the way services are provided initially. The aim is to complete the new deal by April 2015.

Council and trust employees’ representatives at Unison were approached for a comment but were unavailable at the time of going to press.