Cheshire East Council has launched a consultation on potential ways funding for leisure services can be targeted to deliver the greatest impacts on residents' health and wellbeing -- while also ensuring that essential savings can be made.
A strategic review of leisure services is included in the authority's adopted medium-term financial strategy (MTFS), which sets out proposals for how the council will balance its budget over the next four years.
The first stage of the leisure services review -- based around the need to generate £1.29m of essential savings in 2023/24 -- has already been delivered.
The second stage of the review focuses on how the council's available budget to support leisure services can be targeted to achieve the greatest health and wellbeing impacts for the communities and people that need it the most.
This is in the context of the council needing to secure minimum essential savings in leisure services of £479,000.
A public consultation on a range of proposals for how this could be achieved will close on Sunday 7 January.
Councillor Mick Warren, chair of Cheshire East Council's environment and communities committee, said: "The borough's leisure centres are operated on behalf of the council by Everybody Health and Leisure, a charitable trust, but the council is responsible for paying building maintenance and utilities costs, and subsidises leisure services through the payment of an annual management fee.
"Leisure centres, because of the types of services they offer, are hugely expensive facilities to run and maintain and costs are rising drastically. We cannot afford to meet these costs.
"Significant budget savings have already been made and additional income secured, including through one-off grants from Sport England, but this is still not enough.
"The health and wellbeing of our residents is extremely important to the council, and so we now need to ensure that the limited resources we do have for leisure services are being targeted to the best effect."
The council recently published an updated financial forecast which shows a potential shortfall of £18.7m against anticipated expenditure in 2023/24.
Cllr Warren added: "These significant financial challenges are not just isolated to Cheshire East -- local authorities across the country are considering how they continue to provide public leisure facilities in the short-term and as costs continue to rise well beyond the budgets available."
In developing the proposals, the council has considered existing site usage data and data relating to the varied levels of health and wellbeing need across Cheshire East -- and where these needs are highest.
Proposals set out in the consultation include reducing the opening hours of all leisure centres, introducing a different pricing policy for members who do not live in Cheshire East, and making changes to the Options membership discount scheme in-line with other local authorities.
The council is also seeking views on proposals for if it is unable to meet the required essential savings target for leisure services. As a last resort, the council is proposing to focus its continued investment into leisure services in the locations where the health of residents is poorest, on the leisure centre sites where usage is highest, and where the net cost of operating the facility is lowest when compared to its use.
Cllr Warren said: "No decisions have yet been made about leisure services, or specific leisure centres, and I encourage people to share their views through this consultation.
"The comments we receive -- plus more detailed data relating to the use of leisure centres by community groups, sports clubs and, where appropriate, schools -- will help us to shape the final proposals that will be brought back to committee at a later date."
For more information and to take part in the consultation, visit: cheshireeast.gov.uk/consultations
Paper versions of the survey are available at libraries. To receive the survey or consultation material in an alternative format, or submit feedback in a different way, email: RandC@cheshireeast.gov.uk, or call 0300 123 55 00.