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Council pays £500,000 to help trust that runs leisure centres navigate the cost-of-living crisis

09 Feb 2023 3 minute read
Cwmbran Stadium. Photo by Welsh Icons (Dom) is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Twm Owen, local democracy reporter

A trust that runs leisure centres, including an iconic stadium, is to receive a “one-off” payment of half a million pounds of public money to help balance its books.

The payment will be in the form of a £500,000 uplift to the £1.3 million management fee it receives to operate three former council run centres, as well as the Pontypool Ski Slope and Cwmbran Stadium.

In its heyday the athletics track hosted some of the biggest names in track and field including Fatima Whitbread, Zola Budd and Linford Christie while Manchester United and the Wales men’s football team both played friendly games at the ground in the 1990s.

The trust, which is a registered charity, was established in 2013 to manage the public facilities, but has said it needs additional support from Torfaen Borough Council for the upcoming financial year as user numbers haven’t returned to pre-pandemic levels and it has also been hit by soaring energy costs.

Its latest accounts, filed with the Charity Commission, show in 2022 it received £2.8 million from Torfaen Borough Council.

Hardship fund

That included £1.5 million via the £1.3 million service fee and a further £196,938 “additional service fee”, plus a £1.2 million sum that was attributed to a Torfaen council hardship fund and listed as a grant.

In 2021 the council had agreed to provide the trust with £1.3 million a year through to March 2027 and to freeze an annual 4.67 per cent decrease in funding until at least March 2023 “to enable the Trust to recover from the business impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Torfaen’s Labour cabinet is now being asked to approve the £500,00 one-off increase in return for the trust producing a balanced budget and that it engage with the council on a planned “fundamental review” to ensure it returns to financial sustainability for the 2024/25 financial year.

A report for the cabinet states: “Pre-pandemic the Torfaen Leisure Trust has been successful since its inception in both absorbing inflation and reducing the financial management support from the council.

“However, in common with most leisure providers the TLT is experiencing significant financial challenges primarily as a result of significant energy inflation as well as income and usage levels not yet returning to pre-pandemic levels.”

Last September the council also agreed to borrow £1.8 million from a government-backed finance firm on behalf of the trust to provide new floodlighting at Cwmbran Stadium and other energy saving improvements at its five venues.

The additional payment will be funded from Torfaen council’s reserves and will be considered by the cabinet as part of its proposed 2023/24 budget which it is due to discuss at its Tuesday, February 14 meeting at Pontypool Civic Centre before the budget is put forward for the approval of the full council.

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