The immediate future of the Moray Leisure Centre was secured on Wednesday after councillors approved a recovery plan.
The beleaguered facility has been in difficulty following the long-term absence through sickness of its manager and senior staff.
After a lengthy debate, councillors selected the fourth of four options as offering the best future for the centre, the 55 staff, and the people of Moray.
The plan includes a one-year extension of the current lease, which was due to expire at the end of July. The lease will be renewable on a rolling monthly basis to implement the recovery plan provided by High Life Highland consultants, with regular reporting to councillors.
The current lease requires an annual support payment of £698,000. The recovery plan includes the availability of an extra £120k over two years to cover additional costs, to be used only if needed. Council funding could start to reduce once the plan is fully implemented, which is expected to be in 2020. Management support will be provided by High Life Highland, with account management support from Highlands and Islands Enterprise.
Meantime memberships at the centre can expect a boost thanks to the decision to include the Centre in the council’s “Fit Life” programme.
Councillor Tim Eagle, leader of the Conservative group, said: “We all recognise that Moray Leisure Centre has had many difficulties over the last few years and many councillors have been deeply concerned about its financial situation. Back in December, the council fully recognised this and put into place a plan to bring the centre on a more sustainable footing. Since then Highlife Highland have been providing management support to the struggling centre and a new business strategy is in place that we all hope will move the centre forward. This new plan will see the introduction of the fit life scheme as well as an upgrade to the gym.”
“The council’s leisure review board are working swiftly towards putting in place a longer term strategy for its leisure provision, and a thriving Moray Leisure Centre will hopefully play a role in that in the future.”
Elgin North Councillor Maria Mclean said: “We want to ensure we have caring and healthy communities in Moray and leisure centres are a big part of that. However, we also continue to face one of the worst situations a council could face with severe financial pressures due increased demands on services and falling grants from central government. We had to make a decision on whether we could justify investing more in this facility and taking everything into account that was not a straightforward choice. However, leisure crosscuts many of the administrations priorities; despite having difficult political choices to make in the near future we want to aim towards a bright long-term future. Let’s all hope that people throughout Moray make the best use of the changes to Moray Leisure Centre to ensure its long term viability.”
SNP Councillors Aaron McLean and Dave Bremner are both members of the cross-party Leisure Review Group on Moray Council, which recommended the recovery plan option.
Cllr Bremner said: “It is well known from local news reports that Moray Leisure Centre has been going through a difficult period and it has been a real challenge for both the Leisure Centre and the Council to find the best way forward. This is a hugely important facility that provides gym facilities, a swimming pool, ice rink and a range of exercise classes that are used by many thousands of people from across Moray and beyond. If it were to close that would be hugely damaging for Moray and would put massive pressure on other leisure facilities across Moray that are already very busy themselves. It was vital that we find a positive way forward and while there is still a lot of work to be done by the Leisure Centre to deliver their recovery plan, hopefully this decision by the Council will provide the level of certainty for the future that is needed to get the centre into the best possible health.”
Cllr Aaron McLean said: “This is a Leisure Centre that is being used by some very high performing athletes, as well as catering for the day-to-day fitness needs of people from across Moray. Many children learn to swim in the centre and the overall usage of the centre runs into tens of thousands of visits. High Life Highland have given invaluable support to the Moray Leisure Board and Management in recent months to put in place a recovery plan and I am very pleased that we have got an option agreed that will be the basis and support for a 2 year recovery period.”
“I am especially pleased that the hugely successful Fit Life scheme is to be rolled out to Moray Leisure Centre. The SNP pushed very hard to get an affordable fitness subscription scheme in place; getting Moray Leisure involved in that will be a huge benefit to the centre, a huge benefit to the Council and, most importantly, a huge benefit to the people of Moray. With continued hard work and commitment from both the Leisure Centre’s board and from the Council, the facility should be available for the Moray public for many years to come.”
More information about Moray Councils “Fit Life?” scheme can be found at www.moray.gov.uk