Council could hand Durham leisure venues to new trust

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THEATRES, leisure centres, museums and even libraries could soon be managed by a charitable trust.

Durham County Council is considering putting a number of venues, which include the Gala Theatre, in Durham City, into the hands of a non-profit-making trust next year.

The council would keep ownership of the sites, but would pass management of them to a specially-created trust with its own budget of more than £30million.

The changes could affect libraries in Seaham, Peterlee and Chester-le-Street, as well as leisure centres in those towns.

It is expected that the trust would be run by a number of trustees and a management board who would oversee its actions.

Durham County Council faces cuts of around £150million over the next five years and feel the move could save at least £1million a year in VAT and business rates.

The trust idea is not a new concept. Seaham and Peterlee leisure centres having been managed by Leisure Connection since 2003.

Coun Maria Plews, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for leisure, libraries and lifelong learning, said: “In these difficult times, the status quo is almost certainly unsustainable.

“A trust like this could prove the best way to protect and even improve these services.

“While we are currently considering the full range of sport, leisure, cultural and library services, further consideration will be given to exactly which areas will transfer prior to a final decision in the autumn.

“In-depth research will ensure we follow a tried and tested line which will deliver the best service for residents and the financial savings we have no choice but to make.”

Some councillors have however expressed concerns.

Coun Mark Wilkes, Liberal Democrat shadow portfolio holder for regeneration, asked why the council hadn’t acted sooner following the closure of two leisure centres last autumn.

The authority’s cabinet will discuss the proposals at County Hall, Durham City, on Wednesday, January 25, at 9.30am.

Decisions on the changes are expected this autumn and the new trust could take over in spring of 2013.

Twitter: @davidallison88

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