Major shake-up planned for Waveney

Council chiefs yesterday proposed the biggest shake-up of services in Waveney's history, with plans to hand over the management of the district's sports centres, parks, beaches and flagship theatre to a newly-formed trust.

Council chiefs yesterday proposed the biggest shake-up of services in Waveney's history, with plans to hand over the management of the district's sports centres, parks, beaches and flagship theatre to a newly-formed trust.

They said adoption of the proposals would lead to a multi-million pound investment in the district's leisure services, but that failure to make the change could see the closure of some facilities within five years.

Under the plans, the Marina Theatre in Lowestoft would be expanded while a major refurbishment of the town's leisure centre and the development of a new sports complex for Beccles have already been identified.

Council chiefs insisted profits made by the new trust would be ploughed directly into leisure services, although opposition leaders have expressed their concerns about the proposals.

Conservative-run Waveney District Council has signalled its intent to adopt an enabling agenda, where outside operators are brought in to manage services, and yesterday's announcement was the first major step in that direction.

Latest figures reveal the council will have to find an additional £800,000 a year to continue running its leisure services at current levels and head of strategic commissioning David Gallagher said the new plans would deliver initial annual savings of up to £250,000.

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He added: “If we don't do this we will have to find that money and the only way of doing that would be to close things down. There's no other way of doing it. It is the biggest thing we have ever done.

“It's about taking the services forward. It will be a massive commitment from Waveney District Council to actually do this.”

Under the plans to create a new leisure trust, the council would retain ownership of facilities and insist on having up to 20pc representation on the management board. It would also ensure local people and groups had direct involvement.

The trust would be responsible for a multi-million pound budget use its expertise to access funding previously unavailable to local authorities in isolation, the council says.

Council leader Mark Bee said: “This is one of the biggest decisions we've made as a council. It is part of our enabling agenda to have outside agencies working in partnership with us to provide better services. We are not washing our hands of it.

“Local authorities shouldn't necessarily run these things and in the past we haven't necessarily run them well.”

The council has, in a series of internal briefings, assured 250 people employed in its leisure services departments that their jobs will be transferred to the new trust.

The proposals will be considered by the council's scrutiny committee before its executive makes a decision on the recommendations on January 31. Further discussions about the make-up of the trust will take place in the coming weeks and, if the plans are adopted, the new organisation should be in place by September 2008.

Sally Spore, leader of the opposition Labour group on the council, questioned the sense of managing assets such as the Marina Theatre and sports centres within the same trust.

“Is it a good idea to put heritage in with sport? I think they are two separate things,” she said

David Young, leader of the Lib Dem group, said it was important to preserve the district's facilities, but added: “It's difficult when we go down the path of getting other people to run our services. I'm a bit worried that we are forever trying to sell off the family silverware.”

The council has revealed plans to expand the Marina Theatre into a neighbouring building while the future of the outdoor swimming pool in Beccles is still under review. Public halls and yacht stations would also come under the new management structure.

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