Radical shake-up of sporting, leisure and cultural services on the agenda

Status quo "not sustainable", council leader warns.
Peebles Swimming PoolPeebles Swimming Pool
Peebles Swimming Pool

A radical shake-up of sporting, leisure and cultural services in the Borders will be unveiled next week – as a council leader warns that the status quo is “not sustainable”.

Live Borders, the charity that operates the services on behalf of Scottish Borders Council, has come under fierce criticism in recent months due to the closure of a number of aging leisure facilities in order for urgent repairs to be carried out.

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There was also anger that fire-damaged Peebles Swimming Pool failed to reopen for more than a year.

The additional costs needed to fund the work has also put pressure on the local authority’s already challenging budget pot.

As a result of those concerns, SBC has carried out a review into the operation of Live Borders, with a whopping 26 recommendations to be presented to a meeting of the full council next week, with the stated aim to “secure the future of valued local services”.

The joint review report and proposed recommendations are built upon the feedback of more than 6,500 people, engagement with staff, trustees and councillors at Live Borders and Scottish Borders Council and an assessment of the current services and facilities.

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Whilst a number of the 26 recommendations from the consultants engaged to support the joint review are being put forward for agreement, some have been varied or expanded following “constructive discussions” between the council and Live Borders.

The specifics of the recommendations have not yet been made public but council leader Councillor Euan Jardine has admitted “nettles had to be grasped”.

He said: “The report provides the council and Live Borders with a clear direction of travel and identifies some further transformational work that is required, within the two organisations but also with our communities.

“It is clear the status quo in terms of services, facilities and funding is not sustainable. We must work together to grasp some nettles and also seize the opportunities that exist to ensure that our sport, leisure and cultural services and facilities can be improved, that we support the health and well-being of our residents and put ourselves on a sustainable footing for the next decade and beyond.

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“Following the completion of the review and the presentation of the consultants’ recommendations internally, we’ve had very positive discussions and I believe the consolidated set of recommendations being put to council for agreement will enable us to move forward together.”

The review was driven by a number of key factors, including decreasing public funding, changing needs and aspirations of communities, inflation and increasing energy costs.

Alison Moore, chair of Live Borders, said: “The joint review and the feedback from the Borders community has reiterated just how valued our services are within the local area. While we recognise that the report highlighted a number of areas for further consideration and improvement, some of these were already known to us and work is already underway to resolve them.

“For me the clearest message of all is that we must concentrate on the services we offer and ensure that the property estate from which we deliver our services is fit for the future and sustainable.

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“By doing that that we can focus on delivering excellent services, generate more income and deliver on our own objectives and those set for us by the council.

“I have no doubt that by Live Borders and the council working together and through our committed, experienced and knowledgeable staff we can ensure that the charity and our relationship with the council and Borderers can be healthier, happier and stronger.”

The council and Live Borders, in partnership, are responsible for delivering a broad range of valued culture, sport and leisure and community services across the area.

Live Borders currently operates services from a total of 30 sport and leisure facilities, including six swimming pools, and 23 cultural facilities, including libraries and museums, in addition to providing 10 community centres and 12 town halls.

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The review comes at a time of unprecedented financial pressures on all services in the region as well as across the entire leisure sector, a changing picture of service usage post pandemic, high inflation, vastly increased energy costs and the need to work towards Net Zero targets.

An ageing property estate which is becoming increasingly costly to maintain is also affecting service delivery and finances. Many of the council-owned facilities are requiring significant investment or replacement if they are to continue to operate.