Sports centres will close if rates clampdown on council run charities goes ahead
Third Force News, by Robert Armour
Making council run charities pay business rates will force them to cut services, says support body.
Thousands of Scots will lose access to sports and health facilities if council-run charities are hit with rates’ demands.
Dozens of these facilities will close if recommendations to clamp down on arms length external organisations of councils (Aleos) goes ahead, Sporta Scotland said.
The umbrella body which supports leisure centres, swimming pools and other facilities on behalf of local authorities, said thousands of people would be deprived of the opportunity to improve their health and well-being by taking exercise as a result of changes.
Ken Barclay’s review recommended that arms-length external organisations should no longer be eligible for charitable trust business rates relief.
Sporta has 26 sport, leisure and cultural trust members operating in 32 local authority areas with a combined budget of more than £400 million and more than 18,000 staff.
They now face an estimated annual bill of £45 million – a cost councils can’t shoulder as central government cuts hit hard.
Sporta Scotland chairman Robin Strang said: “‘Sport, leisure and culture services and facilities have been under enormous pressure over the past 20 years due to rising fuel, energy and staff costs, ageing buildings and growing demand, while budgets have been falling.
“Councils have acted to save many of these services and facilities by creating charitable trusts, not only to save money in rates relief, but also to introduce a more streamlined, efficient approach to running mostly non-profitable facilities, from leisure centres to schools, libraries to parks, but also a widening range of youth and adult learning and care services.
“If the rules change and councils become liable for six and seven-figure tax bills, the only option left to councils and trusts may be to close many libraries, museums, leisure centres, pools, parks and town and community halls.”
Strang said these trusts were at the forefront of making Scotland a healthier nation and that the Barclay recommendations would stifle the progress achieved so far.
“The health of the Scottish population is a major concern and trusts are playing an increasing role in partnership with our local authorities, the Scottish Government, NHS Scotland and a wide variety of bodies to turn around worrying trends,” he said.
“With an ageing population forecast to treble in the coming decades that remains a major challenge.
“Trusts have taken on that challenge with investment shifted from the active to the millions of people who struggle to access physical activity.”
Finance secretary Derek Mackay said: “Having now received the Barclay Review, the Scottish Government will respond swiftly to its recommendations.”