Warning East Devon leisure centres and pools could close without government bailout cash help, MPs told

Leisure centres and swimming pools around East Devon could be forced to shut unless a bailout of up to £1.3million is found, MPs have been warned. 

Pandemic-hit LED-run facilities – like those in Exmouth, Sidmouth, Honiton, Ottery St Mary and Axminster – face a ‘bleak’ future without help from the Government.

East Devon District Council’s (EDDC) leader and chief executive have jointly penned a letter to MPs Simon Jupp, Neil Parish, and Mel Stride asking for their support.

They say that East Devon’s leisure facilities are not getting the same help from Whitehall as others in the South West because LED is a charitable trust and not eligible for the same level of funding.

LED has asked for cash help ranging between £616,000 and £1.276m with EDDC due to consider the request.

EDDC leader Councillor Paul Arnott and chief executive Mark Williams say in their letter to the trio of MPs: “Put simply the position facing LED is now acute.

“As we go into winter there is a real fear that we will be unable to afford to keep open our swimming pools and leisure centres.

“Faced as we are with an un-level playing field, the council’s ability to plug the gap for LED is limited and we are finding it increasingly hard to explain to our residents why East Devon is being left out of the support programme that the Government has set up for other parts of the South West.

“The issue is now becoming urgent and we really need your help.

“Please let us know how you can assist in what would be a real good news story in showing that the Government understands the position we face and is willing to extend the same hand of support that Exeter and Mid Devon have received.”

East Devon Sidmouth Swimming Pool. Picture: Jaggery/Geograph

Sidmouth Swimming Pool. Picture: Jaggery/Geograph

A previous letter penned in August had added: “The lifeline where leisure facilities operated by local authorities are going to be able to claim 75 per cent of lost income does not apply to authorities like East Devon which operate a model whereby its leisure services are operated through a charitable leisure trust.

“In our case this trust (LED) is estimating a loss of £1.3m in the current year as a result of Covid-19 restrictions.

“For this model of operation there is no government support available either to the council or LED.

“If the council wishes to see leisure services continue it will have to consider funding this loss, which will mean that we will have to make corresponding cuts to a wide range of frontline services that the public rely on.

“Why should a charity or the council be penalised because the Government has chosen to only support one type of leisure service provider?

“We are sure you will agree that this position is not equitable and we would ask that you use your influence to ensure that either we or LED are placed in the same position as other councils.”

The three MPs have written a joint letter to the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury, although, as of earlier this week, they had not yet received a response.

Leisure centres in Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary, Axminster, Colyton, Exmouth and Honiton have reopened, but Broadclyst’s remains closed.

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