‘The toughest challenge we’ve ever faced’ – council

Salt Ayre Sports Centre. Lancaster.
Salt Ayre Sports Centre. Lancaster.
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Salt Ayre Sports Centre is top of a service cuts hit-list as Lancaster City Council faces up to a grim financial future.

The Platform, the Storey Centre, the Assembly Rooms indoor market in Lancaster, community swimming pools at Heysham, Carnforth and Hornby, the annual fireworks display and Morecambe Sandcastle Festival, the district’s Visitor Information Centres and Williamson Park’s café and butterfly house are also in the firing line for cuts.

Some of the council’s 800 staff could also find themselves out of work.

Council leader Eileen Blamire described the need to save £3.5m over two years as “the toughest challenge we’ve ever faced”.

The council cabinet will hold talks at a meeting on November 5.

They will be asked to approve proposals by council officers to hold ‘service reviews’ but no firm decisions will be made until early 2014.

Options to keep Salt Ayre open include partnering with a private operator or creating a leisure trust or social enterprise, but the council is not ruling out closing the centre altogether.

The sports centre on Doris Henderson Way will cost an estimated £971,200 to run in 2013/14.

A review of staff and working hours at the centre has been going on for months.

Coun Eileen Blamire, leader of Lancaster City Council, said: “Without a doubt this is the toughest challenge we have ever faced and we have to look at every area of our budget.

“I have to stress that at this stage no firm decisions have been taken – we are simply asking for more work to be done and a series of options developed for us to look at further. But I also have to be clear that the options will need to be radical and lead to large-scale savings.

“We have to take decisive action if we are to set a balanced budget.”

The council has to find £3.5m savings over the next two years after the Government cut its funding by 15.3%, on top of a 27% cut since 2010.

Projected figures show the council’s goverment funding could drop from 13.3m in 2013/14 to £11.7m in 2014/15 then £9.9m in 2015/16.

In order to balance the books, the council will have to save £1.2m in 2014/15 and £2.3m in 2015/16.

A council spokesman said last month that £1m of this could be saved by “restructuring, streamlining and ‘cutting corners’” while the other £2.5m could “only be made through withdrawing or significantly reducing services”.