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£36m privatisation of Birmingham swimming pools ‘wont cost us a penny’, vows city council leader

£36m privatisation of Birmingham swimming pools ‘wont cost us a penny’, vows city council leader

🕔17.Mar 2014

Subsidies paid from the public purse to keep  Birmingham swimming pools and sports centres going were so large that the city council will be able to hand over six new leisure complexes to the private sector and still make money on the deal.

Announcing what he said was a ground-breaking initiative council leader Sir Albert Bore revealed plans for a £6 million pool at Sparkhill, to replace the Edwardian Moseley Road Baths.

Sir Albert said the venture “will not cost taxpayers a penny” and the council will receive an annual management fee and profit-related income from the companies chosen to build and run the centres.

The explanation for seemingly impossible good fortune is that the council will save itself a £3 million a year deficit in the current cost of running the facilities. The new sports centres and pools will be modern and far cheaper to run, and the private operators will meet the cost of borrowing £30 million to build the new venues.

There will be an incentive for the private operators to cut costs even further. They will be able to keep half of any income over and above that estimated in business plans.

Sir Albert said: “There is a profit-share element. We are now getting money back.”

He added that any additional money received from the pools would be used by the council to improve leisure services.

Critics have warned the privatisation of pools could result in job losses and higher charges for swimming. But the council insists that it will have to approve any price increase.

Sir Albert said: “I see this as something quite remarkable. No other local authority in the country is doing something like this particularly in a period when we have cuts all around us.

“At the moment subsidies for sports and leisure facilities are huge. The new centres will be run without subsidies and we can meet the running costs.

“This shows how we are being innovative and that even in a period when we have to make drastic cuts we can still come forward with improvements to services.

“There will be a guaranteed management fee that will come to us plus a share of any improvement from the annual operating results submitted in the company’s bid, payable to the city council over the 15-year period of the contract.”

The Sparkhill pool will be built around an Olympic tank from the London Games which has been bought by the council for £200,000.

The new pool will be built at the same site as the former Sparkhill pool which has been closed since 2009 A new centre will include a 25metre six lane swimming pool, a learner pool, an 80 station fitness suite, dance studio, community room and sauna and steam facilities.

Further contracts to build new pools and leisure centres will follow later in the year for sites at Icknield Port Loop, Erdinbgton, Stetchford, Shard End and Northfield. The total cost of building the six new centres is estimated at £36 million – to be covered by a £30 million loan and £6 million from Sport England.

Nine existing swimming pools and leisure centres, described by Sir Albert as “old and tired buildings”, will close. They are Newtown Pool and Fitness Centre, Colmers Community Leisure Centre, Court Road Leisure Centre, Erdington Leisure Centre, Moseley Road Baths, Northfield Pool and Fitness Centre, Shard End Community Centre, Stechford Cascades and Tiverton Pool and Fitness Centre.

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