Issue - decisions
Review of Leisure, Libraries and Cultural Services Update - Golf
Councillor Phillip Brightmore, Cabinet Member - Leisure and Recreation, said:
“Wirral is famous for its golf courses. Host of the Open Championship as recently as 2014, our borough gives residents and visitors unrivalled choice and quality for the sport.
We know our residents are proud of that, and we know they recognise the health and wellbeing benefits of this unique sport. That’s why we have maintained such a wide variety of golf options for so long, and why we do all we can to encourage people to be more active.
We believe we can do a better job. We believe running golf courses is not necessarily a job the council is right for, and we know there are specialist golf companies throughout the country who could provide a better service for our residents. Should this proposal be accepted by the Cabinet, then that is what we will look for.
We will not sell the courses. We will keep them in public ownership. Instead, we will look for an expert to come in and improve our golf courses. We will make them more efficient, better managed and higher quality”.
Councillor Phil Davies introduced a report by the Assistant Director – Community Services which informed that the Council provided extensive leisure, recreation, cultural, open space and library services. The cost to the Council of delivering these services was £17 million, when income from external funding was taken into account. The Council faced significant budget savings and needed to review how services could be delivered effectively whilst reducing costs, especially for discretionary services.
The Cabinet noted that over the past year the Council had undertaken a detailed review of its Leisure and Cultural Services to try and find ways of transforming them, to make them more sustainable, flexible and appropriate. The Council did not wish to be in a situation where it needed to consider closing or reducing services in order to balance its budget.
It was reported that the Council ran three 18 hole golf courses, one 9 nine hole golf course and two ‘fun courses’ (Pitch & Putt and Crazy Golf). The operational revenue cost of municipal golf in Wirral in the financial year (2018/19) was £255k (£430k if the current overspend was included). The Cabinet noted that a number of reviews of Council golf provision had been undertaken in previous years which had identified the requirement for significant capital investment in courses in order that they remained playable. The Cabinet also noted that the current service model for this service was, therefore, financially unsustainable.
The Cabinet was informed that whilst the Council was working with Celtic Manor on developing options for the Hoylake Municipal Golf Course there were also opportunities to seek alternative providers for the remainder of the Council’s golf courses. A number of options for the future delivery of the golf courses had been considered as follows:
· No change - retain golf courses ‘in house.’ Whilst the courses had been managed in house in the past few years and had recently undergone a major staffing restructure (Jan 2017), the financial pressures the Council was currently under would mean that significant cuts would have to be made to the service provision.
This was not considered an acceptable option because if the Council continued to operate golf courses it would remain responsible for any future capital expenditure required to maintain them in ‘general/average’ municipal playing conditions and to provide capital monies for future commercial developments at the sites. The Council would need to borrow a significant amount of capital in order to bring the courses up to a reasonable course standard and maintain the existing customer base. Given the increased competition from private golf courses it was by no means certain that the Council would recover the investment it made and increase income as a result of the investment.
· Course Closures - the courses could be closed and returned to parkland. While this would reduce the maintenance and operating costs of the golf courses it would close a much valued leisure opportunity to residents. The closure of courses would also lead to staff reductions, possibly through compulsory redundancy. In addition the income currently generated from the golf courses would be lost. There would be further costs for parks and countryside to maintain these courses as parkland.
Given that the Council currently maintained in excess of 240 separate areas of land across the borough and given that resources had been reduced substantially over the last few years this was not a desirable situation.
· Golf Concession Contract - the Council had previously explored contracting out its golf service to a specialist provider. Seeking a provider that would run the golf courses at a nil subsidy to the Council on the basis that the provider retained any profit it made from the courses.
This option had been explored in 2014 and most recently in January 2018 through a soft market test. Whilst there were a number of providers who expressed an interest in the running and operation of the courses most required a long lease to do so. This was far in excess of the length of contract the Council could offer under current regulations and as such, this option was not currently possible.
The report recommended the transfer of Arrowe Park and The Warren Municipal Golf Courses to an alternative specialist golf provider on a long lease, whilst the Council retained the freehold ownership. The Cabinet was told that this represented the most appropriate opportunity for savings in the long term whilst keeping the courses open for the benefit of residents and visitors to Wirral.
The Cabinet noted that there was no legal requirement for the Council to provide a golf service either directly or indirectly. At a time of reduced financial support, the Council needed to review its discretionary services and seek to reduce its expenditure on non-essential services.
Councillor Phil Davies reported that there was a need to sustain the Council’s golf courses going forward and a transfer on a long lease (with safeguards built in) of Arrowe Park and The Warren Municipal Golf Courses was the appropriate way forward and their best chance of being sustained into the future. The specialist provider who would lease the courses would be able to provide capital to upgrade them. This arrangement would generate income for the Council which it could reinvest in its front line services.
(1) the recommended option to offer the operation and management of golf courses on a long lease to a suitable alternative provider be noted;
(2) that statutory consultation, in accordance with Section 123 (2A) of the Local Government Act 1972, in relation to the Golf Courses be commenced; and
(3) the results of the statutory consultation be reported to the Cabinet for a final decision.