Liberal Democrat councillors, at the full Stevenage Borough Council meeting on 14 October, abstained from supporting the Council’s plans for £1.38 million more from council taxpayers to plug a funding gap in the Council’s Leisure Services management company, Stevenage Leisure Limited (SLL).
The move by Lib Dem councillors to abstain in the decision was made after receiving detailed information at the meeting about the operation of the Council's various leisure services.
The officers’ report, discussion and voting were in Part 2 of the meeting (confidential items) and therefore details cannot be revealed.
Councillor Stephen Booth said: “The Borough Council faces the most serious funding crisis in its history. Meanwhile the Labour administration, not for the first time, has been asleep at the wheel while Stevenage Leisure Ltd chugs merrily along taking the Council's money and running services with little flair or expertise. A review of the way these facilities are managed is urgently needed.”
“For example, the boats and pedalos on Fairlands Lake seem rarely used even in summer. We hear reports that the café there is closed at exactly the times when customers want to use it. Does the Gordon Craig theatre provide shows that local council taxpayers actually want to attend or can afford? And does the Council need to own a golf course? There are alternatives which might make a better return for the Council and for council taxpayers.”
Cllr Booth’s comments follow a last-minute funding award of £480,000 from the Arts Council, which is separate from, and in addition to, the £1.38 million from Stevenage Borough Council.
He continued “Meanwhile services are curtailed and thousands of Stevenage residents are facing redundancy, unemployment or reduced hours. Many we know are struggling to pay rent and council tax.”
Lib Dem Group Leader Councillor Robin Parker CC added: “From all the information available to us, we do not think that it would be in the best interests of Stevenage council taxpayers to provide about £18 more per head of population temporarily to plug a funding gap in SLL at this time. Many local people are already struggling with the financial effects of the pandemic.”