Kirklees Council agrees to pump millions into supporting leisure services

Council chiefs in Kirklees have agreed to pump millions of pounds into supporting the organisation that runs leisure services – including pools – across the district.

The headquarters of Kirklees Active Leisure at the John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield

It means Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL), which has suffered “irrecoverable income loss” during the Covid pandemic, will get a further injection of up to £3.5m from council reserves.

That is on top of a £4m boost last summer from earmarked Covid funding, as well as an extra £1.1m from the Government’s National Leisure Recovery Fund.

A charitable trust, KAL runs 12 leisure facilities in the borough including swimming pools, which are used by thousands of schoolchildren.

However its £16m annual turnover was hugely affected by national lockdown measures last year, leading to fears about the body’s operating position, financial sustainability and risk of insolvency.

That prompted the council to step in.

Not to have done so ran the risk of leaving KAL “vulnerable” and “with the likelihood that some sites may have had to close anyway, and possibly lead to the demise of KAL”.

Twelve months on KAL was said to be in “an extremely difficult position”. During the pandemic most of its staff were furloughed.

A report to the council’s cabinet on July 27, which approved underwriting the income loss, said the demise of KAL “would have had serious consequences both to the council, who may have had to pick up a number of liabilities, and for the public, with the loss of the major operator of leisure facilities, and the health and social consequences therein.

“In particular, KAL is the main provider of swimming pools in Kirklees, and the prolonged closure of these would have a knock-on impact on the ability for schools to meet statutory school swimming obligations, as well as meeting the swimming needs of the wider population.”

The council says it will review the KAL Partnership and Framework over the coming 12 months, which are expected to be “challenging”.

Last year the union GMB called on the council to end outsourcing and to bring leisure services back in-house.

Andrew Aldwinkle, GMB organiser, said: “The £4million bailout will not be the last and demonstrates that the current model is broken and needs fixing.

“Instead of nodding through the bailout, Kirklees Council has an opportunity to end the outsourcing experiment and take back control.”