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Cash worries put museum at risk
THE future of Swindon Museum and Art Gallery could be at risk after councillors revealed plans to balance the town’s culture and leisure budgets.
Proposals to go before Swindon Council’s Cabinet next week have been announced as councillors will be asked to develop a Leisure and Culture Commissioning change programme to look at alternative ways of providing the town’s leisure and cultural services as the cuts in Government funding continue to bite.
Having recently agreed £15m of savings for next year’s budget, the council is estimating a similar budget gap for the 2014/15 financial year, while the cost of providing leisure and culture in the borough for this year is £3.6m.
It means the town’s leisure facilities, including golf courses and swimming pools, could be offered out to commercial organisations, similar to the deal with Moirai Capital Investments which secured the redevelopment of the Oasis, The proposals also include the removal of exhibits from the Bath Road museum to other venues, such as Lydiard Park, Steam or the disused former Reference Library in the old town hall or the second floor of the Central Library.
Coun Keith Williams, the cabinet member for leisure, said although £500,000 will be saved from the two budgets next year, it is unlikely the council will be able to afford to carry on operating facilities as it does now.
And it is also estimated it will cost £11.6m in capital investment to keep the ageing council facilities going .
Coun Williams said: “The cost of leisure services provided by the council is £1m less than it was five years ago and we have continually been driving out efficiency savings. However, several of our facilities do not meet their operating costs and we are facing a multi-million pound repair bill over the next few years just to keep them open.
“Something has to be done to address the challenges we face, which is why we feel we need this change programme to explore all the options.
“I hope by next year we will be in a position to hand over most leisure facilities – I think the market will appreciate what we have to offer. “We have run our leisure facilities in a highly efficient way and have not ended up in a position of having to shut them or hand them over to the community.
“If we can reduce the council’s subsidy down from the current £1.6m to £0 then leisure will be safe from further cuts in the future and we can guarantee the future of facilities.”
Coun Garry Perkins, the cabinet member for culture, said the council would look to ensure the Swindon Card scheme would remain intact and that prices would not go up for users.
He added: “We are facing unprecedented financial pressures as a council and we cannot go on as we are.”