TALKS are due to be held today (Thursday) over the future of sport, leisure and culture in Sheffield against a background of deepening council cuts.
Council leaders are meeting the vice chancellors of both city universities and representatives of the hospitals in an attempt to produce a co-ordinated way forward that minimises the impact on the public.
Cuts of around 20% are being envisaged next year for services such as sport, leisure, libraries and culture as the council faces the prospect of a £50m reduction in Government grants.
They will bear the brunt because the authority has a statutory duty to protect fundamental services such as those affecting children and the elderly and has little room for financial manoeuvre.
Council leader Julie Dore said that the worst effects of smaller budgets had yet to be felt, saying: “It is now that serious choices have to be made. Nothing is safe.”
While no decisions have been taken yet about the details of council spending for 2012/13, any implications for sport and leisure will be monitored closely, with a potentially high embarrassment factor.
Sheffield prides itself as a City of Sport and councillors were yesterday agreeing to award the Freedom of the City, their highest honour, to Olympic champion Jessica Ennis.
Today’s talks are being held on the basis that the council’s financial plight has consequences for the whole city – and key organisations such as the universities, hospitals and the business community need to work together to fashion a response.
Both universities have their own sports facilities and the hospitals have a keen interest in initiatives that encourage people to be fit and healthy.
“This is not just about city council services, it is about the city of Sheffield,” said Coun Dore. “It’s about getting together and saying let’s look at what the city has to offer between us so we can offer the best facilities we can for the people of Sheffield.”
In addition to traditional services, the authority helps to finance events such as the Tramlines music festival and the documentary film festival, DocFest.
Crucially, it subsidises Sheffield International Venues, which runs centres including Ponds Forge, Don Valley Stadium, the English Institute of Sport, iceSheffield and Hillsborough, Concord and Stocksbridge sports centres. SIV, too, is being asked to model its provision on 20% less money.
So far there have been no closures of sports and leisure centres, museums and galleries and libraries, despite the worsening financial picture. A review of libraries is currently under way.
Now the screw is being tightened, at a time when Coun Dore said Sheffield residents were losing their jobs and facing higher bills.
But she added: “I don’t think people have really seen the effects of the spending cuts. I think they are just starting to see them.”