FOUR sports and leisure centres in Sheffield are set to change hands next month as part of a strategy to increase numbers of visitors and attract investment.
Sheffield International Venues will take over the management of Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre, Heeley Pool, Stocksbridge Leisure Centre and Springs Leisure Centre in Hurlfield Road.
They are currently run by the council, which is expected to approve the terms of a transfer deal next week.
Although the switchover is partly designed to ease the financial pressures on the council, it is hoped the four centres will be able to benefit from the expertise and “entrepreneurial approach” of SIV, which already operates Ponds Forge and Hillsborough and Concord Sports Centres.
“This will lead to a more customer-focused and marketing-led approach which is likely to improve the quality of service, increase the activity programme and ultimately drive up participation levels,” says the council’s director of culture, Paul Billington, in a report to councillors.
An example is being given of Concord Sports Centre in Shiregreen, which has seen turnover more than double and participation levels increase since being taken over by SIV in 1999.
There is the prospect of “cross venue flexibility” and economies of scale, says Mr Billington, and the four centres will be integrated into the successful Fitness Unlimited programme.
In addition, it is hoped it will be easier to secure money for improvements to make them more economic because SIV is an independent operator with access to lottery funds and borrowing from the banks.
One key question will be how to find the investment to improve the sports hall and swimming pool at Graves Tennis and Leisure Centre after the collapse of proposed deals with private leisure operators.
For the cash-strapped council, there is the immediate benefit of saving £150,000 through the changeover, largely as a result of the rate relief that the buildings now attract.
Terms and conditions of the council employees switching to SIV are protected under European rules - and staff are being told their job prospects will be better under the new arrangements.
SIV chief executive Steve Brailey said: “The transfer of the four city council venues to our already strong portfolio of facilities offers SIV the chance to able to deliver more benefits to the people of Sheffield. We will be looking at gradually introducing SIV’s programmes and working with existing users to enhance their experience at these centres.
“We will also be carefully considering what capital improvements we can make to improve the venues and attract more Sheffield residents to take part in sport and exercise.”
Council cabinet member Helen Mirfin-Boukouris said the proposed restructuring made sense “and would in practical terms make things easier by having a clearer management structure across the city.
“Enjoying and participating in sport is important to so many people in Sheffield and we want that to continue and improve upon this in the years ahead. Sport has clear economic benefits for the city as we are a city of sport and we need to ensure that we plan for the future to ensure we capitalise on opportunities to invest in Sheffield.
“This would be a win-win situation for the council and local people as we would benefit from SIV’s experience and excellent track record in taking forward the sports facilities.”
Details of the proposed agreement, which was signalled as part of the council’s budget savings earlier this year, will be discussed by the council’s cabinet next Wednesday.