Investigation: FOI reveals council chiefs' concern about the management of Sheffield's major leisure facilities

Senior officers at Sheffield Council raised concerns about the Trust which runs the city's major leisure facilities.

Wednesday, 21st July 2021, 10:15 am

Sheffield City Trust was bailed out by the council in October 2019 with an emergency £1m, an annual subsidy of £2.8m and another £3m towards health and safety costs and maintenance at facilities.

A Freedom of Information request by the Local Democracy Service found emails from officers in June 2020.

Former executive director Laraine Manley said: "At the Board (redacted) articulated that the Trust's first priority was financial survival, not community provision."

Charlie Adan.

Executive director Eugene Walker said in another email: "Approach is to protect services, assets, staff and council reputation. Working to avoid insolvent wind up but all options have to be kept open.

"I'll set up a meeting to check in post trustee and cabinet meetings and set ground rules for next month.

"We need to agree a clear timetable and steps for iterative work with Trust - not they go away for three weeks and present finished BC [business case] for us to fund."

Former council chief executive Charlie Adan highlighted "the political sensitivities and the complexity of finding a way through".

A lengthy email from her says: "There is clearly a historic relationship which blurs the accountability for decision making. To be clear, SCT/SIV are responsible for managing the facilities and making operational decisions.

"However, due to their financial position, they are dependent on funding from Sheffield Council to enable them to continue to trade and they need funding/cash flow support from us in the short term."

Ms Adan said the council needed to "sort out the short term operational and funding options" and SCT/SIV needed to share details.

"We need to understand what facilities they are proposing to open and why, and when. We need to understand the detailed cash flow analysis and management accounts they have produced to support their re-opening strategy and plans.

"We need to ask them for options/consequences/risks/impacts including whether there are any facilities that they think should be closed, sold, mothballed, opened partially and in whole - with the financial and HR implications for each.

"This information will enable the council to decide short term funding support. The council cannot commit to long term funding but create time and space for the longer term decisions to be taken and to protect services, assets and jobs in the short term."

Ms Adam suggested "close monitoring of costs/income on a weekly or fortnightly basis" so the council could checkl how the funding was being used and the outcomes.

She also notes there is no clear distinction between executive and non-executive board members or between the companies SCT and SIV.

"If there is a common purpose then we can work collaboratively with SCT/SIV to find a way through. If not, then we are in negotiation territory and we may need a different approach.

"It is important we are all clear because we now need to progress what is a complex multifaceted process and at some speed."