For around two years now the council in Redditch has been embarked on a journey to change how it delivers leisure and cultural services across the Borough of Redditch. As the December 1st transfer date approaches there has been fresh speculation online especially on Facebook where I’ve seen a range of misinformed comments that really distort what is actually happening and why.
At the end of September I wrote a post giving 5 good reasons to support the move and there has been extensive coverage in the local press about the transfer of services, but I appreciate not everybody reads the papers so it’s important to get the information out across as many channels as possible.
Rubicon Leisure & what it means
Rubicon Leisure Limited is a brand new company from the borough council that will take over the running of the Redditch Palace Theatre, the Abbey Stadium, Pitcheroak Golf Course, Forge Mill Needle Museum and Bordesley Abbey, as well as the town’s community centres, from December 1. The running, not the ownership.
What to expect if you use the services
There won’t be a huge amount of visible change to start with. The same fun things to see and do will continue to be available from the same venues and run in the most part by the same people, with some changes to personnel. It will mostly be ‘business as usual’. This is essentially a change to the back office model of running the services.
In a nutshell whatever you currently do across any of Redditch’s leisure and cultural services, whether run by the borough council itself or by Rubicon Leisure, this change won’t affect it. All the services the council is continuing to provide directly, including parks, play areas, allotments, events, and sports development services, will work closely with Rubicon Leisure. This is a council-owned company after all.
The look and feel of services run by Rubicon Leisure will evolve over time, as the new company decides how it wants to look after it takes over the running of them. And of course the whole point of starting Rubicon Leisure is to enable those services, run out of the council’s facilities like the Abbey Stadium, to grow and improve. The new company’s strapline is ‘unlocking leisure’.
It’s expected to be a ‘soft launch’ for Rubicon Leisure in December, simply due to the nature of the change. Then after a short period, the new company will then have fully established itself with a new brand, website and social media presence, and will be geared up to launch a new era of leisure services across Redditch. Setting up a new company takes time, effort and energy.
Why a new company?
Rubicon Leisure is what’s known as a Local Authority Trading Company, or LATC for short. It’s a special kind of limited company that’s owned by the council and has its business plan set by the council, but that can act like a private company in certain ways. For local government wonks its a Teckal-compliant company.
It was created after a more than year-long process that saw the council consider options for alternative, more sustainable delivery methods for its leisure services. The goal is to ensure them a bright future against a backdrop of Town Hall budget pressures. This is about preserving a non-statutory service in austere times.
As part of that, a local survey had shown public opinion to be against ‘privatisation’ and for retaining public ownership of the town’s assets and service delivery – which is what the council ultimately settled on. As such Rubicon Leisure is a specialist, dedicated leisure company that will continue to provide local residents, via elected councillors, a say in how local leisure services are run. More people completed this survey than any other the council has ever run.
Rubicon Leisure’s current business plan, including service levels and specifications, investment proposals, how its management and governance will actually work, and so on, were approved by the council and you can see those details in the public reports published as part of the council’s decision making process. Or you can click the links in this post.
Rubicon Leisure will deliver services in line with the council’s strategic purposes, underpinned by a set of service specifications designed by the council. This includes guarantees to help protect user agreements over matters such as opening hours, site availability, and price structures. It is required to conduct most of its business on behalf of the council, and it has some room to provide extra services. Its business plan each year will be approved by the council.
Its governance will be via a board of directors including four non-executive directors that will now be recruited from the community, and a board of councillors appointed by the borough council as a ‘member panel’ or ‘shareholder panel’ to influence its strategic direction. Even though there’s no shares in the company it will still have a shareholders’ panel.
Any financial surpluses it generates may only be used to either invest in leisure services, or to reduce the overall cost of the services to the council, or a combination of both.
Quick Questions and Answers
- Do I continue to contact the same people where an activity is due to take place after December 1?
- Are tickets already bought for activities after December 1 still valid?
- Yes. Any tickets bought for any activity at any of the venues will still be valid after December 1.
- Will there be disabled gym memberships?
- Yes. Rubicon Leisure will continue to operate the council’s Leisure Concessionary Policy after December 1, in the same way as the council: so to qualify for free disabled gym membership the applicant will be required to purchase an Active Redditch Card and be in receipt of the qualifying benefits.
- Will children’s swimming still be free?
- Yes. Rubicon Leisure will continue to operate the council’s Leisure Concessionary Policy after December 1, in the same way as the council: so in order to qualify for free swimming for 5 to 16 year olds the applicant will be required to prove they live in Redditch and are aged between 5 to 16 years.
- Will there be over 60s discounts?
- Yes. The same pricing scheme will apply after December 1: so residents over 60 in receipt of Pension Credit can receive a discount off some activities provided.
- Who are the shareholders?
- The council. The shareholder board is made up of five elected council members and makes the key decisions on the running of the company as advised by a board of non-executive directors.
- Are there any plans to start charging for parking?
- No. Any such decisions in the future would have to be endorsed through the shareholder board. Recent investment into the Abbey Stadium car parks was made to improve parking for users.
- Will it soon be sold to the private sector?
- The council chose not to outsource its facilities to the private sector, choosing instead to set up Rubicon Leisure as a council-owned company. The council has stated it is keen to protect its leisure assets, and support Rubicon Leisure to help achieve a range of social objectives that benefit Redditch residents. This model is intended to help the council, through Rubicon Leisure, provide these services for years to come.
- What is happening to the land, buildings and other assets?
- They council has retained ownership of all the assets. They will not belong to Rubicon Leisure.
- Are there plans to raise prices?
- Prices have always been reviewed annually. Rubicon Leisure will not be able to raise prices by more than 5% without the approval of the council.
- Are there plans to change opening hours or bookings?
- No changes to opening hours are planned. A selection of key bookings (e.g. school swimming) are guaranteed in Rubicon Leisure’s service specification, with all other bookings continuing to be subject to standard hire agreements. The idea is to increase the number of people and groups using the facilities.