Falmouth: Council's Cabinet will have to review decision to close leisure centre

By Joseph Macey

30th Mar 2022 | Local News

The Cabinet has been told to revisit the decision to close Ships and Castles as it had "inadequate information".
The Cabinet has been told to revisit the decision to close Ships and Castles as it had "inadequate information".

A decision to close a leisure centre will have to be reconsidered by Cornwall Council's Cabinet – the day before it's set to close its doors for good.

An overview and scrutiny committee met in County Hall this morning and agreed that the Cabinet should revisit the decision to close Ships and Castles as it had "inadequate information".

Earlier this month the Conservative Cabinet agreed that it would abandon a procurement process that had seen alternative operators submit bids to take on the Falmouth leisure centre. The Cabinet agreed to stop the process as the bids were not considered to be economically viable and, as a result, the centre is set to close on Thursday (March 31st).

Service director Sophie Hosking told the committee that no matter what the outcome of today's meeting Ships and Castles would still close this week.

However, Falmouth councillors Jayne Kirkham and Laurie Magowan challenged the decision and asked for it to be "called in" on the basis that the Cabinet did not have enough information to make that decision. The call-in was accepted and was subject to an extraordinary customer and support services overview and scrutiny committee this morning.

Cllr Kirkham said that she was concerned that Cabinet members had not been provided with all the financial information included in the two bids which had been submitted to takeover Ships and Castles. And she was concerned that Cabinet members also did not have full details of the costs of closing the centre and how they compared to any transition costs to keep it open.

The Labour councillor was also concerned that the Cabinet had not been given the opportunity to consider whether the two bidders could have worked together to keep the centre open or to find alternative funding. And she said there had been no consideration about what impact closure might have on young, old and disabled people in the Falmouth area who use the centre.

However, Cabinet member Richard Pears, who is responsible for leisure, said that even with the new information provided he considered that he and his colleagues had made the right decision. In his comments, he implied that they would make the same decision even if the scrutiny committee decided to refer the matter back.

He said: "As I have said before nobody wants to be faced with the decision of closing a leisure centre, it is certainly not why I came here." He accepted that it was right for councillors to be allowed to call in the decision and look at it again.

But he added: "At our Cabinet meeting in March we took our decision in good faith and based on the advice that we were given by our officers, we had no reason to doubt that advice. The additional figures show that advice was correct.

"As I said we could not have come to any other decision. It is easy for us to say that there should have been more figures available to us for review. We did request more information but we were advised that this was against the process."

Cllr Pears said that such a decision on a procurement process "would not normally have come before members" but said that because the Cabinet wanted to be open and transparent they had decided to make a decision on it.

But he said that: "I am sure you will agree that the Cabinet decision should stand. We all made our decision reluctantly, it was a difficult decision, but it was and it remains, the correct decision."

And he said that while the committee might refer it back to Cabinet "it would be very difficult for me, on the evidence in front of us, to make a different recommendation to my colleagues".

Stephen Barnes (Lab) said: "I have been quite concerned by some of the things I have heard today, I don't like to say this but Cllr Pears seems to have a closed mind on this. I am concerned that if we send this back to Cabinet he will say no, he has more or less said so."

Committee member Dick Cole, who was unable to vote as he was attending the meeting remotely, said he was very concerned by Cllr Pears' comments about it not normally going to Cabinet for decision, saying it "implied that we as members are lucky to be involved at all in this".

He said he had already highlighted the lack of information regarding the leisure centres at a previous scrutiny committee meeting and said that Cabinet members should have been raising those same questions and concerns.

Committee member Martin Worth (Con) said that he considered that "something has gone wrong" for the call-in of the decision to be allowed. He urged that the Cabinet should reconsider the decision and look at whether it could find a solution similar to that made for Saltash Leisure Centre which had also been under threat of closure.

Kevin Towill (Con) proposed that the committee should refer the matter back to the Cabinet to reconsider and for the Cabinet to consider all the points which had been highlighted at the scrutiny committee meeting. This was seconded by fellow Conservative councillor Karen Glasson.

Cllr Barnes made an amendment that the Cabinet should further discuss with Falmouth members and other bodies to secure a viable future for Ships and Castles; that the Cabinet consider the cost of closure and security and the impact on the young, elderly and disabled; and consider the economic and social benefit of a partnership working of the two bidders and alternative funding streams.

That amendment was accepted by Cllr Towill as part of his proposal. Cllr Barnes also asked for a recorded vote, which was agreed, but in the event the committee voted unanimously in favour of the proposal.

An extraordinary meeting of the Cabinet will now take place on Wednesday at 3pm to consider the issue.

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