Following cuts to our budget and mounting economic pressures, the West Lothian Leisure Board of Directors has ratified a proposal to secure the future of the leisure charity and protect the health and wellbeing services we provide across the region.
The main thrust of the proposal is the full closure of four of our venues; namely Xcite Armadale, Xcite Broxburn Swimming Pool, Xcite Livingston and Howden Park Centre in Livingston.
The proposal has been submitted to West Lothian Council with a request for approval within a reasonable timeframe. The proposal has been prepared by the senior management team at West Lothian Leisure following intensive research and consideration of multiple options to address the £1.75m shortfall left following the passing of the West Lothian Council budgets in March. That budget, which was aimed at saving West Lothian Council almost £40m over five years, included a decision for WLL to become self funded over the next five years, via a phased reduction in its management fee.
This, alongside post pandemic cost pressures, the rising cost of running facilities and the cost of future maintenance or refurbishment, means that we are faced with a £2.95m budget gap. As a result, some change in the provision of leisure, health and wellbeing services in the region is unavoidable.
Ben Lamb, Chief Executive of West Lothian Leisure said, of the proposals: “The purpose of West Lothian Leisure is to provide health and wellbeing services for the region, we exist to help create a West Lothian where everyone can live a healthier, happier, longer life, so closing venues is not what we want to do. However, in the face of multiple economic pressures, closures are the only way to secure the future of the services we provide to the people of West Lothian.
“In preparing our plan, we have undertaken exhaustive research to protect much needed services, and ensure that people who use the sites earmarked for closure can still access alternative leisure facilities within a 15-minute drive. We have, and hope to create further, capacity at some of the other sites we provide services from. They can absorb new users, and in time we hope the community will become used to the changes.”
West Lothian has long been one of the best served regions in the UK in terms of leisure provision and in particular, access to swimming pools. Currently 98% of the population live within a 15-minute drive of a pool. The proposed closures will maintain the same level of access.
Ben continued: “The case is very different for Howden Park Centre, which is a fantastic community facility, but unfortunately it is underused and has been operating at a deficit for many years, despite all efforts to reduces cost. The level of investment required to transform the facility into a thriving community theatre and arts centre is unfortunately no longer in our gift.”
West Lothian Leisure currently employs over 300 permanent staff, with 78 working across the facilities earmarked for closure. While we cannot progress with or confirm any closures until the Council gives consent for the proposals, it is inevitable that our people will be worried about their employment prospects. The news was shared with staff earlier today (3 May 2023).
Our Chief Executive acknowledged the likely impact of the closures on staff. He said: “We understand that this news comes as a massive blow to the team. We are committed to finding as many redeployment opportunities as possible across our other facilities. If West Lothian Council approves the proposal, we will begin a formal process of working with our staff to assess the opportunities open to them and press on with a restructure of the organisation.”
The proposal to close four sites is backed by a complex impact assessment which gathered user data from all sites in the Trust’s portfolio. This includes an understanding of how accessible core facilities are to the West Lothian population in terms of travel modes, travel times and accessibility for those in deprived and rural communities. It also highlighted where the trust has room to grow across several venues which will remain open.
The impact of the closures will be varied across different user groups, and West Lothian Leisure will communicate directly with affected parties on specific impacts if the Council approves the plan.
For example, under the proposal:
- Individual members will be able to use other facilities within the West Lothian Leisure portfolio of gyms and pools (including the school facilities managed by West Lothian Leisure)
- Every child in the award-winning Learn2Swim programme will be provided with an alternative venue at which they can continue to enjoy learning to swim.
- Howden Park Centre will be continuing to deliver shows as normal until a decision from the Council has been reached. If approved, we will work with affected show organisers to confirm next steps, including contacting pre-paid ticket holders directly to inform them of their options.
- Swimming and sports clubs currently using the leisure venues earmarked for closure will be contacted individually with options for alternative sites at which they can continue for their activities.
- Health and Wellbeing services run by West Lothian Leisure in partnership with NHS Scotland, currently using Howden Park, will be moved to other facilities within the West Lothian Leisure estate, and all users informed directly.
Ben Lamb concludes: “None of us wants to be in this position. We run one of the best leisure networks in the country and care deeply about the future of the services we provide. However, we must take decisive action to allow us to continue to provide those services and facilities which we know are valued in the community. The work we have done, and the resulting proposals are firmly within the spirit of our overarching aim - to continue to contribute to a West Lothian where everyone can live a healthier, happier, longer life."