The meeting at the school was very informative, as it is the first time we have heard from the officers of NWDC, as opposed to the councillors. Delwyn Burbidge, the Chief Executive, was not in post when the NWLL trust was set up. Indeed, he said he looked at the Trust model for his previous authority, and rejected it. He admitted that the original agreement between NWDC and NWLL might have had flaws (I think we’d agree) and that NWDC, as the client, had (perhaps) not exercised sufficient control over the way NWLL, as their contractor, managed the leisure centres.
Not very difficult for Delwyn to admit that, since he wasn’t involved; incidentally, he didn’t say anything actionable – well he wouldn’t, he’s a lawyer. What he did was to go over again the reasons for the quite sudden announcement. Interestingly, he said that, at one point, the most likely solution to the problems seemed to be running down the three centres that are closing, but building a new one on the east side. That plan had to be shelved when it became apparent that NWLL were in considerably more trouble than was first thought.
We can pick though the bones of these meetings to find ammunition to throw at NWDC later, for their apparent lack of control over NWLL, for the mismanagement they seem to have allowed, and many other misdemeanours. Much as it needs to be done, that won’t keep our centre open. The stark fact that emerged from this meeting is that NWDC can’t and won’t keep these centres open after March 31st. They say, and Delwyn Burbidge, repeated, that they are very keen to help us find ways of keeping the centres open. We’ll see.
The ninety day ‘reprieve’ was nothing to do with the public outcry, but everything to do with the fact that NWLL as an organisation have over a hundred employees, which obliges them to have a ninety-day ‘consultation period’ with their staff. If they had less than a hundred people, it would have been thirty days.
The school are very keen to keep the centre open, for obvious reasons. So are the Town Council. The County Council would also like to see it stay open, as they have a responsibility to provide swimming facilities for primary schools. However, Wootton Basset School’s budget is ring-fenced for educational purposes, the County Council can’t put money in either, and the Town Council, who might, are reluctant to do so, since they would have to raise their rates to make that money, and they would regard that as ‘double-taxation’ for the people of Wootton Bassett.
Representatives from WB School are meeting with people from the Ridgeway School, who successfully run their sports centre. That model is not a panacea though – we don’t know if the Ridgeway had the same problems of operating loss and capital expenditure requirements that the Lime Kiln has.