West Lothian Leisure Centres count the cost of lockdowns

West Lothian Leisure’s Xcite centres re-open later this month after more than a year’s disruption, as the charity battles to stay operational.

Monday, 19th April 2021, 5:00 am
West Lothian Leisure chief executive Tim Dent

Losses are expected to top £8 million after a year plus of pandemic shutdowns.

The Scottish Government has committed to financing organisations like West Lothian Leisure (WLL) and continues to support it through funding to West Lothian Council.

At its last meeting the council’s Executive agreed to the payment of £558,0000 to WLL, this being the proportion of additional government grant funding the council has received from the Scottish Government that relates to WLL’s lost income.

The WLL Board agreed budgets for 2021/22 and 2022/23 on 27 January 2021. These show deficit positions of £2.7m in 2021/22 and £1.3m in 2022/23. In total the funding package for the next year agreed by the Executive was £2.6m.

Councillor Frank Anderson SNP depute leader called on the council to re-examine its relationship with its arms’ length operation saying that plans originally drawn up five years ago took no account of the changes brought about by the pandemic.

The lockdowns have been a hammer blow. The charity has cut staff and those in post have taken a pay cut as part of its cost saving measures. With 470 staff it is still one of the biggest employers in the county.

Earlier this year the charity decided to quit its tenancy of the Low Port Outdoor Centre at Linlithgow. Instead, offering outdoor activities at other centres across the county.

In the year before the lockdowns its facilities had almost three million visits-over 7,000 a day. The charity manages sport, leisure and culture venues and services on behalf of West Lothian Council. The trust status saves the council £1.5m a year in costs.

WLL chief executive Tim Dent said: “West Lothian Leisure is delighted that West Lothian Council has agreed a funding package, which provides for a reserve that can be drawn down if required, to help WLL recover from the pandemic.

“After an extremely challenging 12 months, this two-year agreement, along with the easing of restrictions, means that we can finally start to look forward with some optimism.

He added: “This announcement will help mitigate the uncertain economic landscape ahead and help us navigate the 18 months to two years it is likely to take to return to pre- Covid business activity levels.

“The pandemic has forced us to review all aspects of how we operate; therefore, we will continue to explore new ways of working in future. A priority will be to continue to provide core services such as our health and well-being programmes aimed at improving physical and mental health – which post-pandemic, are likely to be needed more than ever before.

“As we get ready to welcome back the one in seven in West Lothian who use our Xcite venues and services to stay active, this funding commitment gives us a sporting chance of returning the charity to a balanced financial position and refocusing on our vision of ‘a West Lothian where everyone can live a healthier, happier, longer life’.”