At the meeting of the Environment and Neighbourhood Committee of January 2015 it was agreed that the Strategic Director of Environment, Housing and Regeneration, in consultation with the Chair of the Committee, commission an external review of the Sutton Life Centre, the results of which are detailed within this report.
This report was presented to the Committee by the Executive Head of Safer and Stronger Communities and the former temporary Executive Head of Communities and Neighbourhoods. The report outlined the results of a review of the Life Centre by Red Quadrant and Sports, Leisure and Culture Consultancy, which concluded that there was no single solution or commercial proposition that could improve the financial performance and utilisation of the Life Centre. In their view, there was a number of smaller scale, achievable options which would improve the viability of the centre.
The Chair noted that an addendum to the report had been tabled which provided updated legal advice.
The Committee had an extensive debate on the issues contained within the report and on the three options presented in paragraphs 7.2 – 7.4 and discussed in depth the best way forward for the Life Centre.
Option 1 proposed closing down the Life Centre and disposing of the building, but this would entail paying back the MyPlace grant of £4.1m, with mothballing costs and constraints about future use of the site.
Option 2 proposed transferring the Life Centre to another provider, retaining the library. This option had been investigated and discussed with potential providers. But there would be capital costs of £2m to convert the building, and if the potential future use did not meet the MyPlace criteria, the grant of £4.1 m would have to be paid back. This option could be possible in future if a party came forward that met the MyPlace criteria.
Option 3 proposed continuing the Life Centre but under a revised commercial operating model, including making staff savings of £100,000 pa., increased marketing and letting the café. The Centre would be given an income target to achieve within two years, and be required to generate new income and make bids for external revenue funding. This would be within the terms of the Cabinet Office’s MyPlace funding.
The Leader of the Opposition suggested that officers and members should increase efforts to engage with the Cabinet Office, to change the terms and conditions of the My Place funding agreement, in order to develop the Life Centre into community benefit. The Executive Head of Safer and Stronger Communities described the discussions he had had with the Cabinet Office and advised the Committee on the formal process to be followed if the Council wished to propose a change of use for the Life Centre. He outlined the Cabinet Office’s desire to protect services to young people, and to support the principles underpinning the My Place agreement, but confirmed that the centre could be used to provide services for other groups, as long as they do not compromise the provision of services to young people.
It was moved by Councillor Steve Penneck, seconded by Councillor Adrian Davey and
1. That officers take forward Option 3 as set out in paragraph 7.4 of the report, to continue operations under a revised operating model, with a view to reducing cost and increasing income to work towards full cost recovery from all elements of the Life Centre, except for the library, as far as possible.
2. That officers and Members continue to lobby the Cabinet Office regarding the terms and conditions of the My Place funding agreement.
3. That options for the transfer of the asset also continue to be explored.