Councillors to discuss development of full business case for charitable trust

Councillors will next week be asked to consider whether Aberdeenshire Council should begin the development of a full business case for a charitable trust which would deliver sports and cultural services in the area.

The charitable trust would deliver the services on behalf of the council and would be responsible for the running of facilities including swimming pools, sports centres, libraries and museums.

At a meeting of Aberdeenshire Council in November 2016, councillors discussed an outline business case on different ways of delivering the services and identified the creation of a charitable trust as their preferred option.

They also agreed that a public consultation would take place in December 2016, the results of which would inform a further decision as to whether the council should begin developing a more detailed business case on the preferred option.

As part of the report being presented to councillors next week, the results of the consultation have been published for the first time.

The report also outlines the next steps in the development of a full business case, including the establishment of a shell charitable company and the ways in which the council would ensure the strong democratic accountability of the trust.

Councillors will also be asked to approve £130,000 to allow additional capacity and external expertise to be used, if required, in the development of the full business case.

The public consultation on the principle of a charitable trust delivering sports and cultural services took place between December 7 2016 and January 3 2017, at the same time and using the same channels as the council’s wider budget engagement process.

Respondents were presented with an online infographic and SurveyMonkey question which asked ‘Do you agree that the council should continue exploring whether a charitable trust could deliver sports and cultural services in Aberdeenshire?’

There were 1,073 responses to the question with 60.54% of respondents choosing ‘yes’ and 39.46% of respondents choosing ‘no’.

Comments left by respondents included themes such as general support that a charitable trust should be considered, disagreement with the potential change, concerns about upheaval for staff and suggestions to consult with other councils which have created similar arm’s-length organisations.

In addition to the online SurveyMonkey question, a series of face-to-face discussions led by council officers with community groups through Community, Learning & Development networks and Community Council Forums took place over the same period.

51 responses were gathered as a result with 58.82% of respondents answering ‘yes’ and 41.17% answering ‘no’.

Director of Education & Children’s Services, Maria Walker, said: “Sports and cultural services are highly valued by Aberdeenshire Council and the wider public. If councillors agree with the report’s recommendations to develop a full business case, officers will carry out detailed work to ensure a charitable trust delivers for the people of Aberdeenshire.

“Councillors and members of the public have made it clear that the democratic accountability of a trust is a key issue for them so we have and will continue to look to other councils which have already set up charitable trusts to deliver services so we can learn from their experiences.”

Head of Lifelong Learning & Leisure, John Harding, said: “There has been a great deal of interest from the public in how the council can continue to deliver present levels of services during challenging financial times and I would like to thank everyone who made their views known during the consultation.

“We have taken on board the comments we have received and if the council does proceed to the next stage in this process, we will continue to keep staff and residents informed as we develop the full business case.”

The full report being discussed next week by councillors can be found here.