Councillors approve move towards culture and sport charitable trust

Aberdeenshire councillors have approved the creation of a charitable trust to deliver cultural and sporting services in the area.

The trust will deliver the services on behalf of Aberdeenshire Council and will be responsible for the management of facilities such as swimming pools, sports centres, libraries and museums.

The decision was made at yesterday’s (Thu, Nov 23) full meeting of Aberdeenshire Council following a detailed discussion by councillors.

In proposing acceptance of the business case Cllr Anne Stirling noted the benefits she believed a trust could bring to residents and staff, providing the best opportunities for developing culture and sport services which councillors and residents value highly. She stressed the continuing role of the Council as the strategic lead for these services and paid tribute to the quality of service provided by the Council’s staff.

Cllr Jim Ingram called for a decision to be deferred pending further information. He told the Chamber that the Barclay Review findings and implementation could materially impact upon the business case for this operating model and said it was prudent to wait until elected members had all the facts. His amendment was defeated by 57 votes to three.

Cllr Stirling said: “The report and the amendments fundamentally put staff at the heart of this decision. It is staff who deliver all of our front-line services, in sport and culture and beyond, and we need to support and listen to them during this process to make this a success. Having the flexibility to review this decision is fundamental and I am pleased that we were able to give assurances around some of the points raised in the Chamber.”

The development of the business case for a trust has been taking place since January 2017 when councillors were presented with the results of a public engagement exercise through which 60% of 1,073 respondents agreed that the council using a trust was an option worth considering in the context of pressures on public finances.

Councillors had previously discussed a variety of delivery mechanisms and in November 2016 identified the charitable trust as their preferred option.

The report to councillors outlined the steps which have been taken to complete the business case, including an application to the Office of the Scottish Charities Regulator (OSCR) for charitable status in principle amongst other tasks.

Aberdeenshire Council is one of only two local authorities in Scotland yet to deliver some services through a trust mechanism and, as part of the development of the business case, officers visited a number of similar trusts with their learning incorporated in the document.

The report also outlines the steps that will be taken for the trust to begin running cultural and sporting services from 1 April 2018.

The report highlighted the potential for a negative impact on the financial case from the Scottish Government’s response to the recently published report by the Barclay Review of Non-Domestic Rates. The Barclay report contained a recommendation to cease business rate relief to all council arm’s length organisations in Scotland. Cllr Stirling noted that she sought to provide the most certainty for staff in uncertain times, and was confident the report provided that assurance, with a recommendation that councilors could choose to review the decision once the government’s response to the Barclay report was published.

Aberdeenshire Council will remain the owner of the properties from which the trust will deliver the services and will be its sole shareholder, with culture and sport staff employed by the trust.

The council will also continue to ensure its strategic priorities are delivered through a contract with the trust and the trust’s performance will be monitored by councillors on the Communities Committee.

The trust will be governed by a board of ten directors, including three councillors and one elected by employees. Recruitment for the new board is expected to begin next week.

Staff engagement has been a fundamental part of the development of the business case and Trade Union representatives have been heavily involved during the process through representation on various working groups.

The business case proposed some additions to the facilities which will be managed by the potential trust and now includes 13 town halls. This will enable the trust to be best supported in its formative years by using the halls as potential venues for performances and cultural activities as well as allowing the council to deliver its strategic objectives and maximize the financial benefit of using a trust mechanism.