Posted: Sat 13th Apr 2024

Flintshire Council strikes “short-term” deal with Aura for running of county’s leisure and library services

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales


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Flintshire Council has announced it has reached a “short-term agreement” with Aura regarding the management of the county’s leisure and library services.

Aura Leisure and Libraries Limited has operated most leisure centres in the county since 2017 as part of an arrangement with Flintshire Council.

The employee-owned company also manages libraries, museums, and play areas on behalf of the local authority.

However, council officials have been considering withdrawing financial support at the end of the current agreement, which concluded on March 31, 2024.

The authority is understood to be planning to bring the management of libraries, museums, and play areas back in-house, while exploring an “alternative delivery model” for leisure services.

The issue has cast doubt over the future of Aura’s services and the more than 250 jobs it provides.

In a letter, Aura stated that the reasons for the authority’s decision were “unclear” and declined the offer of a short-term extension.

Writing to Flintshire’s chief executive Neal Cockerton at the end of March, Aura chief executive Mike Welch stated: “The current uncertainty and, in particular, the short-term change in the council’s position, is causing significant stress and concern for Aura employees.

“In our letter of March 20, Aura indicated that it was minded to accept the proposed short-term funding arrangement, but this was subject to understanding the offer and receiving a number of assurances.

“The council’s response of March 22 regrettably provided limited assurance to Aura and is not something that the Aura board is in a position to accept.

“This leaves Aura in the very unpalatable situation of considering what happens if a short-term arrangement is not agreed upon and the impact on staff and service users.

“Whilst it is welcome that the council wishes to use the transition period wisely to avoid the parties being in the same position, no details are provided on how long that transition period will be, which places Aura in difficulty in making a decision.”

When the arrangement with Aura was first announced in September 2017, senior councillors said it would help to secure the future of Flintshire’s leisure centres and libraries.

It was reported it would allow the authority to make a 30 per cent reduction in the annual budget for leisure services, whilst investing in improving facilities.

In his letter, Mr Welch stated the council had offered the company £1 million to continue delivering leisure services in the short-term from April, which would last for approximately three months.

But proposals related to libraries, museums, and play areas were described as “less clear”, with Aura unwilling to use its reserves to fund services.

He stated further discussions would be required between the two parties over the transfer of buildings and other assets.

Mr Welch added: “Aura would like to record again that it has remained and remains open to exploring a longer-term arrangement for all service elements and how this might align with the council’s subsidy control and public procurement obligations.

“That is the position Aura believed both parties were in at the beginning of this month for all services, and at this stage, it still remains unclear why the council’s position has changed.

“Aura is disappointed that it has not been possible to fully engage with the council on the possible options up to now, and particularly on the reasons why a grant-based approach has been ruled out by the council.”

In a statement on Friday, Flintshire Council confirmed it had now reached a short-term agreement with Aura “regarding the running of the county’s leisure and library services.”

“The focus now will be to work together to identify a longer-term solution for services and provide some reassurance to employees, service users, and residents of Flintshire about the future of provision.”

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