Freedom Leisure, do the figures add up?

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Rye News has been informed by Freedom Leisure employees that “only this week the water system has failed again; the quote just received for the repair was £12,000”. It appears that each time the maintenance company has been called out the cost is £300 per visit and “they have visited 3 times in the last 3 weeks. Still there is no heating working in the building and staff now fear it’s getting too expensive to reopen”.

The closure of our swimming pool has on one hand galvanised our community into trying to find a solution and get it reopened but on the other has unfortunately started to drive a wedge between some, largely it seems due to the frustration of not knowing all the facts. Virtual blows have been exchanged, largely due to the lack of information coming from Freedom Leisure.

It has taken far too long to get the facts into the public domain and there is growing resentment and concern for the future not only of the swimming pool but of the fate of the building as a whole and the freehold site itself.

In our campaign for information and answers, Rye News has secured the seemingly illusive audited accounts for Freedom Leisure for the year ended March 2022. They make interesting reading. We don’t have access to accounts relating specifically to Rye, but the company accounts give an overview.

Who are Freedom Leisure?

Freedom Leisure is a public company, trading as such but registered on the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) website as Wealden Leisure Limited, registered number IP29336R. This may explain why information has been difficult to find and it also raises the question: was Wealden Leisure Limited an offshoot of Wealden District Council and if it was, was it set up initially with public money?

The company accounts are available from the FCA site (www.fca.org.uk) and accounts for previous years can be downloaded should anyone want them. So why all the secrecy? What’s to hide, something or nothing?

The accounts run to over 50 pages and the following extracts below are merely a snapshot of what has been published, as a point of information, reproduced in good faith. To see them in context we suggest you look at the full set of accounts online.

Extracts from the audited accounts

For the last tax year, Wealden Leisure Limited had a turnover of £91,377,654 and have assets of £34,098,428. They have 3,710 employees and a subsidiary, Leisure Together Ltd. Freedom Leisure has 8 board members and, as we know, the CEO is Ivan Horsfall Turner, the chairman (whose comments are below) is Martin Burholt, the company is based in East Hoathly near Lewes.

The chairman’s opening comment, taken directly from page 5 of the audited accounts says:

“Freedom Leisure actively promotes healthy lifestyles across the communities and facilities that we serve. Our ethos is providing affordable and accessible physical, mental and social opportunities in community facilities and local areas available for everyone in the communities we serve.

Improving lives through leisure is our vision and our not-for-profit status ensures that we are committed to providing value for money and the ongoing development of our service, with all surpluses reinvested to support the objective we share with our local authority partners.”

The report talks about the effect the pandemic has had and the company’s recovery period following Covid and then states that the key areas of operational focus for 2021/2022 were:

“To remain viable and sustainable as an organisation in order that the vital community leisure services we operate were in a position to be reactivated and sustainable for the future.

“To work closely with our local authority partners to rebuild and ensure the ongoing provision of vital local community services, ensuring we firmly remain their partner of choice in providing these services.

“To continue to grow our existing business with the acquisition and mobilisation of new local authority partnerships.

“To ensure our colleagues were supported during the reactivation of our services and we remained an employer of choice in our sector and communities.

“To ensure our communities remained healthy and returned to a Covid safe environment, choosing us as their leisure provider of choice.

“To be known as the leading operator in the sector in respect of environmental management and sustainability.

The company was “forecasting to make a loss in 2022/23 but with the financial planning currently being undertaken we would expect to return to surplus in 2023/24”.

Looking at the numbers

It is interesting to note that during the accounting period FL invested £11.4m to maintain, replace and further improve the facilities, equipment and services in place for local communities. The money was also used for investment in energy efficient projects to lessen their environmental impact.

Financial Review:

Total incoming resources were £91.4 million (£53.9 million in 2020/21)

Customer receipts were £74.4 million (£11.1 million in 2020/21)

Achieved a surplus of £1.5 million (£2.4 million in 2020/21)

Utility costs as a percentage of total income were 9.6% (9.1% in 2020/21)

The total reserves at 31 March 2022 were £12.0 million (£10.5 million in 2021)

The company had three-year fixed price contracts for gas and electricity which ended this September / October and whilst the government’s energy bill relief scheme helped to mitigate these additional costs, the company still faced significant cost increases for utilities and as part of a number of measures to reduce the financial impact, full or part closure of centres became a real possibility.

Questions needing answers

There are still many unanswered questions to be addressed. Freedom Leisure seem reluctant to provide the answers, so until they do who can blame us for speculating?

We know the freehold of the land on which the swimming pool and leisure centre occupy is owned by East Sussex County Council, a strategically important site with potential for other uses (subject to obtaining the necessary planning consents). The pool was confirmed as closing with apparently no consultation with its staff, Rye Town Council or its members. Did its landlord, (RDC) know of its intentions? Did the freeholder liaise with RDC and when did they know that closure was on the cards? Has FL taken any steps to look at alternatives to reduce the operational running costs, with particular reference to utilities, renewable energy etc.? Has anyone been engaged to provide an independent report?

What are the ACTUAL annual costs for running the pool? If the pool doesn’t reopen what happens to the building? Have FL broken their contractual obligations under the terms of their tenure? Of all the swimming pools under the FL umbrella, why has Rye been singled out? Why hasn’t FL issued a detailed response to the questions and issues raised, is there another agenda? Is it hoped that the users of the pool will just accept the situation and do nothing?

Look back at this article and re-read the chairman’s comments. Why not have a look at the company accounts and then ask yourself has FL fulfilled their obligations to its community. Is the closure of our pool really justified or avoidable and do we have the right to be given a full and detailed statement as to the whys and wherefores? What is the future for our pool, our leisure centre and the land it occupies? The company strapline is “Where you matter”; if this is genuine sentiment then isn’t it time Freedom Leisure proved it?

Update from Freedom Leisure

The chief executive of Freedom Leisure gave a verbal update to Rother District Council on Monday, November 28.  Rye deputy mayor Andy Stuart was there and gave us this report.

Image Credits: Nick Forman .

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The cost of repair of the water system at Rye Leisure Centre is £12,000 – what a bargain!

    Three years ago, 2 December 2019 to be exact, Rother District Council RESOLVED: That:
    1) £350,000 be allocated from earmarked reserves to refurbish and enhance the
    interactive water feature on the Bexhill-on-Sea promenade.

    If more evidence that the gulf between RDC spending in Bexhill and the outlying towns and villages of the District were required, this must be it.

    It has long been apparent that RDC are very generous when spending money on Bexhill, the Western Parade, Egerton Park, Sidley Business Centre, proposed improvements to the town centre and the Eastern Parade being only some of them, not to mention in excess of £500,000 annually donated to the De La Warr Pavilion, whereas community facilities such as Rye Leisure Centre, particularly the pool, are threatened with closure.
    Council Tax is paid to Rother DC by us all, and we should all benefit equally.

  2. It is good too see some true facts of the matter from Rod Came ,on the huge expense spent in Bexhill, by Rother District Council, compared to Rye and the outlying district.I ask when are our two district councillors going to stand up for our town, I’m sorry to repeat myself, but their silence has been deafening on so many fronts, from these two councillors.

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