A bid to block the closures of Birmingham’s council-owned swimming pools and leisure centre was defeated in a vote of councillors.
The Labour ruling group successfully stopped the Tory proposal which would have prevented local council committees considering shutting down some leisure facilities.
The vote came as Birmingham’s ten district committees are involved in a review of the future for leisure services on their patches.
The more successful of Birmingham’s 45 pools and sports centres could be contracted out or sold off to private or voluntary sector operators.
Some, in areas with high levels of obesity and inactivity, could be handed over to the NHS to run as well being centres to get people fit and prevent future demands on acute health services.
But it is the handful which are both costly to run, in chronic need of investment and for which the district committee lack the funding to maintain which are under most threat of being axed in the review.
The fear is that popular facilities will be snapped up by private operators, leaving the more costly ones with the council and at serious risk of closure.
Across the city the leisure centres are already expected to run at £6.9 million over budget this year as a result of rising energy costs and falling custom.
The Conservative opposition maintain that their ‘no closure’ motion was designed to protect leisure services, and that the contracting out of both Harborne Pool and the formerly loss-making municipal golf courses proved that there was a market for even the most desperate council facilities.
Tory deputy leader Robert Alden (Cons, Erdington) said that closure should not be considered.
He said: “As a council we should be against leisure centre closures. Our motion deals only with the mothballing or closure option. It allows the parties to work together to protect leisure centres.
“We don’t believe this is a question of budgets, but a question of priorities. We do not believe that leisure centres are a priority for this Labour administration.”
Liberal Democrat councillor Neil Eustace (Stechford and Yardley North) said that Stechford Cascades is a vital facility for people in his area and beyond and warned the Labour leadership “If you mess with local pools and leisure centres the voters of this city will hold you responsible.”
But Labour members described it as a ‘shameless and cynical piece of political opportunism’.
They said that it was not the place of the full council to dictate to devolved districts on their future services – while failing to admit that the viability of these services will be judged on the basis of a budget handed down from the central executive.
But Labour councillors defended their position and said that the decision will ultimately lie with the ten district committees. They said that it was not the place for the city council to tell the districts what to do.
Coun Brett O’Reilly (Lab, Northfield) said: “We could have motions to save the swimming pools, to save children’s centres, to save the libraries and motions to save every council service. But then it dawned on me, that this could be grouped into a single motion to this Tory government to tell them that the deal they handed down to Birmingham is not fair.”
The district committees will continue their consultation over the summer.