Kirklees Council’s relationship with Kirklees Active Leisure (KAL) came under scrutiny at a meeting of the council’s Cabinet.
As campaigners fight to keep open leisure facilities in Slaithwaite, Deighton and Batley, claims have emerged that the council had been consulted weeks before a decision was taken – and had effectively ‘vetoed’ KAL’s plans to close another facility, believed to be the swimming pool at Dewsbury Sports Centre.
The claims were made at the Cabinet meeting by Mirfield Tory councillor Martyn Bolt who quoted information from a source and challenged council leader Shabir Pandor to respond.
KAL is a charitable trust which runs 12 sports and leisure centres on behalf of Kirklees Council.
On December 5 KAL announced that it needed to close Deighton Sports Arena and Batley Baths & Recreation Centre along with the swimming pool at Colne Valley Leisure Centre in Slaithwaite from December 16 until the end of March to save money.
KAL was facing a cash crisis due to spiralling energy costs and rising inflation and desperately needed to stem losses at the end of the financial year.
At a full council meeting, senior councillors said the council only knew about the proposed closures a week before they were made public but Clr Bolt said he had information to the contrary.
KAL said this week that Slaithwaite pool would re-open in April but the future of Deighton and Batley is still in doubt with public consultation underway.
Speaking at the Cabinet meeting, Clr Bolt said: “At the last council meeting one of the questions asked was: ‘When did the council know of the proposed closures?’ The answer was: ‘A week before the closures were made.’
“I have been told, and I hope that Cabinet can shed some light on it, that the actual timeline was far greater than that.
“On 9th November last year KAL board, I am told, had an away day where the decision was taken to close a number of KAL sites until the end of March.
“It was then said that on 10th November Kirklees Council were informed of the trustees’ temporary closure proposals, bearing in mind the decision to close the sites was the 5th of December and that’s far more than a week.
“After further consideration a revised proposal for sites was sent to the board, and Kirklees was informed of the revised proposals on 21st November, still way in advance of the week timescale we were told at full council.
“On 29th November KAL trustees were informed that Dewsbury Sports Centre was removed from a list of temporary closures after discussion with the council.
“That was roughly a week before the decision was made so we had nearly a month when the council had been consulted, was aware and in dialogue about the closures and within that week, at the eleventh hour, Dewsbury Sports Centre was removed from the temporary list and then we see the likes of Batley, Colne Valley and others sacrificed.
“So when the council, in discussion with KAL, took a decision not to close Dewsbury, who suggested Batley or Colne Valley as the ones to be sacrificed?”
Campaigners from Slaithwaite and Deighton took their fight to a meeting of Kirklees Council in January. Pic (left) by: Gordon Parks
Clr Pandor did not confirm nor deny Clr Bolt’s claims and told him: “I don’t want to give you the wrong information so I will get you a full briefing on exactly what happened.
“As far as I am concerned this is a decision of the KAL board and we are now in the middle of consultation. I will get you a full detailed timeline.”
Clr Bolt replied: “It was a decision legally taken by the KAL board…but when I am told the trustees were ‘informed’, that’s not the language that suggests it’s a decision the trustees are making.
“If KAL trustees are ‘informed’ that Dewsbury Sports Centre is to be removed from the list that seems like influence or decision by the council.
“Yes, they (KAL) manage the estate but clearly there’s a lot of influence from the council on how its estate is being managed.
“The crucial question is from 10th November, the day after the away day, were Cabinet and the council informed of the trustees’ proposals?”
Clr Pandor replied: “This is a decision that is made by the KAL board. There’s a lot of dates you have bandied around so I will get you a full briefing.”
Tory leader Clr David Hall (Liversedge & Gomersal) questioned whether it was KAL or the council making the decisions.
“It’s not a question about the decision, it’s about the manner in which the decision was taken,” he said.
“At some point KAL had a discussion with the council and, after the discussion with the council, it was decided Dewsbury pool wouldn’t close and other pools would close.”
At the full council meeting in January Clr Bolt said the public deserved to hear from the council’s representatives on the KAL board, councillors Mohan Sokhal (Lab, Greenhead) and Mark Thompson (Con, Birstall).
However, Clr Sokhal said they were “not allowed” to share discussions from the KAL board because of “charity law” and questions should be directed at KAL.
At Cabinet, Clr Bolt said: “Questions were asked to Clr Sokhal as the appointed representative of KAL.
“He is appointed by Kirklees Council not KAL as spokesperson, let’s be clear on that. Clr Sokhal’s advice from KAL was that he could not comment on any matter referring to KAL as a board member of a charity.
“So the question is: ‘What’s the point of having a spokesperson appointed by Kirklees Council who can’t speak on the subject to which he is appointed?’”
Clr Pandor replied: “Excellent question, Martyn, and that’s something we will be looking at moving forward.
“KAL has a clear remit in terms of managing and making decisions and providing a service to residents of Kirklees and people outside if they want to use our centres.
“But if the legal reasons are such that he can’t really say anything then the whole governance needs to be looked at.
“We need to look at that relationship and look at what options are available. It’s something we are taking very seriously.”
Clr Bolt added: “It’s about transparency. If questions can only be asked about things at council and Cabinet and the answer from council and Cabinet is ‘speak to KAL’ and there isn’t the opportunity to ask KAL, then someone from KAL has to come to meetings.
“The idea of not being open to questions is not something that sits well in a transparent and democratic society, is it?”
Over the last four years Kirklees Council has pumped an extra £11 million into KAL, much of it to help with the impact of the pandemic. This week the council announced a further £6 million would come in the next financial year from April, subject to approval of the new budget.