The decision to close Rye Pool came as a shock to all of us. Everyone is very hopeful that this will be a temporary closure, as we know what an important resource this is for many people, especially those with mental health issues, but we are hostages to events in Ukraine and the resulting energy crisis.
The swimming pool and other Rother leisure facilities are managed by Freedom Leisure with financial support from the Rother District Council. Freedom’s pool management costs have increased significantly, especially heating and staffing costs.
Normally one would expect Rother to increase his grant to cover the extra expenses, but unfortunately we are also facing the same acute financial crisis.
Our costs rise sharply as contracts expire. We had budgeted for only a 1% increase in staff salaries, which at the time seemed reasonable. What should we do now? Council tax can only be set once a year and increases are capped by the government at 2%.
Many other charges are fixed by law, leaving little room for manoeuvre. Rother’s share of your council tax is £193.38 for a Band D property, with the remainder being county, police, city council and parish councils.
The current administration of the alliance took control in 2019. At that time, council tax had not been increased for five years and the gap between income and expenditure was covered by reserves. The depletion of reserves could not continue indefinitely and we have put in place a credible medium-term financial strategy to balance income and expenditure. With the current energy and inflationary crisis, this plan is in danger. Leisure spending cannot be increased without undermining basic services. Increased subsidies for leisure facilities can only happen with additional support from central government.
All of us, from the new Chancellor of the Exchequer to ourselves, must act realistically. Local authorities across the country are having to make equally painful decisions to deal with the country’s dire financial situation.