Council’s response to MP Jake Berry’s comments made in Parliament

The council refutes Mr Berry’s claims about a so called gagging order and can confirm that no such order has ever been put in place to prevent members from asking or responding to questions. All matters relating to Council business are conducted in accordance with the Council constitution. 

Rossendale Leisure Trust operates leisure facilities on behalf of the Council, and as per the national picture for public sector leisure provision, has faced some extraordinary financial challenges.  These include rising energy costs of up to 300%, usage being below pre-Covid19 levels, the cost of living crisis seeing more people make choices about their discretionary spend (inc leisure), increases in the National Living Wage and associated pay differentials, wider inflationary pressures in terms of the cost of goods, services and chemicals, and an ageing public leisure estate making many facilities inefficient and costly to run.  Across the country, two thirds of the public leisure estate is ageing and past its expected lifespans or overdue refurbishment.   All these issues place financial pressure on the Trust and on the Council, but this is not dissimilar to issues being faced by most local authorities and Leisure Trusts across the country.  

That is why independent specialist advice was commissioned to support the Council in understanding the risks associated with these extraordinary financial pressures and the steps to take to mitigate them. This was reported to Council in May 2023 and was heard in private in accordance with the Council's constitution.  Following this, an action plan was agreed by Full Council in June 2023 and continues to be implemented, including for example, the action taken to transfer the ownership of Whitworth Leisure Centre to Whitworth Town Council.  There are no plans to further reduce the leisure offer in Rossendale, and extensive work has been carried out, in partnership with sport governing bodies, Sport England and other partners to identify routes for further investment in the Valleys facilities, as well as supporting grass roots sports and leisure organisations to develop their offer. 

There is no doubt that the issues widely documented on the East Lancashire Empty Homes Programme have affected the availability of resources to the Council over that last 10 years, as have the huge reductions in funding from central government. The issues relating to this programme were investigated in-depth by the Police, an investigation that commenced in 2015 and ended in 2021. This concluded that there was no fraud, no charges would be brought against anyone and that no members of any party could be held responsible.  

Mr Berry has not approached the council for information, but we would be more than happy to meet with him to discuss the allegations he made in Parliament. Following that meeting we hope that he will be able to correct the record in Parliament. 


Published: Friday, 1st March 2024