Funding threat to sport and the arts in North Norfolk

Increased prices and possible sports centre closures could be on the cards as North Norfolk District Council tries to maintain 'quality of life' sports, leisure and arts services in the face of swingeing government cuts.

The council has drawn up five-year strategies to support sport and active leisure and arts and heritage across the district.

But it is facing a predicted �2m funding shortfall across its �15m budget in the next four years, and cabinet member for financial services Peter Moore admitted: 'We don't know where the money is going to come from yet.'

Although the council provides almost �630,000 per year for sports and leisure facilities and �265,000 to subsidise arts and heritage, the services are not statutory - and could be particularly vulnerable when local councils find out the full implications of the recent government spending cuts.

Key facilities that are either owned or managed by the council include Victory Swim and Fitness Centre at North Walsham, Stalham Sports Centre and North Walsham Sports Centre.

The issue of continuing to provide all of the services was discussed on Monday by the council's cabinet, with members agonizing over the potential impact of looming cuts.

Peter Moore, cabinet member for financial services, said: 'I support the strategies, but don't know where the money is going to come from yet.

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'These are the things we want to do. But will we be able to do them? We would love to if the money materialises. These are not statutory functions, but are tremendously important to quality of life.'

Hilary Nelson, cabinet member for leisure, cultural services and tourism, said: 'I can't overplay the importance of arts and heritage. What we have managed to do with one-and-a-half arts officers is produce an amazing programme. I think it's very important that we appreciate and support this as far as we possibly can.'

Mr Jones said he would support the services to his 'dying breath'. But he added: 'We are going to have to spend a lot of time trying to mitigate the impact of what's facing us - which is extremely serious and will impact on a huge number of lives, including our staff and our customers. We will do our best, but the tsunami that we face is going to be overwhelming.'

The strategies were passed by cabinet. The sport and active leisure strategy pointed out that the services paid for by the council's �630,000 per year were accessed by 530,000 people per year - �1.18 per head per visit.

The report said: 'Whilst this offers good value for money, a key feature of our plans in moving forward will be to seek to reduce this subsidy.

'In order to achieve this, the council needs to further increase participation at its facilities and take a more entrepreneurial approach towards fees and charges.

'Officers would initially propose a strategy that would seek to maintain the level of facilities we now have but only if the revenue costs can be brought down sufficiently.'

At the three sports centres, at Stalham, North Walsham and Cromer, it suggested reducing the total annual subsidy of more than �210,000 while at the same time increasing attendance and boosting income through better promotion and marketing, improved school holiday sports, higher sports centre fees and charges, plus staff restructuring.

The council also owns three leisure centres, which are managed by DC Leisure on a 10-year contract that ends on March 31 2014. They are:

Fakenham Sports and Fitness Centre - costing the council �74,838 per year

Victory Swim and Fitness Centre, North Walsham - �89,007

Splash Leisure and Fitness Centre, Sheringham - �198,507.

The three are not under threat, but the council said it was carrying out condition surveys and looking at ways to reduce costs and maximise income.

The council also owns, but leases out:

Cromer Lawn Tennis and Squash Club

Wells Tennis Ground

Sheringham Recreation Ground

North Walsham football ground at Greens Road

Suffield Park Bowls Club and Marrams Bowls Club, Cromer.

All the leases are 'under review' to ensure a consistent approach and provide value for money.

For arts and heritage, the council's investment includes:

�39,578 for an arts officer and assistant

�82,597 to Openwide to run the Pier Pavilion

�52,210 in grant aid to Sheringham Little Theatre

�44,500 in grant to Norfolk Museums Service for Cromer Museum.

In 2009/10 it produced 2,474 event days and 167,276 attendances.

The report said: 'While the financial support provided by NNDC towards organisations and events may only contribute a small percentage of the whole funding package it is often critical to the survival of an organisation or to an activity being delivered.'