Wednesday, 25 February 2015

The future of the Three Cooks and Unity Sports Association

Last night there was a question at full Council on the future of the Three Cooks and Unity Sports Association in East Reading. Both of these organisations have been trying to do a good job and have laudable aims. Both of these organisations fear that they will have to leave Cintra Park Sports Pavilion. Answer below.

REPLY (Leader of the Council):

Firstly, the decision as to whether or not to renew a lease to Unity has not formally been taken. However, officers informed Unity of the Council’s intentions in the Autumn of last year. The Council’s intention not to renew the lease, as explained to Unity, was based on a number of concerns relating to health and safety, financial management and Unity’s growing debt to the Council. Further to this, the Council’s Head of Economic & Cultural Development wrote to the Chair of Unity on the 12th of December 2014 setting out the Council’s concerns, the rationale for recommending that Unity’s lease not be renewed and requesting any further representations. The Council received a response to this consultation on the 10th February 2015 that needs further consideration and I anticipate a decision on the matter to be taken at a future public committee meeting in due course.

However, to set the record straight I would like to state that over the last two to three years, the amount of money that Unity owes the Council for use of facilities such as sports pitches and the pavilion has continued to grow (and is now in excess of £12,000). The Council has made several arrangements for Unity to both reduce their costs and enable them to raise income from managing the facilities at Cintra Park. For example, the Council has given control over sports pitches to Unity at a significantly lower cost than a hire fee and given them the ability to rent to third parties to generate income; Unity have only been charged a peppercorn fee for the lease of the building; and the Council have been undertaking planned preventative maintenance within the pavilion at no charge.

Despite these numerous attempts by the Council to guide and support Unity to provide a safe and financially sustainable service, the level of debt has continued to rise and promises of payment remain unfulfilled. At a time of significant financial constraint it is not an appropriate use of council taxpayers’ money to continue to allow this debt to grow even further and it is not fair on other groups who do pay what is owed.

This is why we have been looking for an alternative arrangement but this does not mean that Unity cannot continue to operate from the building. We have explicitly said to Unity that we would wish them to continue with their community sports activities under a sub-letting arrangement, but an organisation with appropriate capacity and management skills need to oversee the operation of the facilities in a more efficient, safe and cost-effective way. This would also greatly reduce the financial burden and management responsibility on Unity so that they can focus on community use of the sports facilities.

With regard to The Three Cooks’ use of the building, that commenced in May of last year, this was an arrangement entered into directly with Unity, initially without the Council’s knowledge, and certainly without the Council’s permission as the landlord as required under the terms of Unity’s lease. Whilst we acknowledge that the work of The Three Cooks in providing meals for the elderly is valued they have no formal basis for operating from the Pavilion and I have asked officers to work with them to find alternative accommodation.

So in summary we believe that Unity can continue to provide a range of sports and social activity at Cintra Park and we are working hard to find alternative accommodation for The Three Cooks.

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