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Cash-strapped PCC to shut Key Theatre, suspend public use of Werrington leisure centre

Peterborough City Council (PCC) proposes to close the Key Theatre and temporarily suspend public access to Werrington Leisure Centre at Ken Stimpson Community School - as part of plans to manage the council’s severe financial situation. 
Key Theatre
PCC to shut Key Theatre and suspend public access to Werrington leisure centre to manage finances (Photo: John Baker)

But the council’s deputy leader Cllr Steve Allen has assured residents that every effort will be made to "get the theatre and leisure facilities back up and running as quickly as possible". 

Two national reports looking at the council’s financial situation published in November recognised the seriousness of the challenge and the need to take strong and decisive action. 

These reports recommended that the council looks at every area of service to make the savings needed. As a result, the Leader of the Council, Cllr Wayne Fitzgerald said that everything was on the table to be able to meet the challenge. 

Already, the council has approved £9.5million of savings in the next financial year with a second set of proposals due to be published in January which will look to close the £26million budget gap altogether. In addition, it has just published an Improvement Plan which sets out steps the council will take to reach a stable financial position while still delivering quality vital services for residents. 

There is also a need to deliver savings in the current financial year so that the council can reduce the gap for next year and avoid using reserves. 

As a result, it is proposed that the Key Theatre will close on Monday, January 17. People who have tickets for performances after this date will be issued a refund. 

Public access to Werrington Leisure Centre will cease from January 1. Access to outdoor sports pitches will remain. 

These decisions are expected to save the council £150,000 in the first six months of 2022 alone. 

Consultation will now begin with staff affected at the Key Theatre. If the proposal proceeds, every effort will be made to redeploy staff and reduce the number of redundancies. Staff at the leisure centre will be redeployed elsewhere. 

Councillor Allen said: “This is not the kind of announcement that I or any of my colleagues want to be making, but it is essential that we make proposals such as this if we are to get the council’s finances on a more stable footing. We have said for some time that we face some difficult decisions on our road to achieving financial sustainability, however we will continue to look for ways to reopen these facilities as soon as possible.  

“We are obtaining a commercial value for sale of the Key Theatre and are also in preliminary discussions with a number of interested parties. 

“In the current financial year, both these facilities are forecast to make a significant loss and we cannot afford to let that continue. Ticket sales at the Key Theatre are significantly below forecast overall and income this year has been hampered by the theatre having to close for periods and to operate in a Covid-safe way at other times. 

“We cannot operate services that generate a financial deficit and expect our communities to accept it. That is money we could be using to provide services for those in real need and to get us to a point where we can meet service demand with the money, we have available each year. 

“Our city has a bright future – there are so many examples of this, for example at Fletton Quays and the new university. We want to see the city continue to prosper and grow, but first we must resolve our financial situation.” 

In the current financial year the Key Theatre is forecast to make a loss in the region of £300,000. 

The leisure facilities are forecast to make a net loss for 2021/22 of £190,000, increasing to £205,000 for 2022/23. They will be closed until the start of the new school year in September 2022. 

The leisure facilities are part of the school campus; school use of the facilities will continue unaffected. 

In addition, the council has placed a stop on spending on anything other than essential statutory services with immediate effect. Again, this is to reduce the budget deficit for 2022/23 and to retain as much of the council’s reserves as possible. 

A Cabinet Member Decision Notice has been published detailing the planned temporary closures. This can be viewed here

Previously, a report from government suggested several ways that PCC could help balance its books - including selling the Town Hall for an estimated value of £12.2m. 

The CIPFA local government finance review even suggests the council change its elections to be held every four years rather than yearly as the current cycle inhibits long-term decisions being made with "a high degree of political sensitivity around budget choices." 

Last month, Cllr Fitzgerald told Peterborough Matters that "nothing was off the table", but if a balanced budget could be achieved the recommended actions would not be necessary. 

The report was compiled in the summer, several weeks after the elections, and stated then that "the Council has failed to take sufficiently timely and extensive action to resolve the Council’s financial difficulties" 

It added that "Since then, a new administration was formed in May 2021 and our interviews lead us to the view that the new Cabinet and Leader are determined to deal with the issue 

"But we were concerned that since the new administration was elected in May, we have had no evidence that any overarching ‘crisis management’ mechanisms have been put in place at Cabinet level."