SWANSEA Council spent nearly £388,000 last year topping up wages of staff who don’t work directly for it.
A Freedom of Information request has revealed it spent £340,290 on furlough top-up costs for leisure services operator Freedom Leisure in 2020-21, and £47,574 on top-ups for furloughed Wales National Pool Swansea Ltd staff.
Freedom Leisure is a not-for-profit trust which runs seven leisure centres and sports centres on behalf of the council. Wales National Pool Swansea Ltd, which runs the 50-metre pool in Sketty, is also not-for-profit and is managed by a board including three council and three Swansea University representatives.
Leisure venues everywhere have been hammered during the Covid pandemic, putting jobs at risk and slashing income for councils and organisations which run them on their behalf.
Swansea Council has not been able to reclaim its top-up furlough expenditure to date, but it has made no secret of its support for the leisure centre and swimming pool providers.
In comments accompanying its Freedom of Information response to the Local Democracy Reporter Service, the council said: “The funding to support staff at Freedom Leisure and Wales National Pool Swansea through the pandemic was agreed by cabinet last year and forms part of a package of measures which ensured that these highly-valued services were able to re-open safely as we emerge from the pandemic.”
The leisure centres and 50-metre pool were part of Swansea’s offer as a visitor destination, it said, and encouraged a healthy city.
The response added: “It’s crucial to the well-being of our residents that these facilities – and our partners who run them on our behalf – are enabled to look forward with confidence and that we can support them in such challenging times.”
Freedom Leisure was awarded the leisure and sports centre contract in 2018. Visitor numbers to the seven venues were just under two million between April 2019 and March 2020.
Visitor numbers to the Wales National Pool Swansea dropped by 42% to just under 139,000 in 2019-20, but that was because the year audited was from August to July, thereby including four full months of Covid lockdowns and restrictions.