Last month, West Lothian Leisure (WLL) requested the council's consent to cease operations at Xcite Livingston, Xcite Broxburn Swimming Pool and Xcite Armadale.
West Lothian has considerably more public swimming pools compared to other areas in Scotland, and the change will mean that the number of public swimming pools in West Lothian will reduce from 19 to 16.
Why are they closing?
West Lothian Leisure has confirmed that these three facilities currently make a significant monthly financial loss and they can no longer afford to operate them. If they do not close, WLL faces the risk of insolvency, which could mean the closure of all Xcite facilities. In addition to the running costs, each of the three pools also require significant sums of capital (one off) expenditure to ensure they are able to operate in the short term. However, no funding is available to support such expenditure.
West Lothian Leisure's day-to-day running costs continue to be significant for each of the three pools, and each facility makes a significant financial loss each month. The three pools are expected to make a combined operating deficit of over £900,000 next year alone.
Council action to date
Last month councillors instructed council officers to explore all alternative commercial and community options that would allow for continued provision, including inviting expressions of interest and other related matters.
A report was presented to the Council Executive today (Tuesday 20 June) on the work undertaken by officers to find an alternative that would have allowed the facilities to remain open.
Whilst an alternative solution has been found for Howden Park Centre, no proposals were considered to be credible and viable that would have allowed for the continued operation of Xcite Livingston, Xcite Broxburn Swimming Pool or Xcite Armadale. Consent has now been granted to West Lothian Leisure to cease operations at the three pools after work to identify credible alternative options were exhausted without success.
West Lothian Leisure plan on ceasing their operations at the three pools from 31 August 2023. West Lothian Leisure has, however, confirmed that the Learn2Swim programme will not be reduced and will continue to be delivered from alternative facilities.
Council Executive has requested that council officers actively engage with groups expressing an interest in Community Asset Transfer of these three facilities.
The council also has plans to allow for more public, community and other non-curricular use of Deans Community High School, Inveralmond Community High School, James Young High School, Broxburn Academy and Armadale Academy, from 31 August 2023. Council officers will continue to work with schools and WLL to ensure that the timetabling for these pools is done in response to demand, makes best use of resources available, and does not impact on school use.
Given that there is capacity at these pools, it is anticipated that this will help to mitigate the impact of reducing the total number of pools.
Users of Xcite Armadale, Broxburn Swimming Pool and Xcite Livingston will continue to have access to all other Xcite pools in West Lothian.
That Council Executive also agreed today that the council's Chief Executive write to Scottish Government Minister to highlight the decisions taken and to place on record the council's view that the Scottish Government has failed communities in West Lothian through continued underfunding of local authorities, and by not providing funding to support the retention of swimming pools and other venues, despite having resources available which it could use for this.
Leader of West Lothian Council, Lawrence Fitzpatrick said:
"I am devastated that we are in this position whereby we have to grant West Lothian Leisure consent to cease operations at these three pools. We are all extremely saddened and disappointed that WLL are in this position.
"For fifteen years and more, local government has been provided with insufficient levels of funding by the Scottish Government and that is combined with increasing costs. More and more of our funding is ring-fenced or directed for national policies and the choices and flexibility afforded to local government to make local decisions is restricted, year after year.
"That's why we're in this position and that's why, after such a prolonged period of hardship, we are here today. This is a day that, I believe, nobody at West Lothian Leisure or West Lothian Council wanted to see.
"It is the case that no stone was left unturned to look at alternative options.
"Last month the council wrote to the Scottish Government's Cabinet Minister requesting financial support for this very issue given that, in the Spring budget earlier this year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced funding of £63 million to support swimming pools remaining open in England. Around £70 million of Barnett consequentials will go to the Scottish Government in 2023/24 and, to date, no funding has been provided by the Scottish Government to specifically support swimming pools in Scotland.
"Given the gravity of the situation, with the needs of the community and jobs at stake, we wrote to the Cabinet Minister requesting funding support. Unfortunately, that has not come to fruition. Local Government cannot continue to provide the same level of local services without adequate levels of funding - it is simply impossible.
"We have instructed officers to look at how we can increase the availability of school pools to mitigate the impact of these closures, particularly in the areas of Armadale, Livingston and Broxburn."