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Fears for future of council’s outdoor centres
COUNCIL chiefs have been urged to get “the best possible deal” for Worcestershire in handing three outdoor education centres to private operators.
Campaigners turned up to a county council debate to raise fears over the future of sites in Llanrug, Malvern and Upton Warren.
As your Worcester News revealed last week, the Llanrug site is being handed to Rock UK while the other two are set to be taken over by Acorn Adventure.
Acorn’s deal is subject to negotiations over staffing, pensions and how much investment the firm is prepared to put into the sites.
The county council says the alternative to a deal is possible closure of the facilities, but critics of the move have raised worries about their long term future in private hands.
Charles Eden, of the Worcestershire Outdoor Education Development Association (WOEDA), said: “The Acorn website talks about an ‘aspiration’ to invest in both sites, but the reality is that they should be tied to a capital investment.
“I would like to know who was consulted over the suitability of Acorn Adventures – I was not and I’m the chairman of WOEDA, I’m only a phone call away.”
He also said he worried the sites would be “killed off” by a lack of investment.
His comments were made during a meeting of the overview and scrutiny performance board, where Clare Mitchell, assistant chief executive, laid out the strategy.
“The original intent was to avoid closure, but it’s not just about that, it’s about a sustainable long-term future,” she said.
“We don’t want to hand them over and see closures around the corner, because that would serve nobody well.
“The stage we are at with Acorn is entering very detailed discussions, which will include the financial investments they are planning to make, and that may take until Christmas. Acorn has a commitment in principle for a phased programme of investment.”
Rock UK will take over the Llanrug centre in Snowdonia, Wales, next April and Acorn’s deal for the other two centres is expected to start around the same time.
The move was praised by many councillors at the meeting.
Councillor Bob Banks said: “I’ve listened to the remarks of the opponents of this, and they seem to be ignoring the economics of it.
“The centres are losing a lot of money.
“We are trying to make sure these very valuable services continue by taking these steps – if we don’t, we’d be neglecting our responsibilities to the taxpayer.” The three facilities are due to lose around £337,000 this year.