COST-cutting plans to outsource taxpayer-owned theatres, museums, libraries and leisure centres are being resurrected, although with much lower savings than originally hoped. Durham County Council chiefs had calculated placing dozens of leisure and culture assets into a not-for-profit charitable trust would save at least £1m a year in business rates and VAT, as well as opening up new funding opportunities.

Their plans, which include Durham’s Gala Theatre, Bishop Auckland Town Hall, Killhope Museum and Sedgefield’s Hardwick Park, were put on ice in April, pending a Government review of how business rates work.

However, the council’s Labour cabinet, which faces cuts of up to £190m by 2017, is now being asked to support pressing ahead with the shake-up.

Council chiefs believe the Government review will halve the amount of money the trust plan would save in business rates, from £888,000 to £444,000.

However, with other benefits, they believe the change could nevertheless deliver annual savings of around £866,000.

Councillor Maria Plews, cabinet member for leisure, libraries and lifelong learning, said: “It is widely understood that the council is required to make very large financial savings in the coming years due to reductions in Government grants.

“It is therefore extremely important that we look in depth at all proposals which have the potential to protect services but save money at the same time.

“In this case I am asking colleagues to initiate further detailed work on the real practicalities and benefits of a sport, leisure and culture charitable trust.

“This study would then result in a further paper to cabinet before any decision is made.”

The list of leisure and culture assets and services which could be outsourced includes 39 libraries, 15 leisure centres, two theatres, two museums, an arts centre, and outdoor learning centre, and sports and art development, countryside and outdoor sport and leisure services.

The trust would be one of the biggest of its kind in the country, with a budget of more than £30m. The council would retain ownership of the facilities, but the trust would manage them.

The council’s cabinet is set to debate the issue when it meets in Chester-le-Street on Wednesday, November 14, at 10am.

Read the cabinet report online here: