Steve Darling: Valuable community assets support health and wellbeing of residents and visitors

Torbay Weekly

Over the past few weeks, we are hearing that more and more energy suppliers have ceased trading due to high energy prices.

This means 1.5 million people, at the last count, will have to move to different suppliers with higher tariffs, while the rest will see their bills shooting up if not on fixed rates.

This will have a devastating effect on many people with low incomes.

Coupled with high inflation, the loss of the Universal Credit uplift, and furlough and self-employment support ending, it is the perfect storm.

The deputy leader, Darren Cowell, and I are now writing to Torbay MP, Kevin Foster, to express our concerns, particularly about the cuts to Universal Credit.

Torbay Council is doing all it can to support those financially struggling.

If you are having money worries, then we may be able to offer support with discretionary housing payments and council tax reductions.

You can apply for welfare support, and we can signpost you to other financial help, as well as to advice and support.

It’s even more worrying that a recent report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee has warned that the Government has no clear plan to tackle increased rates of child poverty.

It wants a cross-departmental anti-poverty strategy drawn up with clear measurable objectives driven by updated evidence on the scale of the problem.

One of this partnership administration’s aims is to turn the tide on poverty, but to do that we need a robust national strategy to help underpin what we do locally.

Without that, we will continue to face a ticking time bomb.

We also need more Government action to support our leisure industry.

A new report by Swim England warns that a staggering 2,000 swimming pools in England could close by 2030 without urgent Government support.

It claims that £1billion of  investment is needed to refurbish existing pools and build new ones.

Councils like Torbay need this additional funding to be included in the upcoming spending review so we can invest in and help renovate community facilities.

Last week, I visited Swim Torquay as part of our partnership efforts to help make Plainmoor Community Swimming Pool more sustainable in the long term.

With council finances having been brutally cut over the years, we are unable to offer our former grants but want to do all we can to help organisations like this become more viable so they can continue to provide a valuable service in the community.

We actively support both Swim Torquay and the Admiral Swimming Centre in Brixham when we can.

We have a history of giving them help. That mainly comes in the form of officer and councillor support and using reserve funding for urgent repairs.

Recently, we acted as a referee for the Brixham swimming pool to be granted funding from the Post Code Lottery to help pay energy bills and supported their application for funding from the Community Leisure Recovery Fund.

Since the pandemic hit, we have also financially supported our local leisure centres, which were forced to close.

The council leased Torbay Leisure Centre and the adjacent Velopark to Parkwood Leisure until 2029.

The terms enable the operator to maintain and improve the leisure facilities with additional funding.

Earlier this year we also secured £1.9m in grant funding for the site and that is being used to upgrade the heating plant, improve energy efficiency, cut running costs, and reduce the centre’s carbon emissions by 60 per cent.

Parkwood Leisure was also awarded the contract to run the Riviera International Conference Centre in Torquay.

As part of the new, 25-year agreement, the centre will benefit from £1.4 million of improvements and upgrades.

Now we need the Government to make a bigger financial commitment so we can save more of our valuable community assets.

This way they can continue to support the health and wellbeing of our residents and visitors for years to come.