Are the ongoings between SDC and Sencio really as transparent as we’ve been told?

Sencio Community Leisure, a not-for-profit leisure trust, which runs and manages facilities on behalf of Sevenoaks District Council (SDC), including Sevenoaks Leisure Centre, Edenbridge Leisure Centre, Lullingstone Park Golf Course and Swanley’s White Oak Leisure Centre, said in June that, without adequate support, its financial position is “dire” and unsustainable.
The sports community of the Sevenoaks district then sent an open letter to SDC raising concerns over the future of the districts three leisure centres.

In the letter it references the obesity ‘timebomb’ facing the UK, incidents of depression and anxiety which continue to rise and the ‘tsunami’ of mental health issues caused in part by the global pandemic, stating that the cost of those social challenges to the public purse is incalculable, and should SDC fail to adequately support the provision of the not-for-profit leisure services, it would be hugely disappointing.

Unfortunately for Sencio, SDC did indeed refuse the requested loan of £120,000, stating that they did not think Sencio’s back-to-business plan was sufficient for the dispersal of public money.

The open letter was signed by a number of clubs and individuals including Sevenoaks Vine Cricket Club, Sevenoaks Football Club, Sevenoaks Hockey Club, Sevenoaks Rugby Club, HC Knole Park, Sevenoaks Indoor Bowls Club, The Wheelchair Football Association, West Kingsdown Boxing Club, Sevenoaks Swimming Club, Tom Bosworth (Team GB Race Walker), Jakob Goodman (Team GB Swimmer) and Edward Oatley MBE, Chairman of the Sevenoaks District Sports Council.

However, SDC stated in their cabinet meeting – which was aired live on YouTube – that documents put together by Sencio failed to give the council proof that they could make a success of the leisure centres and declined the loan request.

It also transpired that Sencio have a number of outstanding loans with different lenders including a £600,000 loan with SDC.

A personal interview
Cllr. Peter Fleming spoke to us directly on this story saying: “Clearly this is a very difficult time for leisure operators nationally and presently there is no firm date as to when they will be able to open their doors again and what the leisure sector will look like when they can.

“We appreciate the difficulties experienced by Sencio as a result of the Coronvirus outbreak and are committed to ensuring the ongoing provision of leisure and wellbeing services across our District.

“The extra support we have provided [Sencio] up to now, includes paying the annual £26,950 management fee up front and providing a six-month payment holiday on an existing £600,000 loan, equating to £44,000.

“The Committee recommended that we continue to offer further financial assistance to Sencio through continuing to defer loan repayments, but do not support the request for a further loan due to the amount of money already committed to Sencio, the current view on the ability for any financial assistance to be repaid and in the financial challenges that Covid-19 is likely to have on the Council’s own finances.”

• The future of Sencio is still up for discussion and we would love to hear your thoughts on the matter. If you have any comments about this story or others please contact us at editorial@sevenoakssports.co.uk.