After an independent report found financial and management problems at Sencio, alongside concerns about its recovery planning, the Council has taken the difficult decision to make urgent plans to provide leisure services should the trust become insolvent.
Sencio Community Leisure is a not-for-profit organisation that operates Sevenoaks District Council’s three leisure centres and its golf course. They are independent of the Council and have their own board of trustees that are solely responsible for the day-to-day running of the leisure facilities.
In common with other leisure providers, Sencio has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns and has sought urgent financial support.
To date, the trust has received £792,958 in public funds to support it through the pandemic, with £411,950 of this coming from the Council.
The Council has been in regular dialogue with Sencio over the past year, and there has been an ongoing concern over how it can finance itself moving forward.
Last year, Councillors expressed concerns about Sencio’s recovery plans. In consultation with the trust, Max Associates, a nationally recognised leisure consultant, was appointed to review the business and to draw up plans to move it on to a sustainable financial footing.
The Max Associates report highlighted a number of serious concerns about the trust. Sencio was trading at a loss in the pre-COVID period and now has a budget shortfall of £2 million. The Council had not been told of the serious nature of its financial situation prior to the publication of the report.
In light of the trust’s precarious situation, Max Associates recommended that the Council consider alternative management options to ensure the best value for the community.
At its meeting last Thursday (8 July 2021), the Cabinet agreed to start the process of appointing a contractor to take over the running of the Council’s leisure facilities should Sencio hand back the contract.
The Cabinet also agreed that no additional funding should be made available to Sencio at this time given the significant risk to tax payers.
Cllr Lesley Dyball, the Council’s Cabinet Member for People and Places, says: “This is clearly a very uncertain time for Sencio’s staff and customers.
“We have done everything we can to support Sencio. But we also have a duty to our taxpayers to ensure local services are operated efficiently.
“Sencio has a £2 million budget black hole in its finances and according to Max Associates, it would need to make management reforms at pace to have any chance of operating sustainably in the future.
“We have taken the difficult decision to make arrangements for another company to take over from Sencio should they go into liquidation. It is only right that we should do everything possible to reopen our leisure centres and golf course as soon as is practicable should the Trust go out of business.”
• Sevenoaks Sport & Wellbeing is an independent publication and is not part of Sevenoaks District Council or Sencio.