Moray Council has reached out to commercial operators in an attempt to settle the long-term future of its under-pressure libraries and swimming pools.
The facilities have repeatedly been under threat amidst the savage budget cuts of recent years as the cash-stricken authority has slashed millions from its books.
Now the council has issued an appeal to external organisations to contact them if they are interested in taking on the running of the region’s leisure and library services.
It’s thought such a move may protect services, offer stability to staff concerned by repeated threats to their posts and enable increased investment in services.
Yesterday senior figures within the chambers stressed, however, that no decision has yet been taken about will happen with the facilities.
Aaron McLean, chairman of the council’s policy and resources committee, said: “We have a leisure review that is due to be finalised in the next few weeks.
“One of the options for that is to look at external providers. This is to see what’s out there so we’re better informed.
“It’s an option that could be available for us but at this stage we don’t know enough.
“Everyone wants the leisure service to have a sustainable future. The staff have told me that a decision needs to be made about it.
“When we were in opposition we tried to set up a trust but we never managed to convince enough people at the time.”
It is understood that commercial companies and charitable trusts have been encouraged to express an interest in running Moray’s leisure services.
The merits of each option – including their continued operation by the authority – are expected to be compared before a final decision is made.
The swimming pools in Keith and Lossiemouth and Elgin Community Centre, as well as libraries in Burghead, Cullen, Dufftown, Fochabers, Lossiemouth and Tomintoul, were all due to shut as part of this year’s initial budget proposals before they were all later saved.
Moray Leisure Centre, which remains owned by the council but run by independent firm Moray Leisure, is the only pool currently operated by an arms-length group.
Tim Eagle, leader of Moray Council’s Conservative group, believes services could blossom if a new way is found to run them.
He said: “We have some wonderful facilities and some truly amazing staff who are eager and keen to deliver varied courses, classes and sports to all ages throughout Moray.
“I have long been frustrated that the lack of budget within the department has not our facilities to grow and prosper as I believe they can.
“The last thing I want to see was to lose vital local swimming pools or services like the sports development or Active Schools programmes due simply to budget cuts.”
Moray Council has published an early market engagement notice to encourage expressions of interest in running the sites.
It states: “Moray Council is seeking to engage with external organisations to gauge the level of market interest in potentially managing and operating the council’s leisure and libraries Services, including sports development and community centres, and to develop a better understanding of the financial and service benefits of outsourcing and managing services in different ways.”