THE charity which runs leisure and library services in Helensburgh is in a much better position to cope with the financial impact of Covid than similar bodies elsewhere.

That’s the view of the chair of Live Argyll, the charitable trust which has run library and leisure facilities and community venues across Argyll and Bute since October 2017.

Similar organisations in some other parts of Scotland – most notably Glasgow – have run into major financial difficulties as a result of the pandemic, with warnings that Glasgow Life may not be able to afford to reopen some facilities in the city after the pandemic.

But Andrew Nisbet said that while Live Argyll was “not out of the woods yet”, in terms of recovery from Covid, he was hopeful the organisation would not find itself in a similar position to its Glasgow equivalent.

Speaking to members of Helensburgh Community Council (HCC), Mr Nisbet, who lives in Rhu, said: “More than half of our money comes from Argyll and Bute Council.

“The proportion of Glasgow Life’s income that they were getting from their local authority was very much lower than the proportion we were getting, so they were much more vulnerable to the sudden and complete cessation of income than we were.

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“For eight months there was a big hole in our income. But we were able to get grants, as were Glasgow Life, and because of those we will make a surplus this year.

“We’re not at the end of the pandemic yet, and our income will take time to build back up.

“We’re not out of the woods yet but we’re in a better position than some others to cope.”

Mr Nisbet also said he was “very encouraged” by the progress of work on Helensburgh’s new swimming pool and leisure centre - and promised that when it’s complete, Live Argyll will not be running the café within the building in competition with established Helensburgh eateries.

Helensburgh Advertiser: A look inside Helensburgh's new leisure centre as building work continues (Andrew Nisbet)A look inside Helensburgh's new leisure centre as building work continues (Andrew Nisbet)

Responding to a question from Vivien Dance, chief executive of the Helensburgh and Lomond Chamber of Commerce, on whether the cafe would be set up as a profit-making venture, Mr Nisbet said: “It’s unlikely that we will run the café.

“The building will be the council’s, so it’s for the council to decide on what basis that develops, but I don’t think we should be doing something that is just about making money.

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“Other organisations with cooking preparation facilities would probably be better placed than we would be to run it. We have told the council we would not want to be the ones who run it.”

Mr Nisbet also told HCC members that Live Argyll was in early discussions with promoters and artists about starting up a programme of events at the Victoria Halls in September or October, depending on Scotland’s progress in keeping Covid rates under control – and that he was hopeful that work on building a permanent extension at the rear of the Victoria Halls, to store equipment owned by some of the community groups which use the hall, would be complete by the end of this year.

In addition there are plans to expand the Borrowbox service which was launched during lockdown to maintain residents’ access to library books, to improve the Bookbug initiative which promotes reading among pre-school children, and to promote the new ‘innovation hub’ at Helensburgh Library, developed in conjunction with HCC, which was almost ready to go live when the pandemic struck in the spring of last year.

Helensburgh Advertiser: The centre is due to open next yearThe centre is due to open next year

Mr Nisbet said there have been no compulsory redundancies in pursuit of cost savings, and said that employees and trade union representatives were supportive of the approach – different to the days when leisure and library services were run by the council – money saved in one area should be reinvested into improving other services offered by the trust.

“Live Argyll has established a sound financial base and we have delivered a year-on-year surplus,” he added.

“Being outside the normal straitjacket of local government we have more flexibility.

“The old local government adage is ‘if you don’t spend your budget this year, it’ll be cut next year’. That doesn’t apply to Live Argyll. In the set-up we have, staff realise if we can reduce costs in one area, we can reinvest in other things we’d like to do.”

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