Council pays out £25,000 to prop up Pyramids firm

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PORTSMOUTH City Council has bailed out the company in charge of the Pyramids Leisure Centre.

At an emergency private meeting, the Lib Dem, Tory and Labour councillors, joined by council officers, decided to hand Southsea Leisure Ltd 25,000.

The moves comes after the firm said it was struggling with cash flow as it refurbishes the seafront swimming pool and leisure complex.

Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson explained: 'They've spent a lot of time and money bringing the Pyramids back to being a destination centre. But they're still between having spent the cash and attracting new customers to sign up to use the facility, so we've stepped in to help them through that difficult period. We're expecting to get the money back, but we haven't set a date.'

He also admitted the council could have to make further payments in coming months.

He said: 'We hope not, but at the moment we just don't know.'

The company needed the cash because it couldn't afford a loan repayment due on Friday. It took over the Clarence Road, Southsea, facility in March, since when it has been using a 2.2m loan, underwritten by the council, to redevelop it.

It has included refurbishing the swimming pools, developing a new gym, soft play area and entrance, as well as creating conference facilities for business use.

But the centre will not be fully open until next month.

Cllr Vernon-Jackson said: 'The 25-year lease they signed to take over operating the Pyramids saved us 800,000 a year. The company asked us to meet a loan repayment of 25,000 because of issues with cashflow, in part because the project has taken longer than they expected. We saw this might happen and set money aside. The Pyramids is loved by residents, so we agreed to make this payment.'

The meeting, called just 19 and a half hours before its 11am start on December 23, also heard the company will bring in a team from Alliance Leisure, to help it attract customers. Southsea Leisure's MD Gary Milne said: 'We are not in trouble as a company, but I'd feel uncomfortable commenting on this any further, because it's to do with our commercial relationship with the council.'