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Coventry Live

Plas Dol-y-Moch restructure planned after council reports £150,000 losses due to Covid closure

The council is planning changes to the outdoor education centre loved by generations of Coventry kids

Children taking part at Plas Dol-y Moch

Concern has been raised over a planned restructure at Plas Dol-y-Moch - the outdoor education centre where Coventry kids have been spending their school trips since 1966.

Coventry City Council is proposing changes as the centre is running up an overspend of £500,000 this year, with losses of £150,000 even after Covid grants and Furlough cash.

Jobs are under threat at the Snowdonia site, while charity The Friends of Plas Dol-y-Moch said a ‘commercial model’ is being pushed to provide alternative revenue streams other than schools, with ‘in-city’ provision also mooted.

But critics believe proposals are “flawed” and will jeopardise the valuable experience provided to school children in the city. They also say the site was successful before the coronavirus pandemic hit and is showing good signs of recovery with bookings up in the past few weeks.

A consultation closes on Monday, February 22 - but the Conservative opposition group at the council has demanded the proposals are scrapped in favour of an open public consultation outlining the plans. 

Mike Ballinger, chairman of The Friends of Plas Dol-y-Moch, said all options for further grants have not been explored, with no proper discussion held on its future.

He said: “The way this has been put across is they want to change it from an outdoor education centre to outdoor activity centre. Plas Dol-y-Moch is hugely successful and prior to Covid the formula worked before. It was not a loss-making centre. 

"We are frustrated they are trying to change something that worked. We believe the change of emphasis is fundamentally flawed and will not save money.

“They have had 90 bookings in the last few weeks and that is almost at full capacity. That shows the faith."

Children taking part at Plas Dol-y-Moch 

The site has been unable to open due to Covid-19 and the council has reportedly told staff it will still only be running at only 25% capacity in January 2022.

The authority said it is “realistic about future deficits” and is therefore “exploring a number of options” to ensure the site can mitigate losses.

The site reportedly made over £340,000 in the last five years. 

The council said all expenditure has been reviewed to reduce spending after a £500,000 overspend prompted by its Covid-enforced closure.

Avenues are currently being explored in relation to other forms of income generation outside of schools, a spokesman for the authority said.

Fears schools will lose out

Mr Ballinger continued: “They seem to want to ‘save Plas Dol-y-Moch’, but what concerns us is do they actually realise what is being proposed here? 

"Do they understand Coventry schools may lose out as more places go to Warwickshire schools instead of ours? Do they understand there will be reduced education? 

“It is a reduction in the opportunity for Coventry children to go and losing a lot of the experience they will get when they are out there. We are concerned it will be run by people who are not educators and put profit above.

Children taking part at Plas Dol-y-Moch 

“There does not seem to be a willingness to accept there will be a short term loss at Plas Dol-y-Moch but it will be a valued site in the future years and can contribute to the overheads.

“We all understand the pandemic is a big problem but do not wreck something that is working.”

Calls for plans to be scrapped

A letter from Coventry Conservatives to the council’s chief executive and leader is calling for plans to be scrapped.

Cllr John Blundell, shadow cabinet member for education, said the group was “extremely concerned” at the move.

He said: “For 55 years the centre has provided Coventry children with a unique opportunity to enjoy a true outdoor education led by experienced qualified teachers. Something we believe will be greatly demeaned by the current proposals. 

“We will be writing to the leader of the council and the chief executive to demand the current proposals are scrapped and a full and open transparent consultation should take place, listing various options, that gives everybody the opportunity to contribute. We believe this is the least that Plas Dol-y-Moch deserves.”

Council 'has to be realistic'

Cllr Kevin Maton, cabinet member for education, said: “Plas Dol-y-Moch is a fantastic outdoor education centre that is part of the childhood of thousands of people in Coventry.

“That’s why we are committed to finding a way for the centre to continue providing a valuable resource to children and young people in Coventry.

“There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a massive impact on the venue and that is the reason for the current and projected deficit

“Since March last year it has received no income due to lockdowns both in Wales and England, plus restrictions on travel.

“So, by the end of this financial year, after securing Covid relief grants and Furlough of staff, the centre saw a deficit of circa 150k.

“As we are continuing to be in lockdown, and with restrictions on travel post lockdown, we have to be realistic about future deficits.

“We have to make a best guestimate of when the centre will be able to operate at its full bed capacity.

“In the meantime and short term, we must explore a number of options for the coming months so that the outdoor education centre can look towards a positive future and mitigate income losses going forward.

“School leaders and other stakeholders are aware and this forms part of the internal consultation.”

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