THE COUNCIL has been criticised for "bailing out Serco" after it emerged that the outsourcing giant has requested a refund for leisure facility closures during lockdown.

The Hook-based company, who are contracted by Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council to run three leisure sites in the borough, have asked for a £290,000 reimbursement for loss of income during the Covid pandemic.

It comes as Serco announced on Friday that they expect "profits to exceed expectations" during the pandemic.

Updating the London Stock Exchange in an unexpected announcement, the company said the excess profits could now be returned to shareholders, with a consultation on dividend payments under way.

Debating a report outlining the council's financial position, Liberal Democrat group leader, Cllr Gavin James, said on Thursday night that the authority had been an "easy touch".

"When we have contracts there is an element of risk, you hopefully will make a small amount of profit," he said.

"My concern is that we are looking to plug the fact they've made a loss.

"If next year the people of Tadley don’t go on holiday, and decide to use local leisure facilities and Serco make an awful lot of money, do we think Serco are going to ring us up and say ‘I’m sorry Cllr Rhatigan, we’ve made far too much money this year, we're going to give you some back’? It's not going to happen.

"Equally we've had an interruption to our bin collection service this year, where we've not had the service they are contracted to deliver, run by the very same Serco.

"This is the same Serco who's executive announced in August they had done very well through Covid.

"They’ve come out pretty much neutral and are very busy tracking and tracing ineffectively as we speak.

"We’ve struggled and we're going to help Serco out a little bit more, it all seems very strange."

His views were agreed by the deputy leader of the Basingstoke and Deane Independents, Cllr Paul Harvey. He added: "It is particularly rich from Serco to be doing this to our borough based on what many of our residents have faced."

As previously reported, there have been several issues with the new Serco bin service since Serco took the reigns last year.

Residents complained that their bins weren't collected for up to six weeks last year, whilst satisfaction in the black bin collections hit an all time low in June after services were reduced and others suspended during the coronavirus pandemic.

The joint contract for the waste services between BDBC and Hart District Council is worth £44 million.

Cllr Hannah Golding, the borough council's portfolio holder for finance and service improvement, reassured councillors that the reimbursement "is not a done deal and it is not an easy conversation we are having with them".

Serco announced £3.2 billion in revenue last year, and it expects a trading profit, before any one-off costs, of between £160 million and £165 million, compared with previous estimates of £135 million to £150 million.

Full-year revenue is expected to be around £3.9 billion – up from £3.7 billion previously predicted.

The borough council signed a five-year extension to the Serco contract, for them to run Tadley Pool, Basingstoke Golf Course and the Aquadrome, which is estimated at £770,000.

The meeting had also heard that the council's financial monitoring report "does not make great reading for us as a borough", according to leader Ken Rhatigan. "It is a worrying situation," he added.

The Gazette reported last month how the authority expect the pandemic to cost them almost £6 million during the 2020-21 financial year.

This includes over £1 million in unplanned costs, and almost £5 million in reduced income.

There is currently a budget deficit of over £2 million for this coming financial year, with cabinet members saying that they will continue to monitor the situation, "to ensure that income is maximised, and expenditure controlled".

Cllr Rhatigan said that the £6 million figure "more than dwarfs" the amount given in funding from central government, adding: "All revenue streams will be looked at to ensure we are able to continue the financial plans we have as a borough."

Cllr Golding commented: "It has been an unprecedented year with significant challenges across the council.

"Covid continues to have a huge impact on our finances, and the majority is forecast in this financial year."