As the council looks ahead to the next financial year, and identifies options for budget reductions, some difficult decisions need to be made. One area that may face funding pressures is the council’s work to support physical activity and sporting and cultural activities in the Capital.
This council has inherited a city with a rich history, an abundance of heritage attractions, and world- famous museums, galleries and theatres. We have a sporting heritage too. Having built Meadowbank Sports Centre and the Royal Commonwealth Pool for Edinburgh’s 1970 Commonwealth Games, this legacy was clear to see as we hosted the diving events at the Commie Pool once again this summer.
I believe we have a responsibility in Edinburgh to preserve and enrich this offering, because it is what makes this city so special. It is also a key reason cultural tourism in Edinburgh is booming. With such a reputation to maintain, I believe it is worth noting that the City of Edinburgh Council’s total culture and sport spend is already less than that of other major UK cities. What many residents may not know is that the council undertakes responsibility for much of the city’s arts offering. There are hundreds of well loved historic monuments in the city, and each one requires ongoing maintenance and care, which comes with a cost.
The council also owns and manages free to enter museums like the Museum of Childhood and the City Art Centre gallery, which is important for fostering access to the city’s heritage.
But we work hard to ensure many culture and sport costs are sustainable. Venues like the Usher Hall generate income for the council and the local economy. In fact, last year the Usher Hall reported record sales and a total income of £3.65m – its best year ever.
We also have a responsibility to look after residents, and to offer them a great quality of life. Part of this involves making sure they live in a city that they love and are proud of, and it also means supporting sport and physical activity.
We have an ageing population in Scotland. Integrating plans for this while tackling physical inactivity, obesity, type two diabetes, and mental health concerns are very high on the list of priorities for the Scottish Government. Local authorities are working hard to future-proof services and cater to a change in demographics, and I see council investment in physical activity and sport as an investment in Edinburgh’s people and their health.
Currently, the council provides £9.3m funding for Edinburgh Leisure to deliver sports and leisure facilities with the aim of allowing access for all abilities, ages and interests. Edinburgh Leisure already receives less funding from the council than other, similarly sized cities, so it’s important to understand what any reductions could mean in practice.
We need to consider where the council’s sport funding should be directed so that we can offer residents a combination community events, quality sports venues, and elite facilities to support Edinburgh’s up and coming athletes. We need to be the best we can within budget. That might mean different facility opening hours, or less classes at times that aren’t busy. The council is undertaking a Strategic Sports Review with Edinburgh Leisure, which will look at the services on offer, governance, and facilities including schools. This will help us understand use, access, and where savings could be made.
The council’s main priorities when it comes to sport and physical activity are improving the use of quality sports facilities, sustaining lifelong participation, offering the city better clubs and increasing the visibility of physical activity in Edinburgh. These will remain the council’s priorities as we continue to consult on proposals for spending less and saving more.
n Richard Lewis is convener for culture and sport at the city council