Claims most vulnerable suffer as council axe falls

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SOME of Edinburgh’s most vulnerable groups are set to be hit by the city council’s plans to slash more than £2 million from its spending on sport and leisure.

The Evening News reported last month warnings that as many as eight swimming pools, golf clubs and sports centres could close as a result of the proposed cut in the council’s annual grant to Edinburgh Leisure from £9.6m to £7.5m.

Flagship venues such as the Royal Commonwealth Pool, Meadowbank and the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena are safe, as is Warrender Swim Centre.

But almost every other council-owned sport or leisure facility are said to be potentially under threat.

While that is uncertain, five specially-funded programmes targeted at specific groups are set to be scrapped.

Despite their success, the axe is set to fall on Active Lives, aimed at older adults in areas of deprivation; Positive Destinations Through Sport, aimed at helping young people into employment or training; Looked After & Active, for looked-after young people; High Flyers, making sport accessible for disabled people; and Jump In, for additional support needs children.

David Griffiths, chief executive of disabled charity Ecas, said if centres closed and specialist programmes like Active Lives were abandoned, it would mean fewer disabled people taking part in physical activity.

He said: “Disabled people need to be able to get a centre wherever it might be and then to have the appropriate facilities there. The more complicated you make it for people, the less likely they are to do it.”

And he warned the cuts could lead to a divided society. “It will be all right for those who can get to a centre and can afford it, but for those who have trouble accessing facilities or can’t afford it, so don’t take part, it will affect their health as well.”

Edinburgh Leisure’s Active Lives project has helped more than 1000 people over 45 to become more physically active. Many have lost weight and improved their overall health.

Active Lives manager Claire Craig said: “Sometimes individuals become stuck in a rut of inactivity and a number of complex factors can fuel this in areas of health inequality.

“What Active Lives shows is that with the right support from caring professionals, individuals can be empowered to turn their lives around and be motivated to lead a more active, healthy and enjoyable life.”

Cameron Connor, 16, from Bruntsfield, signed up for a scheme at school which saw him going to another of Edinburgh Leisure’s specialist projects, Positive Destinations, based at Meadowbank, to do work experience in coaching.

That led to the one-year sports activity leadership course he is now on at Edinburgh College’s Granton campus, which includes coaching badminton and handball at primary schools. He is full of praise for the scheme. “Positive Destinations was a stepping stone to what I’m doing now.

“I think it would be really bad to cut the scheme because it would mean other people would not get the opportunity I did to get that vital experience.”

After the Evening News’ revelation of the impact of the proposed budget cuts, council leaders issued a statement insisting there were no plans for closures next year and telling Edinburgh Leisure to look for “imaginative” ways of reducing costs.

But sources at Edinburgh Leisure said the cuts, which will take effect over three years, would mean having to make announcements in June next year about closures to be implemented in 2016.

Lothian Green MSP Alison Johnstone said: “The council seems to have got itself into a real mess over cuts to sports facilities and possible closures.”

She said there was already a review of sports facilities under way and any closure plans should wait until that was completed. “In the meantime, the council also needs to think very carefully before it axes special programmes,” she said.

iswanson@edinburghnews.com