Edinburgh sports centres under threat from council spending cuts

Funding for Edinburgh Leisure set to be slashed

Wednesday, 22nd January 2020, 6:00 am
The climbing arena at Ratho is mentioned on the council list

SPORTS centres and golf courses could close while leisure venues across the Capital increase charges and cut their opening hours if cuts being considered by council chiefs go

ahead.

Officials have proposed the city council should slash its funding to arms-length company Edinburgh Leisure by as much as £500,000 a year.

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Ainslie Park, Gracemount and Jack Kane sports centres are named in a document seen by the Evening News, together with the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (EICA) at Ratho, Tumbles indoor play at Portobello and “various golf courses”.

But today there were warnings that closure of sports facilities would undermine physical and mental health in local communities.

Last year the Evening News led a campaign under the banner Sporting Chance to stop cuts to grassroots sport in the Capital amid concerns that Edinburgh’s spend on sports was lower per visitor than any other major Scottish city.

The city council is searching for savings of up to £40 million in its 2020/21 budget which it is due to agree next month.

The sports proposal is to reduce the council’s annual £8.155m service payment to Edinburgh Leisure by £150,000 each year and also stop the £350,000 a year funding to cover inflation.

A briefing note prepared for councillors in the Capital’s ruling SNP and Labour groups says: “Edinburgh Leisure propose to increase charges by 4 per cent, providing increased revenue of £900k.

“Having accounted for living wage, pension and increments there is a net surplus of £400k to fund the £150k service payment reduction and pay inflation.”

But the proposal is to carry on cutting the service payment by £150,000 each year. So the briefing note identifies venues that could close to fund savings – although it floats the idea of community buy-outs to keep them going.

It says: “There are a number of the sports facilities that are operating at a loss or with significant deficits. These could include: EICA, Ainslie Park sports centre, Tumbles indoor play, Gracemount sports centre, Jack Kane sports centre and various golf courses.

“The facilities would either become surplus and considered for disposal for capital gain or become the focus of community engagement or possible asset transfer.”

The note says the move would allow Edinburgh Leisure to offset the reduction in the payment from the council.

And it continues: “In addition Edinburgh Leisure would be asked to undertake a review of the opening hours across the city.

“The proposal is that Edinburgh Leisure prepare options to achieve savings by reducing opening hours of some facilities. The new opening hours would be introduced in April 2021.”

The briefing note does not identify which golf courses may be targeted for closure. Edinburgh Leisure runs six courses across the Capital – Braid Hills, Carrick Knowe, Craigentinny, Portobello, Silverknowes and Wee Braids golf courses.

A senior council source said there was a feeling that resources had to be targeted more at deprived groups.

“There’s a belief that the people who use the golf courses tend to be more middle class and maybe they can afford to go to a private golf club.

“If we’re spending £8m a year we need to make sure as much of that money as possible is going to provide opportunities for people who are suffering from deprivation.

“But the thought of closing down golf courses and building houses on them is quite controversial.”

The source said the idea of any community buy-outs of sports centres seemed “unlikely”.

But they said there was likely to be more powerful opposition to closing the climbing centre and the golf courses than the community sports centres.

“If you close down a sports centre there might be some local protests about it, but if you go for the climbing arena or golf courses you probably find there’s a network of people who will write to their MSPs and run a proper campaign. It tends to be that people in more deprived areas aren’t as organised and don’t work together in the same way to stop these things.”

A spokesperson for amateur football club Corstorphine Dynamo said: “We feel that we are short changed compared to other council areas. When we travel to West Lothian the facilities seem to be superior. We have invested a lot of money into the council-owned Dynamo Hub and don’t see any investment coming back to sports facilities. We offered to maintain one of the pitches at the Gyle at our cost but we’re shot down as this may interfere with their grounds maintenance plan but not entirely sure what that consists of.”

David Ferguson, director of the Observatory for Sport in Scotland, which wants increased participation in sport and exercise by people of all ages, said: “Reducing the funding for community sport is continuing the slide of physical and mental health and wellbeing.”

He acknowledged the pressures on public spending and said new models needed to be explored for provision of sport.

But he said: “Government and local authorities and leisure trusts have to sit down and address this properly instead of cutting year-on-year.”

Finance convener Alasdair Rankin said: “This is one of a whole range of proposals that officers have put forward to help us get to a balanced budget. We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

An Edinburgh Leisure spokeswoman said: “There’s no doubt that like many organisations, we are facing budget challenges. However, any discussion at this point about venue closures is pure speculation and scaremongering.

“The budget challenges mean that we have to continuously review what we do and how we do it to avoid closures and service reductions. Price increases will be one way to address budget challenges and prices for services in 2020/21 and will be finalised as part of our budget setting process.

“Edinburgh Leisure is in the business of providing opportunities for the people of Edinburgh to be active and plays an important role in the health and wellbeing of citizens.

“We recognise the financial challenges the council has and their aspirations around wellbeing and poverty, and we’re committed to working with them to help address these.”

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