Leisure centre concerns are raised

Berwick Town Council is seeking face-to-face talks with Active Northumberland over the new pricing structure introduced at its leisure centres.

Friday, 11th November 2016, 9:10 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th November 2016, 3:08 pm
The Swan Centre sports centre in Berwick.

Councillors have expressed fears that there will be a major fall in membership at The Swan Centre for Leisure in Tweedmouth.

Cllr Isabel Hunter, member for Berwick West with Ord on Northumberland County Council, said she was waiting to see how many members had quit before assessing what steps to take.

She said: “My personal feeling is that we should wait two weeks to see if the memberships are dropping off. If they are then I think that is the point when we can raise our concerns.”

Active Northumberland, which runs 14 leisure centres on behalf of the county council, described the changes as a way of simplifying charges and making the system fairer.

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This means that there are now just two options for membership, which both cover gym, swim and classes at all 14 sites; either £32 a month based on a 12-month contract or £40 for a three-month tie-in.

Children’s reduced prices will be extended up to age 18 and swimming will be free for under fours, but concessions will only apply to low-income users on a range of benefits and only on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Cllr Gavin Jones said: “It needs to be recognised that the root cause of price increases is government cuts. Leisure centres are being closed in other parts of the country due to funding challenges resulting from Government cuts.

“We would welcome our MP fighting for adequate funding of services in Northumberland and standing up against the £58million that the Government has wiped off the council budget – that’s not a one-off, but £58million each and every year.”

What does Active Northumberland say?

When Active Northumberland took over from four leisure providers in October 2014, we inherited a range of pricing structures. The decision was made to honour existing memberships for a period of time to allow us to develop a new pricing structure.

Some members were still paying exactly what they paid 20 years ago alongside other members who were paying three or four times more, but receiving the same service, hence the need to implement a fair and consistent pricing policy for all.

The cost of providing leisure facilities has increased over the past two years, however, our prices have remained static. In order to ensure leisure centres remain sustainable in the future and to minimise the level of financial support needed, Active Northumberland must operate a more commercial model.

The most expensive part of running a leisure centre is providing a modern swimming facility as this needs specialist equipment, heating, cleaning, staff and training. We believe that the monthly price of £32 per month remains very good value and is competitively priced compared to other similar facilities within the region. For £32 a month, for a 12-month contract, members can gain access to 14 leisure centres, 10 swimming pools and over 450 weekly fitness classes.

Our new pricing policy is based on users’ ability to pay, not where they live, work or on their age. We have been able to introduce concessions for low-income customers, including OAPs who are in receipt of benefits, and we have also extended children’s reduced prices up to the age of 18. We have also been able to reduce prices in some areas for certain activities, for example, fitness classes in some areas have dropped from £6.70 to the new county-wide price of £5.60.

Our members are very important to us and we value their support, we hope they can understand the very difficult decisions we have had to make. Now is the time to ensure people across the county pay the same great value price to help continue the £40million improvements being made to leisure centres and to help create a sustainable service for the future.

Active Northumberland will still be offering a GP referral service. For some time now, Active Northumberland has offered reduced membership packages to people who have been referred via the GP referral process. The cost of this reduced membership was not included in any funding from the NHS or public health. We receive funding for the GP assessments, but it does not cover the cost of providing leisure facilities. Referred customers will now be reviewed by specialist staff and directed to specific health improvement classes with qualified instructors as paying members, as well as joining in free activities such as health walks and doorstep walks.