LEISURE: The county is failing people

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The sense of outrage at the extent of the increases in leisure charges by our county council’s offshoot for the use of publicly owned facilities has been expressed in your paper.

Due to the lack of any consultation or prior notification of the increases, which of for some users have been 100 per cent or even more, this has all come as a complete shock to many families.

Little wonder then that we are hearing reports of many hundreds of residents, possibly near 1,000, deciding that the monthly fees are not affordable and cancelling their memberships.

One of the county council’s key priorities is to “ensure everyone has the opportunity to lead healthy, independent lives”.

Yet this seems to have been forgotten in the drive to collect more income.

In particular, two groups of people are worst affected by these steep price increases — those on lower incomes who already have stretched family budgets, and all of the people specifically referred to use fitness facilities for the good of their health by NHS professionals.

There needs to be a thorough and urgent review to mitigate the effects of the imposed price increases upon these particular groups, many of whom are giving up on fitness programmes because of lack of affordability.

One has to question how this debacle came about. I did warn two years ago about the lack of a management plan for our leisure services and the lack of accountability and transparency in the new trust governance.

But that begs the larger question, how is it that a council can spend hundreds of millions on unwanted schemes, such as the building of a new County Hall and the purchase of shopping centres, when it is failing key groups within our county which have specific and genuine need?

Surely it is time to recognise that our county is failing people and communities and that there is an urgent need for change to be a county that actually works for all.

Peter Jackson

Leader of Northumberland Conservatives