A petition signed by nearly 1,000 people across the county has been delivered to Active Northumberland. The petition, started by Conservative campaigner Richard Wearmouth, above centre with fellow Tories João Parreira and Peter Jackson, calls for another look at the contract and price rises that were recently introduced for leisure-centre users.
Richard said: “Since starting this petition, we have been inundated with support from across the county. People have been dismayed by the lack of flexibility in membership packages, shocked by price rises of more than 100 per cent and, in many cases, have had to cancel long-standing memberships which have become unaffordable.
“Reading through the comments people have provided has been a huge insight into just how poorly changes to contracts and fees have been handled. We have heard from young and old generations alike who cannot now afford to go to their leisure centres. Many people have told us they had GP referrals which significantly improved their health yet now they have been priced out of a healthy life.
“I hope that Northumberland County Council and Active Northumberland will take the time to look at this petition seriously and come back with solutions quickly.”
Active Northumberland issued the following statement in November:
‘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.’