The Leader of Birmingham City Council, Albert Bore, has decreed that the City’s Leisure Centres will undergo a fundamental reorganisation, with nothing ruled out. Some centres will face closure or privatisation, others may become ‘Wellbeing Centres’. There is more on the proposals here: http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/budget-defecit-sparks-fundamental-review-of-council-run-sports-facilities/9004
At the heart of this is the fact that Birmingham’s Leisure Services are making a loss (£3 million a year out of a total annual budget of £3.5 billion), with swimming pools in particular needing a subsidy to keep them running. This has always been the case, and many people would agree that using Council funds to encourage people of all ages to learn a vital life skill and increase their fitness levels is money well spent. This is particularly true in areas where lack of exercise is leading to high instances of lifestyle related illnesses – costly to the NHS, costly to the welfare of our community. However, in the name of ‘austerity’ we have been told that the status quo must change. If centres can’t pay then they can’t stay.
Aside from the fact that privatisation, whether selling to a private company or a social enterprise, may not guarantee access to the local community and schools and may not include affordable ticket prices or decent pay and conditions for staff, the cost in the long run may be far more than the current losses. Unless companies and enterprises can attract inward investment over the long term they will need to be bailed out or will need to cut the service. We are told that these organisations will have access to grants that the Council can’t access, but quite how they can balance the books in the long term where the Council can’t remains to be seen. Someone, somewhere still has to pay.
What is proposed is a hotch-potch of different services, supposedly based on local need. We have still received nothing from the Council about their plans for the building in spite of recently submitting a petition of almost 1,000 names, £50,000 being spent on a HLF Bid which included a thorough consultation by Birmingham Conservation Trust, and the ongoing campaign work of ‘Friends of Moseley Road Baths’. It is looking as though we may face another consultation and another few years of prevaricating and ignoring the need for renovation work, despite the local community saying loud and clear that we want investment to keep the building open as a swimming facility.
Sir Albert Bore has suggested that we should look at all of Birmingham’s amenities, including outdoor spaces such as canals. A wit on Twitter commented that the proposals may mean that we will be swimming in them. Let’s hope that it doesn’t come to that…