Difficult times ahead for Welsh leisure centres
Paul Dancey on 17/10/2012
The Welsh Local Government Association has warned that Leisure centre provision across Wales will fall as councils struggle with budget cuts that are likely to continue through to 2021.
The report shows how spending on public services in Wales is set to face a hugely challenging future following the spending cuts and reforms proposed by the UK Government.
With per person spending having already fallen by 8.4% in real terms since its peak in 2009−10, and future forecasts predicting a further reduction of any where between 1.5% and 18% by 2021, the Welsh Local Government Association has warned that the country's Olympic legacy could be put under threat as authorities are forced to cut leisure provision in order to protect key services like education, care and waste management.
Councillor Aaron Shotton, WLGA Deputy Leader and Spokesperson for Finance and Resources said: "While every local council in Wales is already feeling the squeeze when it comes to protecting vital public services, this report highlights how over three quarters of the cuts to spending on public services are yet to come. The cuts and the pressures on local government finances are only just beginning, and the long-term financial future of local government in Wales is challenging."
Figures, obtained by the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, show around £4m has been cut from leisure centre budgets this year compared to 2011/12.
The Welsh Government has confirmed that the majority of funding they provide to local government in Wales is not ring fenced, and that it is up to each authority to make its own budget decisions. Adding that: "The Welsh government is committed to capitalising on the increased interest in sport as a result of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and is working achieve this."
But with funding to local authorities being cut at the same time as they are being told to protect education and social services, its clear that non mandatory services, like Leisure centre provision, are likely to be hit hard in the current financial climate.
WLGA Chief Executive Steve Thomas said: "It's great to be caught up in the euphoria of the Olympics but the problem is over time these cuts will outlive the Olympic legacy.
"Leisure budgets will come under huge pressure. We'd love to see the current level of provision maintained. Do I think that's possible? No."
Anne Ellis, Welsh Sports Association Chair, has described the funding changes as "a false economy in the long term".
She said: "If we are to gain the maximum impact of the Olympics, we have to have places that are accessible and affordable.
"Leisure centres are an integral part of where people can go to do a variety of exercises - indoor, outdoor, water sports, fitness centres.
"It's essential that we increase cooperation between local authorities and sports club to develop this multi-sports model."
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