WLGA warns Wales council cuts 'will hit leisure centres'

New figures obtained by BBC Wales show 5% less is being spent on leisure centres this year compared to 2011/12

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Leisure centre provision across Wales will fall as councils struggle with budget cuts, the leader of the group representing them has warned.

Steve Thomas of the Welsh Local Government Association (WLGA) said the Olympic legacy could be jeopardised as authorities protect other key services.

New figures obtained by BBC Wales show 5% less is being spent on leisure centres this year compared to 2011/12.

The Welsh government said it is working to make the most of London 2012.

Start Quote

We'd love to see the current level of provision maintained, do I think that's possible? No”

End Quote Steve Thomas WLGA

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that 18 of Wales' 22 local authorities are spending less on leisure centres this year than they were a year ago.

Cardiff council was unable to provide precise figures but said it also anticipated spending this year will be lower than last.

Across Wales leisure centre budgets have fallen from around £74m in 2011/12 to around £70m this year.

'Great pressure'

Some of the councils did point out that their figure for this year might be adjusted upwards in April when some extra transactions were factored in.

Mr Thomas said councils would do their best to maintain leisure centres because they were popular.

But he added that with other services like education and social services being protected leisure centre budgets would come under "great pressure" and would probably be shrunk further or frozen at their current level.

Last week independent think tank the Institute for Fiscal Studies said the financial situation for Wales' councils would be "difficult" until at least the year 2020/21.

It was hoped by many that after the success of Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics there would be an increase in the number of people taking up sport and doing exercise.

However Mr Thomas said there were "countervailing pressures" on the Olympic legacy.

'Outsourcing'

"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," he said.

"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."

Mr Thomas said councils were increasingly likely to look at different ways of delivering leisure services by outsourcing some aspects to the private sector as is being done in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote Welsh government

He said they may also outsource to Community Trusts as is the case in Neath Port Talbot.

And he added that many councils would think about centralising services to some extent by concentrating investment in their bigger centres.

Local government consultant Jeff Jones told BBC Wales councils had no legal obligation to provide leisure facilities.

"Here we are now in a situation where local government gets less money, the bulk of its money comes from the assembly, but the assembly gets less money," he said.

"You've been told to protect education, social services - what do you do? You're not going to provide a service which you don't by law have to provide.

Anne Ellis, chairman of the Welsh Sports Association and a former Welsh hockey international, described the funding changes as "a false economy in the long term".

'Integral part'

Ms Ellis, who is also president of Welsh Commonwealth Games, 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."

The Welsh government said the majority of funding it provided to local government in Wales was not ring fenced and it was up to each authority to make its own budget decisions.

But it added: "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."

A task group chaired by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson would report to the Welsh sports and education ministers on ways in which physical activity in schools could be developed further, the Welsh government said.

A community sport strategy supported with £9m lottery funding had also been aimed at boosting grass roots sport.

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