Local councils cutting sports facilities - BBC survey

Woman running on treadmill in gym Council-run facilities included in the survey included leisure centres and gyms

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More than a third of UK councils have cut or closed some public sports facilities in the past three years, a BBC investigation has found.

A fifth of the councils that responded to BBC Radio 4's You and Yours survey had closed at least one service.

But 33 councils had added new facilities or increased hours.

In Scotland where sports provision is a legal requirement 15 out of 26 councils (58%) had reduced services compared to 99 out of 276 (36%) English councils.

The figures for Wales were 8 out of 20 councils (40%) and for Northern Ireland 4 out of 24 councils (17%).

Almost a quarter of councils across the UK had cut opening hours.

The survey follows calls to make the most of the success of Team GB at the Olympics and ensure a sporting legacy from the Games.

Prime Minister David Cameron has said there needs to be "a big cultural change" in favour of competitive sports in schools, while the British Olympic Association (BOA) has called for a "step change" in government policy towards sports.

Lord Moynihan, the outgoing chairman of the BOA, said he wanted new laws to force councils to ringfence money for leisure provision.

Multi-million venues

Of the 369 UK councils who responded to the poll of 434 surveyed, 346 operated sports facilities such as swimming pools, leisure centres and athletics tracks.

Seventy local authorities had closed at least one sporting facility, and 126 had reduced what they could provide.

But 33 councils had increased the number of sporting facilities available or lengthened their opening hours.

In Glasgow, services have been increased and improved with several multi-million pound venues being developed ahead of the Commonwealth Games in 2014.

The survey included anywhere people went to play sport or exercise - ranging from swimming pools and gyms to bowling greens and skate parks.

Sport is a discretionary requirement of local authorities in England.

However the law is different in Scotland where councils have to make adequate provision for sport.

'Protect and secure'

Lord Moynihan told the BBC he will call for legislation to force councils to set aside funding for leisure provision.

He said: "When we see facilities being cut back then those who have been inspired by the Games don't get the opportunity to really engage in sport.

"We should be looking at changing the law to make provision of sport and recreation opportunity a statutory requirement.

"At the moment in England it's discretionary and once it's discretionary it's inevitable that councillors will be looking for discretionary cutbacks first."

Sport England said more than 15 million people were taking part in sport each week - an increase of half-a-million over the past six months.

According to its own survey - which includes non-council facilities there was more provision of sporting overall.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    The trouble is cutting sports facilities is that in the long run it costs the local council more, it’s short sited. It removes another source of community and possible activities for young people pushing them to more hanging round street corners. It will also increase the obesity issue. As I say short sighted and foolish way to save money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    Close them all, sports and recreational activities are not things that the state should be providing, the priovate sector can do this perfectly well. And if people wont pay the regular commercial cost it just demonstrates that they dont want the services anyway!

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    As we all know and appreciate, this has come about because of the massive hole left in the UK's finances by Labour. There has been no choice other than to make cutbacks on non-essential services for the few, which is exactly what sports facilities are.

    It's time that those who use leisure centres began to pay their running costs, or use their surplus energies to help run and maintain them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    190 Tranman

    'Councils ... They build expensive new offices ... while public facilities close down.'
    Rubbish. Almost as daft as Sydney Monroe's comment about massive council chief executive salaries. (180).

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    If not closing, then removing existing coaching staff / funding and then telling interested groups that they can set-up self help groups / clubs and tell them that there are loads of grants to apply for! Problem is this road is not paved with GOLD! What was that about an Olympic legacy? It gets more distant the further away from London!

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    As the country becomes more crowded we need more space and sports fields may have to go. Perhaps other forms of recreation might include treadmills, taking up little space and generating electricity to save the planet and exercise people. Obese people could be compelled to treadmill by state exercise regulating committees and schools could contribute to sustainable energy and save the planet too

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Councils lost the plot years ago. Their only interest is "The Council" and Money. They build expensive new offices and sell playing fields while public facilities are closed down. They make me sick !

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    When I was growing up, most leisure centres were run by the local council.

    These days most of them are private, commercial concerns.

    I was quite surprised to read that council' are still running any sporting facilities to cut.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Our council built a new sport centre recently on what was green park land. The only problem is that rather than returning the old centre (which was decrepit) to park land to maintain the status quo they built a housing estate on it.
    So even when we gain , we lose!

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    There is nor need for councils and government to provide sporting facilities! The private sector will ensure they exist will they not.?

    I'm sure Manchester United, Leicester Tigers, St Helens, Middlesex et al are always accomodating to the public to use their grounds and facilities.

    I have been told PRIVATE is better therefore it must be true!!!!!!!!!!!!


  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    There is far, far too much importance attached to sport in this country. Sport will not provide the boost to this country's economy - investments in manufacturing and training of staff to fill factories will. Build more factories where sports ground are; replace sport education in schools by science subjects. Only sport-obsessed people will vote this comment down: they need to wake up to reality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    "A fifth of the councils that responded to BBC Radio 4's You and Yours survey had closed at least one service."

    is that like the eight out of ten cat owners who expressed a preference? If only one fifth of councils responded how does the BBC know one third have made cuts?

  • Comment number 184.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    My local leisure centre went from LA to private management and isn't as clean as it was, and the pool water is colder than anyone wants, but if you've got £4.60 per session you can have access to the facilities and trainers.

    That's probably a large part of what a packet of fags cost to someone on benefits. Got to have your priorities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Just seen Gideon has annouced a £2bn (£28 per person) in Tax breaks for North sea oil. (His father in law is a board member of BP). That would have kept a few facilities open. the rich get richer and everyone else can go whistle

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    there is not a single Council CE who would not have a nought on the end of his/her salary if they ran a stock market

    . Generating a city's worth of council tax income (in profit) on the stock exchange is hard.

    -Your argument might hold water if those self same city clever dicks hadn't cost the rest of us £250 Billion, you could fund all of local authority sport for less than 5% of that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    They need the money to pay the enormous salaries of the chief executives.

  • Comment number 179.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    Empiredown - Exercise helps the economy, it keeps people in jobs at sports centres, and those involved in the manufacture and retail of sports equipment and clothing. More importantly it keeps people healthy and improves mental well being - that means reduced costs to the NHS, reduced costs in social care, reduced sick leave, reduced stress in the workplace and reduced cost of benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    165. Killer Boots Man

    I think a lot of wasted council tax is down to the "workmen" they employ.
    Yes, the private sector efficiency myth rears it's head yet again - no different from A4e ATOS and other private sector money pits.


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