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 236.

    Councils have a legal obligation to pay many things, like Housing Benefit. If the government cuts Council Tax by 15%, a council can't cut any of these "ring fenced" expenditures, so sports facilities, libraries etc have to get the chop. The government knows full well this has to happen, so Cameron is simply telling lies when he says he cares about these things.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    @215 I fail to see why we shouldn't let companies sponsor school events or indeed entire schools.

    After all, we're happy to let religions do it and they erradicate entire subjects so a bit of corporate sponsership can't hurt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    Councils have legal responsibilities placed upon them, these have to come first. As far as I am aware Leisure facilities don't fall under the Public Health banner and should quite rightly be paid for by those who use them, there is no argument to make everybody pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    215: It's a bizarre comment to say we shouldn't persuade companies to sponsor a local sports team through incentives because in a country 3,000 miles away, they have gone too far.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    It's simply a matter of priorities. If a council has a limited amount of money, I'm afraid the provision of facilities for recreation and sports comes a long way below looking after old ladies and street cleaning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    would anyone care to comment on 215.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    Probably closing them so that they can get developers to build on the sites and enjoy the back handers...

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    Can Councils fill job vacancies with capable people? Yes. They are paying enough. Simple.

    Did employees expect life expectancy to increase and they could still retire at 65? Naiive.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Erm, and why does sport matter so much that councils have to spend money on it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    It is cheaper for the kids in this Kentish town to travel a couple of stops by train into Surrey and use their swimming pool.

    And Kent wonders why the facility isn't being used.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Comments that it is quality not quantity of sports facilities that matters presume that everyone has access to cars or good & cheap public transport. However, in the real world this is not the case. If councils have enough money to install pavement fountains in town centres & to pay executives ridiculous salaries & fund their expenses, they should have enough to provide public sports facilities

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.


    If you were a council worker and not just jumping on the "gold plated" bandwagon, you would realise that normal council workers (which include sports centre workers) do NOT have gold plated pensions. Maybe the Managers do, but the workers definitely do NOT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.


    All council workers on final salary pensions have "gold plated" pensions. It's NOT the amount they pay out, it is the way they are are calculated and increased which is gold plated resulting in not a lot paid in for a lot taken out, whether you are on £15k or £51k a year.

    Sports centre workers are council workers are they not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    How many of these facilities would still be available if a proportion of the olympic budget private contractors trousered (for not providing what they were payed to) were diverted their way?

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    Private sector could be the way forward. Government pays £15 per person, per month to be a member of a sports club. Top up the difference. £15 gyms exist and are basic but good. Market forces mean best run gyms thrive.

    @215. Using the "this is the thin edge of the wedge" argument gets us nowhere. If it is controlled properly and restricted to sports clubs, it could be very effective.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    212.Tio Terry

    What is more important to some people is different to others. Sports facilities IMO are just as important for the health and wellbeing of the population as local NHS health centres and should be available for everyone not just those who can afford to go to private facilities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Classic BBC negative headline "More than a third have reduced". How about "Majority maintain or increase despite tough economic conditions".

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    The BBC failed to warn us of the disastrous policies being implemented by their friends in the last government. The nation now has to make hard decisions about correcting the problem, but just every body and thing seems to be a special case such that savings should be made elsewhere. We could start with massive immediate savings at the BBC!

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    211. Alastair

    'There is still massive massive waste in local councils all over the country ..'
    Outrageous. Do you know most councils keep several pairs of snow leopards and rare birds of paradise in luxury accommodation at council tax payers' expense? Senior council officers can go to see them, sitting in gold chairs. Must be true. Man in a pub told me and who needs more evidence than that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Sport doesn't need to be expensive. Price of a football, £3. Just because ea leisure centre is being closed, doesn't mena the local residents can't play sport.


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