An ex-manager at Tiddenfoot Leisure Centre has spoken out over the “outrageous” price increases for children’s swimming lessons.
In recent weeks upset parents have been contacting the LBO after being informed by Stevenage Leisure Limited that their monthly direct debit payments would be increasing by about 30% from April 1.
A 30-minute group swimming lesson for one child has risen from £22.50 per month to £29.60, and more than 700 parents have signed a petition calling for a rethink on the fees.
It follows Linslade Crusaders Swimming Club and Leighton Buzzard Swimming Club having their Level 5 and under lessons taken over by Central Beds Council and SLL earlier this year.
The parents are backed by Anthony Jackson, principal officer at Linslade-based Tiddenfoot before the centre went out to private tender, whose daughters take lessons at Tiddenfoot.
Mr Jackson, who also managed Dunstable and Houghton Regis leisure centres and Bossard Hall in Leighton Buzzard, said years ago if the council needed to bring in more income it would, as fairly as possible, spread raised charges across all the leisure centre users.
He said it was recognised and accepted that a swimming pool did not make a profit and was a subsidised activity
“I would also talk to the main user groups and receive their input which I found was always good PR. In any case the amounts I would increase the fees and charges seldom, if ever, amounted to £1 hikes!
“I know times have changed but to be frank these price rises are outrageous. I have two young daughters that attend swimming lessons at Tiddenfoot. So from around £22 the price goes up to around £30 per month.
“I am also further told that when my daughters’ lessons go up to 45 minute sessions I will have to pay around £45 per month. So potentially a monthly total of £44 can suddenly be raised to £90 per month. Astounding. What about parents that have more than two children?
“I am now retired on a small pension and these increases together with council rates hikes are to be blunt totally unacceptable. Where is the accountability here? Is there a committee that this private company reports too?
“I assume that the buildings are still owned by the council. I take it that they must have approved these price rises?
“Sounds like to me the old trick of the council appointing consultants to take the fall if anything does not go to plan!”
Central Beds Council has said the price rises brought Tiddenfoot in line with its other swimming pools which are all taught by qualified staff and meet national standards.
They said: “The price increase equates to just £1.77 extra per week, this includes free swimming at any time and the contractor is also providing an online system which will allow parents to monitor their child’s progress.”
They say there are concessionary prices for those on low incomes, and also a special first year transitional price for those learners moving over from the swimming club lessons.
But Mr Jackson said: “What about the cost of the recent sizeable development of the new recreational upgrade at the Dunstable Leisure Centre - did the ratepayers of Leighton Buzzard subsidise this?
“Is this what they mean by spreading the cost? If there was a disparity in fees why did this arise, why was this not monitored in the first place?
“I am only sorry for all the good staff at the Leisure Centre, that work hard in this public domain, and through no fault of their own, take some of the flack for these unjustified price hikes.”