Two swimming clubs are being denied access to leisure centre pool space they have offered to pay for, reducing income for the local authority, a meeting heard.
The availability of the lanes for club use follows a “hike” in the cost of swimming at Tiddenfoot Leisure Centre in Linslade, it has been claimed.
The quarter one performance report showed a drop in numbers at the town’s leisure centre, according to a report to Central Bedfordshire Council’s corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee.
“Leisure centres have been performing well overall,” explained the council’s head of knowledge and insight Jackie Woods.
“Stevenage Leisure are investigating the decline at Tiddenfoot,” she said.
Referring to the decline in users, Liberal Democrat Linslade councillor Peter Snelling said: “One of the reasons is that Stevenage Leisure hiked alot of the prices for swimming and I think that certainly has had an impact.”
Conservative Heath and Reach councillor Mark Versallion, who is a member of Linslade Swimming Club, agreed with councillor Snelling about Tiddenfoot.
“The prices have gone up,” said councillor Versallion. “But there are two swimming clubs in the town of Leighton Linslade which have an appetite to buy more pool time.
“They have money they wish to give the provider to buy the unused capacity, which is a consequence of them putting prices up for the general public.
“As the public don’t seem enticed by the cost increase to use all the six lanes of the swimming pool, could the director encourage it ... and I know staff are doing their best ... but for many months there is empty water.
“There is a customer willing to pay to use that water, yet for some reason it’s not being sold to someone who wants to buy it.”
The council’s director of community services Marcel Coiffait said: “We have tasked Stevenage Leisure to see if they have got a mitigation strategy of improving usage and income to the council.
“We have asked for that. It hasn’t got to a point where we are satisfied with the answer.”
Councillor Versallion replied: “My genuine feedback is that for at least three months, this is the reality of life in large organisations, an offer has been made.
“And while Stevenage Leisure are developing a strategy to mitigate the loss of income, in the meantime, they have lost 12 or 13 weeks of revenue by not allowing a swimming club to buy the empty pool space from them.”
Conservative Ampthill councillor Paul Duckett, who chairs the committee, said: “No doubt Marcel will lean in the appropriate place.”
Councillor Versallion also asked: “To capture the discussion we had about Tiddenfoot Leisure Centre swimming pool, would the director be happy to have an emailed reply to this committee as to the vacant space not being sold and the loss of revenue on that contract?
“And the fact that we know through me, and also through other sources, that there’s a customer waiting to buy that space, but for the last three months has been denied.”
It was agreed that a written response would be provided to the committee by officers, rather than wait for the next cycle of council meetings.
Last year the LBO was inundated with complaints from parents after Linslade Crusaders Swimming Club and Leighton Buzzard Swimming Club had their Level 5 and under lessons taken over by Central Beds Council and SLL.
It resulted in their monthly direct debit payments increasing by about 30%.
A 30-minute group swimming lesson for one child rose from £22.50 per month to £29.60, and hundred of parents signed a petition calling for a rethink on the fees.
An ex-manager at Tiddenfoot Leisure Centre also described the price hike as “outrageous”.
But Central Beds Council 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 said there were 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.
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