On Wednesday evening the Cabinet are going to approve the commencement of a strategic review of leisure services in Barnet. This strategic study is something that has been promised for years so in some respects it should be welcomed. But nothing is ever that straightforward in Barnet.
According to the Cabinet papers, the total leisure budget is £1.7 million per annum which works out at approximately £4.85 per Barnet resident per year. What particularly worries me about this strategic review is that one of the key conditions of the review is that the leisure budget has to save £1.2 million over the next two years. Using my fingers and thumbs that looks to me like a 35% cut in the budget bringing the cost of providing leisure down to just £3.14 per resident per annum. Now is it realistic to assume that a good leisure service can be provided for £3.14 per resident per year?
The committee papers say that the review will be:
“wide ranging, evaluating the current service model, assessing the needs of users, and a range of options to reduce expenditure with the objective of modernising the service, meeting needs and improving performance. The review will also consider options to work with a range of different partners, community groups, and public service organisations to improve the quality of services offered”.
However, it also goes on to say:
“In order to deliver the required budget savings the current arrangement for the management of the Council’s assets is unsustainable. It is therefore vital that a strategic review is completed so that the Council can assess its priorities and that of its residents to ensure that changes to the way that leisure is provided in the borough are appropriate and evidence based”. To me that says facilities will close.
Now the Council makes great play in paper that according to the Residents’ Perception Survey,
“34% of residents think that Council owned leisure facilities offer a good or excellent service (an 11% increase compared to 2007/08)”.
However, elsewhere in the same Residents Perception Survey, 41.4% or residents are worried about the lack of recreational facilities and 55% worried that not enough is being done for young people. I am exceptionally worried that this strategic review will be yet another hatchet job finding good reason to close leisure facilities, something that will impact directly on young and old alike.
Given that, “The provision of leisure in the borough is not a statutory service”, every single Barnet resident who has ever used a leisure centre or swimming pool or who has children should be exceptionally concerned that there is a very real chance of leisure facilities disappearing in Barnet. Make sure Barnet council knows your views!