Mr Reasonable has shown a great interest in the leisure facilities in Barnet for several years, largely because of Barnet’s determined approach to run the leisure facilities into the ground. At Residents Forums over the last three and a half years I have been asking questions as to when the Council are going to start taking leisure seriously. One thing I have repeatedly asked for is a leisure strategy starting with a sports facilities audit. Until you know the condition of your current facilities and how much life they have remaining, how can you plan what you need over the next 20 years?
Back in February 2009 I asked at a Residents Forum: “When is Barnet Council planning to undertake a sports facility audit and when will it develop a sports facility strategy that identifies Barnet’s sport and physical activity facility gaps and future investment priorities?”
The response from Barnet was: “The Council will produce a leisure facilities strategy in 2009/10. Discussion of the scope and timescale will begin soon but accordingly no public consultation or any other part of the work has yet been scheduled".
Now move on 18 months to July 2010 and I was still chasing for the Leisure Strategy. Unfortunately Barnet Council told me that: “We are in the process of starting a piece of work around forming a Leisure Facilities Strategy this strategy will show the facilities we have their age, location and what activities are offered. The strategy will also look at the growth in population the councils expects in the coming years. From this we will look to bring in funding and investment where possible but at this time there is no long term plan for the leisure facilities in Barnet”.
Barnet pulled out some figures about the provision of swimming pools that were completely and utterly wrong. When I asked for the evidence they provided a long list of leisure clubs in Barnet including LA Fitness and David Lloyd. I was told that they counted towards the provision of swimming pools in Barnet because they offer “community usage” i.e. you can buy a day pass. A friend of mine who was also concerned about this problem (and a true community champion) rang around the various clubs and found that the cheapest day pass was £15/person with several operators not allowing day visitors. So yes we have lots of leisure facilities in Barnet but at £60 for a family of four for a single day pass or a family annual membership of over £1,000 a year it is definitely beyond the reach of many.
Nevertheless the chap from Barnet Council agreed that we could have a meeting to talk about the forthcoming strategy and an appointment at NLBP in August 2010 was confirmed. Sadly just a week later the meeting was postponed indefinitely.
Jump forward a year and in September 2011 the Cabinet consider a report on the “Strategic Leisure Review” where the main thrust of the report was how to cut £1.2 million out of the Leisure Budget in the next two years. Given that the current spend is only £1.7 million per annum that represents a cut of 35%. In the report it talks about “detailed consultation, which will be carried out with users and non-users of the leisure facilities, will support this objective and will enable an understanding of the changing user and resident needs in all sections of the community, including those members of the community who are protected under equalities legislation”.
As a follow up to the cabinet meeting, a public consultation was listed on the wonderfully difficult to find and expensive consultation hub website http://engage.barnet.gov.uk/. However since that time the consultation has been postponed twice. The last time it was postponed, in December, the public consultation was rescheduled to commence on 1 February. I duly logged on at 9.00 am all ready to give my views but no it was still showing as about to commence. I tried to email on the link given on the website but that didn’t work – what a surprise.
In the afternoon I was told that this consultation has been handed over to the Council’s One Barnet Implementation Partner, Agilisys/iMPOWER because the Leisure Strategy is now a “One Barnet project”. But do they have the requisite skills I wondered. No, so Agilisys/iMPOWER have drafted in a leisure expert, Duncan Wood-Allum from a specialist consultancy Sport, Leisure, Culture Consultancy . Apparently he will be preparing the strategic overview case which will then go to Cabinet and if approved will move forward to the business case. The problem is that once again the agenda will be set by a consultant and residents will only get consulted on the options the consultant determines are best for us. Residents will once again get left out of the policy development stage - it seems to be the One Barnet way.
What I want to know is how the council gets away with it - public consultation cancelled, no facilities audit and why the hell have the council designated this a One Barnet project and employed yet another expensive consultant.
The Council have p****d about for almost four years on this review, they have failed to engage with the public and now they want to spend a fortune on yet another consultant. In the last 18 months Barnet have paid Agilisys/iMPOWER £1.6 million on One Barnet, money that could have gone into delivering services and they now want to spend even more. Sadly I won’t be able to ask any more questions about the leisure review at Residents Forum because that is policy and One Barnet and therefore banned under the current repressive regime. Barnet Council is yet again demonstrating its utter contempt for the public.