Monday, 23 November 2009

Discount card plan for leisure centres

A LEISURE card should be introduced for council-run facilities such as swimming pools and libraries in a bid to help low income residents, a report has urged.

A review by Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council said all residents should be offered the discount card – with low income residents getting bigger savings.

Young people, the over 60s, unemployed and disabled would also get discounts through the card, which would be free or “low” cost.

The card would apply to its leisure and cultural services such as swimming pools and libraries but could be later extended to other services such as car parking and music tuition.

It is hoped the move would encourage people on low incomes, who tend to suffer more problems such as obesity, to live healthier lives.

The council owns or part-owns facilities including Solihull Arts Complex, Tudor Grange Leisure Centre and Solihull Ice Rink.

If accepted by ruling councillors, the scheme would be up and running by January 2011 and cost £60,000 to £70,000 a year and £20,000 to launch.

A council report said while it “might not be considered as the best time for embarking on the proposed issue of a concessionary card” the scheme would be at the lowest possible cost to the council.

Yet the authority admits there is no cash set aside for the project in its plans and this would need “further consideration” by finance bosses.

The authority rejected the card idea in 2000 over cost, perceived loss of income from leisure centres, fears of low up-take, its offer to only those on low income and offering “a small number of benefits”, says the report.

Yet the national councils watchdog said the authority had to develop “a more consistent and effective approach” to pricing to help poorer people.

It warned there was a “mismatch” between the council saying it wanted to help people live healthier lives and the prices of its leisure facilities.

The SMBC report says: “The introduction of such card scheme would also allow greater price reduction to be put in place for low-income groups.”

And it said giving cardholders discounts for other businesses such as shops should be considered. It would be available at leisure centres and libraries.

A final decision is expected by the summer.

Click here for full details of the council’s leisure and cultural facilities.