Green councillor, Johnstone, hits out at sports charges

From the Edinburgh Evening News

HALF of Edinburgh’s sports clubs have warned they are at risk of folding as they struggle to meet the rising cost of hiring out council facilities.

Some clubs have seen the cost of using school sports halls and pitches – which is set by the individual school and not on a city-wide basis – surge by more than 50 per cent in the last year alone.

And there are fears moves to standardise rates across the city will only see fees hiked again as the city council battles to tackle its £90 million blackhole.

A new survey has found that the vast majority of clubs say costs are problematic, while more than half say they are a “major problem”.

Many clubs fear they could go to the wall, while others are scaling back the number of teams they run and having to charge more to take part.

The survey was carried out by council chiefs as part of the research into a city-wide strategy on pricing school facilities.

Hutchison Vale, one of the city’s most successful young football clubs, had to axe three of its teams this season because of the increasing cost of using the pitches of schools including Tynecastle High, Firrhill High, Forrester High and Broomhouse.

The club currently pays around £40,000 per year to hire training facilities from the council.

Les Trotter, an official with Hutchison Vale, said: “The cost is astronomical. The amount that youth clubs charge kids is very small and we can’t justify large amounts for training facilities. But if we don’t pay they can’t train.

“Last year we had to cut back on teams because there was not enough money and it’s the same for other clubs.”

It is estimated that more than two in every three of Edinburgh’s 500 sports clubs use council facilities.

Alison JohnstoneCouncillor Alison Johnstone, education spokeswoman for the Green group on the city council and a qualified athletics coach who helps teach youngsters at the Edinburgh Athletics Club, said: “I’m sick and tired of hearing so much about us needing to cut down on obesity and encourage children to be active while increasing the cost of accessing sports facilities.

“It would be disastrous if clubs are forced to close.”

Andy McSweeney, operations manager at Basketball Scotland, said: “Consistent feedback from our Edinburgh-based clubs is that the cost of school sports facilities is becoming more of a challenge each year, at a time when financial resources are stretched across the board.”

Buckstone Youth Dance Group, which runs 45 dance classes a week for children aged 4-18, beat plans by Buckstone Primary to charge it £150 a night. It instead pays around £30 a night, except on Thursdays, when it costs £75. But Sara Love, the group’s chair, said: “We pay a ridiculous amount.”