Preston Council price hike fears

Priced out?:The pool at Fulwood and, inset, Coun Martyn Rawlinson
Priced out?:The pool at Fulwood and, inset, Coun Martyn Rawlinson
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Price hikes at gyms, museums and theatres are necessary to keep the services running, council chiefs claim.

Plans to put up prices for council-run gyms, museums and the Guild Hall will see cash-strapped Preston Council bring in an extra £56,000 as part of efforts to save £3m by 2017/18.

Changes will see annual swimming memberships increase by 11 per cent at council-owned leisure centres and prices for classes go up by eight per cent.

Peak gym memberships will also rise by three per cent.

The move will also see family memberships and couple’s memberships scrapped altogether.

But in a bid to get more young people into the gym, fees for teen memberships will be lowered by 19 per cent.

There will also be increased fees for using facilities at the Guild Hall.

Coun Martyn Rawlinson, cabinet member for resources, said: “Obviously any increase in price would help us at the moment due to the continuous reductions in our government grant.

“Each individual charge is looked at on its own merits and what else is on offer for people out there and in line with our policies of wanting people in Preston to be healthier.”

However, Coun Rawlinson admitted there is a ‘real danger’ the increases could mean people stop using the services.

He said: “If we price people out of leisure centres they are going to close. They need to be competitive, but still be accessible.

“It’s a tricky balancing act. It’s very, very hard. If anyone else made the same decisions, they would probably make different conclusions.

“We are being hit by inflation the same as everyone else with the reduction in our income.

“We fully understand people are struggling and may choose to stop using the services if prices go up.”

The cost of being a member of Preston Council’s leisure centres is now higher than some private companies.

Hiring the Guild Hall for meetings, concerts and dances on weekdays, between 9am and 6pm, is to increase by more than £100, and on Friday, Saturday and Sunday by almost £200.

The changes would bring an extra £48,000 through leisure services, £5,000 in through the Harris Museum, £3,000 through the Guild Hall.

A report outlining the figures states that the increases will “inevitably” have some “negative impact” on people on low incomes.

But this has to be balanced against the need for the council to “maximise its income” in order to retain quantity and quality of its services to all its customers.

Coun Bill Shannon, leader of the Liberal Democrat group of Preston Council, said: “The problem is if you don’t impose increases every year, you get yourself in a position where you have to make a dramatic increase.”

Coun Shannon said the group had criticised the ruling Labour group for not bringing in small increases each year, which now means larger increases will have to be made.

However, he added: “Clearly it makes total sense to raise as much money from users of services, the alternative is losing those services.”

Conservative group leader Coun Ken Hudson said: “Clearly the budget is under pressure and the government is not putting as much grants into Preston Council as they were, and to balance the books you’ve got to increase income or stop doing something.

“I think with the leisure centres it’s essential for the health of the people of Preston they are kept open.

“I would suspect this is the only way that they are going to keep things open.

“The Labour group has to be very careful they don’t do things that break the camel’s back.”

The council is reviewing all services and more information on other fee increases are expected to become available in the coming weeks. The fees will come into force on April 1 this year.

A spokesman for Preston Council said: “The council is reviewing all fees and charges in all areas as part of its efforts to achieve the £3m savings required over the next three years.

“Any additional income will help to offset the council deficit.”