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Conservative councillors condemn Council's plan to raise Pool and other admission charges

John Freeman
(Updated 23/2/11): Conservative councillors have hit out at a decision by Lancaster's Cabinet to raise the fees and charges for a range of services, saying they are excessive and unnecessary - and are challenging the decision.

Last week, the Cabinet voted to raise admission prices for Salt Ayre Sports Centre, Community Pools, Williamson Park, Parks and Recreation Grounds and Morecambe's Platform venue as part of a review of "Wellbeing Fees and Charges" (PDF Link), a move which will increase revenues by an estimated £77,700.

In the report, Council officers argued the agreed fee rises make "a small additional contribution to the 2011/12 budget process, whilst retaining fees at competitive levels".

An ammendment by Green councillors not to raise fees for physical activities was defeated.

The accepted proposal to raise charges also included a request that John Gilbert, Chairman of the Council's watchdog, the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, be consulted with a view to waiving call in, so the price rises could be implemented immediately.

Conservatives say the rises are the equivalent of a 0.9% increase in Council Tax from these sources alone, at a time when Council Tax itself is frozen, and incorporating hidden taxation into charges for physical activities is contrary to the public policy of encouraging such activities.

Now, they are challenging the Cabinet to justify claims that rises in charges to pool users are necessary to recover the City's costs in keeping the Pools open for community use.

Roger Mace"It is wrong to suggest that the future of the Pools is at risk unless huge increases are made in the charges to users" says Councillor Roger Mace. "Rises to recover the extra VAT - rounded up to the next 10p may be justified - but increases above that could easily be seen as unwise and largely unnecessary."

"If the Council wants to increase income from the pools, it should set charges at levels to encourage new users. It should not set prices that serve only to frighten users away from the recreational resources the Council has to offer".

The Conservatives argue the total impact of the fee rises is designed to recover the full impact of the extra 2.5% VAT rise for the Council, plus 2.4% for inflation - and an increase in the underlying charge going to the Council.

The report to Cabinet estimates the rises will generate an extra £23,900 for the extra VAT, £39,400 for inflation and £14,400 for the City Council above the notional inflation increases.

The Conservatives point out that last year's offer from the County Council to provide the City Council with additional income and savings to enable community pools to be kept open was accepted by the Cabinet this January, so there should be no reason to raise their admission charges.

23 February 2011 Update: The item has now been "Called-in" and the call-in is expected to be considered by a special meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee at about 6.00 pm on 1st March at Lancaster Town Hall.

Conservatives are also calling-in the cabinet decision 109 about Lancaster Market.

Minutes of the Cabinet Meeting - 15th February 2011 (PDF)