The Bickerstaffe Record

Being Labour, Cotterill on the Council, Leisure and culture

The bizarre logic of Tory irresponsibility

01.20.10 | Comment?

There was an interesting extrapolation from figures presented at last night’s West Lancashire Borough Council Conservative cabinet meeting

The portfolio holder for leisure services commented on the quarterly performance indicators for the period up to the end of September 2009, referring specifically to indicator WL18 ‘Use of leisure and cultural facilities (swims and visits)’.

This table shows that the numbers for all types of visit increased in July-Sept by 4,795 from the previous quarter, although they are down by 1,808 from the quarter before that.

Bizarrely, this was taken as evidence by the portfolio holder that the council had been right not to claim the government grants available and introduce free swimming for children 16 years and under.  

See the gap in the logic?

Swimming by under 16s makes up only a percentage of the overall use of facilities in the first place (roughly 25-30% based on figures I obtained from Serco specifically for swimming).  It is simply impossible to tell from the overall figure whether swimming usage as a whole has increased or decreased, never mind the position for swimming by 16 and unders.

I’m afraid the portfolio holder’s extrapolation is simply wishful thinking.   The figures I obtained from Serco for swimming during the last summer holiday month of August 2009 showed a 7.85% drop in usage across Nye Bevan and Park Pools  from the same month in 2008. 

Even if the final figures for the 2009 year, which I’ve requested from the council and am awaiting, do end up showing a small increase in young people’s swimming (and it will be nececesary to disaggregate school swimming from this), the main comparison should be with other council areas that do offer free swimming.  Two quick comparisons then:

  • Nationally, the number of free swims taken (by 16 and unders and over 60s) increased 31% between the first quarter of the scheme (April-June 2009) and the second (July-Sept).
  • Longer standing experience in neighbouring Wigan, which introduced free swimming for young people right back in 2005, saw a 60% increasein usage amongst young people. (Ironically, the council used data from Wigan to project possible additional staff costs as a way of explaining its decision not to take government grants in the first place.)

The real message behind the  portfolio holder’s wild extrapolations from the performance data is that this Conservative administration thinks it’s being really successful if its performance manages not to get any worse, and that it’s happy to bury its head in the sand, hiding away from what other councils are achieving by actually taking responsibility. 

Sad really. Very sad.

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