Leisure bill still in bad shape

Share this article

THE boss of the company that runs Edinburgh's council-owned sports facilities today warned of more cuts as he revealed a new slump in income.

Edinburgh Leisure's finances are expected to fall 500,000 short of targets when its financial year ends tomorrow, while gym use is around five per cent lower than last year.

The economic downturn has been blamed for some attendance figures falling well below expectations, with some signs that people are choosing to take "free" exercise like jogging and walking rather than spending money on gym sessions.

John Comiskey, chief executive of Edinburgh Leisure, today said a review of all venues was to be carried out in the autumn.

The not-for-profit trust, which runs the Capital's sports facilities on behalf of the council, has already seen its council funding slashed by four per cent this year and is facing more cuts in the years ahead.

&#149 Should the city council be doing more to help Edinburgh Leisure? Vote here

The Crags Sports Centre and Queensferry Recreation Centre have already had to close because of funding cuts, while others including Dalry Swim Centre, Kirkliston Leisure Centre and Portobello Golf Course have been on the at-risk list.

Mr Comiskey said: "We are still not expecting further service disruption or closures in the next financial year. Beyond the next financial year, we still have a financial gap to close because we expect further cuts to council funding and will have to make decisions to bridge that gap.

"We will have more of a gap to bridge and that will mean that at some stage in the next six months we will review every part of the business and make recommendations and proposals to bridge that gap.

"The first thing to look at is are there ways to drive income? If that's not enough, we will need to look at cost reduction. That equates quite directly to service reductions."

While gym membership has fallen by five per cent, the number of people taking part in fitness classes has increased by around six per cent. Overall user numbers for "health and fitness" rose from 766,000 in the first nine months of 2009-10 to 776,000 in the same period of 2010-11, but income was two per cent lower than last year and seven per cent behind targets.

Mr Comiskey said: "Health and fitness has seen the biggest impact from the general recessionary figures that have really started to kick in this financial year. It is around 40 a month for memberships and, as times get tough for members, they have to make decisions about how they balance spending.

"The onus is on us more than ever to prove to customers the added value they get by coming to Edinburgh Leisure venues, that they get great service and that we help them achieve their health and fitness goals."

Sales of memberships were affected by severe winter weather in January 2010. This January's better weather saw 2100 annual memberships sold, 600 ahead of last year.

Edinburgh Leisure's financial position also stabilised in the last three months, which is partly attributed to the closure of the Crags Sports Centre and the decision to axe free swimming sessions for primary school-aged children and bring in a charge of 2 per swim.

A further two per cent reduction in council funding in 2012-13, which the company has been told to expect, could mean that 350,000 of savings need to be found ahead of the year beginning in April 2012.

Mr Comiskey said: "We fully understand the position the council is in, but they have to understand the impact that reducing funding will have. It will mean less people being active, a bigger drain on the health service and a bigger drain on benefits."

All of the opposition groups had proposed a budget for this year that did not include a cut to Edinburgh Leisure's funding, but the Lib Dem/SNP proposals, including the four per cent cut, won through.

Councillor Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: "I think it is essential that there is no further reduction in Edinburgh Leisure's grant. We are aspiring to be one of the most active cities in the UK and these kinds of cuts will not help."

A city council spokeswoman said: "All businesses and organisations which depend heavily on people's discretionary spending have been hit hard by the recession. The council continues to work closely with Edinburgh Leisure to help minimise the impact of the economic climate."


Warrender -14%

Gracemount -11%

Meadowbank -11%

Portobello -11%

Ainslie Park -8%


Warrender -27%

Ainslie Park -16%

Leith Victoria -10%

Drumbrae -7%

Leith Waterworld -2%


Princes -5%

Silverknowes -5%

Braids -4%

Portobello -4%

Carrick Knowe 0%


Gracemount -35%

Drumbrae -32%

Ainslie Park -31%

Kirkliston -17%

Saughton & Jack Kane -7%

Fighting fit

COMMUNITY power has helped save a city sports centre from the axe.

When it emerged last year that Kirkliston Leisure Centre could be closed, local groups launched a campaign to save it. In November, Edinburgh Leisure said it would give the centre four months to raise more revenue or face closure or reduced opening hours.

The local community council's campaign was embraced by staff and managers, who worked with residents to promote the centre. Local children even designed promotional materials for the centre.

Now it appears that the work has paid off, with the threat of action in the short term being lifted. In January, more people signed up to the centre than had done so in the whole of 2009 and it is now on course to achieve the target of a 50,000 increase in income.