Low leisure fees axed 'to avoid confusion'

CHEAP off-peak prices have been scrapped at city leisure centres – with bosses claiming it is to make pricings "easier to understand".

Leaflets have been distributed in Edinburgh Leisure sites announcing the end of the cheap rates and claiming the move is in response to customer feedback.

However, this has led to a barrage of complaints with users branding the PR-spin "utterly ludicrous".

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The leaflet reads: "You asked us to make things easier to understand and by removing off-peak prices we can do that (it halves the number of prices)."

And continues: "We know that everyone is feeling the pinch in the current economic climate so we've tried to keep as many prices as possible at the same rate so you don't feel the pinch from us."

Student Ross Gibson, 30, from Pilrig, and his friends regularly visit Meadowbank Sports Centre or Craiglockart Leisure Centre to play badminton, hiring out a court for 4 an hour during afternoons.

But when they went last week, they were told the price had risen to 9.80 owing to the removal of off-peak times.

He said: "The explanation is written in total PR jargon, trying to make it look as though the changes are for our benefit. It's utterly ludicrous."

He added: "I find it really patronising, not just to me, but to the public.

"It's a real cheek that they think they can write these things.

"The changes could also put people off who need this the most, such as the unemployed or those on low incomes."

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The move sees most 2009 peak prices remain and leisure card holders still receive a discount of around 25 per cent. But councillors have admitted it could lead to a drop in the number of users visiting facilities during traditional off-peak times.

Conservative councillor Cameron Rose said: "While simplifying is welcome, any increase in prices is regrettable.

"There is a risk of resistance from users, but people will essentially have to make their own choice, as does Edinburgh Leisure."

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh Leisure said that "through a series of focus groups", it emerged the majority of the customers who use facilities at off-peak times do so "because the time suits them", as opposed to being "attracted by the reduced price".

She insisted the non-profit organisation has a duty to operate "within the subsidy" given to it by the council and "re-invest any surplus back in to the services we manage on their behalf".

The spokeswoman added: "Edinburgh Leisure has 4.1 million customers a year. Therefore, we have to communicate in a way which stretches across a number of user age groups, from children to older adults and across all social demographics.

"The style, tone and format of our communication material is largely informed by the feedback we receive directly from our customers.

"We will continue to take on board any further comments and suggestions that they might have in order to ensure that the correct message is given to all."