POLITICIANS are being told they should have to pay to use a new full-time gym at the Scottish Parliament, which costs almost £4000 of taxpayers’ money each year.
Under existing plans, MSPs, parliament employees and political researchers will be able to work out in the dedicated fitness space for no charge at any time during the day.
But Edinburgh Western Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton says politicians should fork out a fee while the staff go free.
He said: “MSPs are probably the best paid people at Holyrood and we get lots of benefits and privileges, but other people working there – often on quite low salaries – don’t get that.
“We should be a good employer and treat staff well. The benefits of physical activity are well known.
“Parliament staff work very hard and they deserve some rest and recreation on the parliamentary estate, but there’s no reason why MSPs should not pay a fee.”
A room was included in the original layout of the £414 million Holyrood building for a gym on the first floor of the MSPs’ office block, but it was not kitted out at the time because of concerns about the cost. It lay empty for a while and was then used as a meeting room.
Last year Parliament bosses decided to open the gym on a trial basis and equipment was installed in the summer.
There were concerns noise from the gym could cause disruption for nearby offices, so opening hours were restricted. People were only able to use the gym before and after business hours and over lunch on weekdays, while being available any time at weekends and during recess.
But now the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), which oversees the building, has voted the gym a success. The body said noise proved not to be an issue and agreed to make the gym a permanent fixture and lift all restrictions on when it is used.
A report to the SPCB said there had been comments from MSPs saying due to their busy schedule “it would be beneficial if there were no restrictions at all on when the gym could be used”.
Officials said 220 pass holders, including 14 MSPs, had gone through the induction on how to use the gym since last summer. They estimated it was being used around 50 times a week. “This significant membership and usage confirm that demand for this facility exists,” the report said.
The larger pieces of equipment in the gym are hired at a cost of £3900 a year, which includes maintenance and allows items of equipment to be swapped. The gym features a treadmill, a cross trainer, two exercise bikes – one upright, one recumbent – and a rowing machine.
The Scottish Parliament said it recognised the benefits of keeping fit and had equipped the gym for people working in Holyrood to use.
A spokesman said: “The gym is a fairly small space and it’s free to use for Holyrood pass holders on account of the relatively modest cost of equipping the room.”