Stafford Borough Council has said a number of sport and recreation charges will go up by more than 12.3% – the Retail Price Index at the time of the review – to reflect “significantly higher costs”, particularly energy.
The authority has also said the rises are in keeping with the contract with Freedom Leisure, the not for profit trust that runs Stafford Borough’s leisure and cultural services, and there is a “desire to achieve greater cost recovery”. But some councillors questioned the increases during a scrutiny session.
The concessionary rate for hiring a grass pitch for a football match will soar by 26.5%, from £34 to £43. And other rates going up by more than 12% include hourly tennis court bookings and school use of the floodlit synthetic pitch at Riverway.
Councillors were told at a community wellbeing scrutiny committee meeting on Thursday (November 17) that officers had mainly suggested a 5% increase in fees and charges for 2023. And some, such as car parking charges and garden waste collection, will be frozen at 2022 prices.
Councillor Ray Sutherland said: “Realistically I understand the need to increase charges over and above inflation in some cases. Hopefully the energy costs at some stage will come down – will we be reviewing the cost at that stage?”
Councillor Carolyn Trowbridge, cabinet member for leisure, replied: “I don’t think energy costs will come down. But if they do provide some miracle and drop back to normality, everything gets reviewed each year.
“I see it being a lot worse next year, not better. So I can’t see them coming down.”
Councillor Brendan McKeown said: “It’s disappointing we are increasing sport and recreation charges when at the same time we are talking about health and wellbeing. That seems contradictory when what we want to do is improve our health, especially when concessionary charges go up disproportionally by 26%.”
Councillor James Nixon said: “I know it’s a very difficult situation we find ourselves in, especially on the back of Covid. And obesity levels in this country are pretty appalling.
“Some of the charges do seem pretty high when we could see inflation dropping to 7% next year. Have we looked into seasonal offers and promotions and is there a chance to model it, so during the winter months we drop the prices so we can increase usage?”
The meeting was told most people who book pitches do so for the entire year and received a discount for block booking. And the 26.5% concessionary rate rise for grass pitch hire was to bring it in line with other areas as there had not been an increase for some time.
Councillor Angela Loughran said: “We talk about increases because of energy but how are you going to justify all these increases in bowls and tennis when they are being played during the day? There are increases for schools and they are being quite seriously hit in their budgets – schools don’t tend to play in the evening.”
Councillor Trowbridge responded: “This isn’t just an energy crisis. Inflation is there, like it or not.
“This is to bring our budgets into focus; we have got a big shortfall – £2m – to find. If we don’t find it we will go down the route of other councils shutting swimming pools – that is so much worse for someone’s health than keeping them going but at a lower temperature.
“We are looking at every issue we can to come within budget. Yes, some of the prices will increase but some of these are going up by 30p.
“And if you look at things like football going up it ends up being under 40p per person playing. They will go and spend £6 on a pint in the pub after happily.
“I am not worried about putting football pitches up for people using it if it makes it sustainable. What we’re trying to do here is make the budget sustainable so we don’t have to close anything and so we can keep everything running.
“State pension is going up in line with inflation and the school budget has gone up. They are getting an increase – why can’t we get an increase?”