THE NUMBER of people using Monmouthshire’s leisure centres in the last half hour of the evening – when it’s planned to close them to save money – is in single figures.
That’s what members of Monmouthshire County Council’s performance and overview scrutiny committee, who questioned a plan to save £140,000 from April by closing the centres earlier in the evening, were told.
The council-run leisure centres at Abergavenny, Caldicot, Chepstow and Monmouth are currently open until 10pm on weeknights and 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
As part of the council’s proposed £8.4 million budget savings and cuts planned for the new financial year it intends closing the leisure centres half an hour earlier each weeknight, and an hour and a half earlier on weekends.
Monmouth Town ward Labour councillor Catherine Fookes asked if the council had any figures to support the reduced opening hours.
Ian Saunders, the chief officer in charge of the council’s Mon Life leisure services, said: “There’s no change to opening hours. The early mornings are very busy but the data tells us it’s down to single figures in the last entry after 9.30pm. The data is very explicit on usage.”
Committee chairman, Conservative member for Gobion Fawr Alistair Neill asked about numbers using the centres after the proposed new closing time of 4.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
In response the officer replied: “At the weekend those are the quieter times. Most families and young people use the leisure centres early and in the afternoons.”
He said of closing the centres early: “It’s not something we take lightly but clearly the data tells us that is the right time for those reduced hours.”
Mr Saunders also confirmed the leisure centres open at 6.15am.
The Mon Life service is the only area of the council which is seeing its core funding reduced next year, by 3.2 per cent which works out at £615,000 less than the £8.3 million it received for the current year, and is also having to make £390,000 in cuts and savings that includes a management restructure.
Cllr Neill said he was concerned about the impact of reduced hours on footfall at leisure centres and suggested it would lead to a “death spiral” that would see the council in future say it could no longer afford the services.
Cllr Ben Callard, the Labour cabinet member for finance, said the chairman had asked “a good question” but said: “Death spiral is strong language I probably wouldn’t use”.
He said reduced hours would be something the authority has to manage but described the leisure centres are “very good” and he hoped footfall would remain but “in a compressed period of time.”
Other cuts identified include saving £10,000 by closing the cafe at Tintern Old Station on Mondays from April, other than the four bank holidays.
Usk independent Meirion Howells asked if that could be reconsidered for the school holidays when he thought it would be busy.
Cllr Callard said Mondays had been identified as the period of lowest demand but said visiting figures could be looked at again.
But he said the cabinet’s priority has been protecting the vulnerable: “We have tried to share the burden out and I think areas like this probably come slightly more easy than some other areas. Closing this cafe one day a week is probably not top of the list in terms of that impact.”
Cllr Callard also said part of the £70,000 saving identified against the outdoor education centre at Gilwern by moving it “to a more sustainable model” would involve looking at the fees it charges other local authorities to use it.