Norfolk council defends price rise
Steve DownesProposals to increase the cost of hiring school halls, sports halls and swimming pools are designed to encourage more schools to throw open their doors for out-of-hours use by community groups, Norfolk County Council said.Steve Downes
Proposals to increase the cost of hiring school halls, sports halls and swimming pools are designed to encourage more schools to throw open their doors for out-of-hours use by community groups, Norfolk County Council said last night.
The council defended itself after it was revealed by the EDP that some community organisations fear being forced out of existence by the possible increases, which could see some charges double.
There are also worries that disadvantaged families could miss out on lifelines sports and clubs because of the steepling charges.
But last night, the council emphasised that just 102 out of 435 schools currently let their facilities to community groups because the present pricing regime 'no longer meets their costs'.
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A County Hall spokesman said the rates were 'last revised in 1995' and there had since been an increase in caretaking and energy costs.
Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said: 'We want to encourage community groups to use schools and recognise the benefits and rewards of these clubs. That is why we subsidise them to the tune of �93,000 per year.
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'Despite this considerable investment, we recognise that the subsidy level and charges to these groups no longer meet the costs of letting out school premises outside school hours and this is an issue that has been raised by schools, via the schools forum.
'We need to ensure that schools are not meeting the growing costs from their own budgets, which should be used for the education of their pupils.'
She added: 'We already know of at least one school that has stopped letting its premises to community groups because of the impact on the budget and we need to address this matter now before more schools are forced to turn groups away.'
Schools are currently used by 210 organisations for clubs and sport.
At present, the council provides a 25pc subsidy to community groups. On Monday, cabinet will decide whether to reduce that to 15pc, alongside the proposed increases in charges.
Mrs Thomas said tight budgets meant the council was 'not able to take on the additional costs' of increased subsidies.
She said: 'This has not been an easy task for officers or members and we recognise that this will be a difficult time for some of the groups affected.
'We believe the proposed new rates remain competitive, compared to the cost of hiring buildings elsewhere. The alternative might be that schools do not make their buildings available to community groups, which would have a much more significant impact on their future.'