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Council sports facility warning

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Scottish councils could struggle to find the cash to improve local sports centres and maintain service levels for physical recreation, a report has warned.

Local authorities are responsible for almost 60% of the country’s 11,528 sports and recreation facilities.

And in 2008-09 councils and arm’s length bodies set up by them to run these services spent £656m on physical recreation services.

But a report by public spending watchdogs Audit Scotland said despite recent increases in capital investment, many indoor sports facilities were “still in poor condition”.

It added: “The current financial outlook will make it difficult to find the investment that is needed in local facilities and to sustain service levels and quality over the longer term.”

In the five years up to 2008-09 spending on physical recreation services increased by 4%, while spending on social work went up by 18.6% and housing and education had rises of 7.3% and 6.2% respectively.

Audit Scotland said the lower increase for physical recreation could indicate that “local government priorities may lie elsewhere”.

The report, prepared for the Accounts Commission, warned: “While 2008-09 saw some signs of budgetary pressures, the full impact of the recession on physical recreation services is not yet clear.”

Councils were urged to “find more creative and cost effective ways to deliver services while maintaining their focus on increasing levels of physical activity”.

Cutting costs was the most common reason given for the increasing use of arm’s-length bodies to run sport and recreation services.

Twenty-three councils use a total of 44 arm’s-length bodies to deliver physical recreation services - up from 28 in 2000.

John Baillie, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: “Councils are very aware that they need to make best use of their resources. Many are already looking at their physical recreation services and facilities to consider how sustainable they are.

“By taking a closer look at the way services are managed and the difference they make to the number of people taking enough exercise, councils will be best placed to weigh up their options and make the best decisions on service provision.”

Click here to read Audit Scotland’s report ‘Physical recreation services in locl government’

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