Thursday, 14 May 2015

BRUG Response to Council's Culture 2020 Consultation,

Brixton Rec User Group is discussing how the Rec's future can be secured with a pricing structure that allows affordable access to the whole community.

In our letter to Cllr Edbrooke, Cabinet member for Leisure & Culture, we have given a detailed response to concerns raised in the 2020 Consultation, including the proposed digital hub, affordability and community led activities.

Architectural Photography by Simon Kennedy;

See below or download the PDF BRUG Response to Council's Culture 2020 Consultation.

Dear Cllr Edbrooke,

BRUG Response to Culture 2020

I write to submit our comments and questions on Culture 2020, largely in respect of the Rec. The issues overlap importantly with the future design and functions of the Rec, as implied or expressed in parts of the (Rec building) Feasibility Study on which we have commented, separately.

We address the proposed community digital hub; the Rec pricing policy based on ‘fairness’; the apparent policy that the Rec be ‘self-sustaining’ with no subsidy;> the Sport Innovation Fund; and the user and public consultation process on the future Rec.

On the proposed community digital hub, BRUG questions whether the ‘much needed additional study space’ is at least partly the result of actual or proposed closure of other facilities – at Lambeth College, and more immediately, those libraries marked for closure by the Council in the Culture 2020 proposals. We cannot agree to a digital hub in the Rec as a poor substitute for college or library facilities. Nor can we agree that the Rec becomes a (necessarily second class) substitute educational facility. This would also reduce facilities otherwise available for recreation, sport, leisure and community led initiatives in the Rec.

Pricing policy. 40% of the 1000+ people who completed the Council Rec User 2014 survey thought the prices too high. BRUG is especially concerned that the cost of the Pay As You Go card, £37.75 for those aged 16+ not eligible for concessions, and some PAYG activity prices actively deter the non or low, perhaps not very fit nor accustomed to physical activity person, from trying or continuing any such activity. We understand Lambeth policy is to encourage greater participation of these people, e.g. the proposal for older men’s physical activities. PAYG card and activity prices which deter participation can only undermine the achievement of these aims.

The Council’s reply that its policy is based on ‘fairness’, begs far more questions than it answers. It immediately raises comparisons in many minds with 'affordable' housing which in reality is not affordable for many people. At BRUG's request, two years ago GLL, prepared information on Rec prices and how annual increases were determined. BRUG now requests a detailed examination of the Council's 'fairness' policy and how it has or will be applied to determine the comparative and absolute price levels for the activities in the Rec. We want this to commence with the annual cost of PAYG cards, together with the charges for each major activity such as gym, exercise classes, over 55 club and swimming. Our second priority is to examine the charges for community activities and how these are determined in line with the 'fairness' policy. BRUG asked if 'self sustaining ' meant whether the Council would no longer subsidise the Rec or leisure centres generally.

We find the Council's answer incomprehensible: 'Setting costs within the existing management contract aside the building does not currently operate on a subsidy basis. Applying the principle of self-sustaining allows the Council to establish whether the building operates at a surplus or loss and thereby builds an appreciation of its relative financial position.... ' as the Council contributes considerable amounts to the maintenance and upkeep of the Rec. We learnt from an FOI request, that the Council paid directly £531k for the recent Rec refurbishment and new gym equipment, plus its share of the £208k of the LBL/GLL joint development fund established under the current contract.

We request written details of the items and funds to which the Council has contributed to the Rec over the past 10 years, to see how it would change if the 'the principle of self-sustaining' is applied 'to establish whether the building operates at a surplus or loss'. Summary of key risks in Culture 2020 lists two identified risks and actions should the risks transpire, in respect of the Rec.

1. ' Unable to negotiate a cost neutral contract' which, if this happens, the Council action would be 'Soft market testing of leisure operators', BRUG requests explanations of the 'cost neutral contract' being sought and the 'soft market testing' that might follow.

2. 'the Council are unable to meet the full capital costs for the proposed refurbishment,'in which case the Council would 'Explore alternative options for funding the capital programme including mixed use for the site and external investment linked to the new leisure management contract.'

BRUG requests to be kept fully informed and consulted as the capital programme unfolds.

As you know, access to facilities at reduced rates for Lambeth based community led sports and recreation groups and clubs is one of BRUGs central aims. We therefore would like to explore the Sports Innovation Fund with you. Issues to pursue include how it is to be funded. LBL has linked it recently to pricing policy and a 'self-sustaining' Rec, does this mean Rec users to pay more, and/or some of GLL surplus from the Rec to go to the Sports Innovation Fund rather than improvements at the Rec? What should be the aims of the Fund? Who should run and control its grants/support in kind? The three priorities outlined in Culture 2020, while laudable, do not appear to derive from a coherent policy. The first is setting up a Lambeth Active Women and Girls Programme; the second supporting clubs to achieve Sport England and FA Standards to enable access to external funding; and the third an Active Walks Programme. It is not clear, e.g. whether and how much the first and third priorities are generated by community-led groups, or are top down Council initiatives.

Citizen engagement in consultation on complex issues such as in the Rec Feasibility Study, and far more with the on line documentation on Culture 2020, is very difficult, even for those who attended the events. On Culture 2020, BRUG decided we could reasonably only distribute your cover letter to us, and the Brixton Buzz summaries, so as not to alienate supporters. Brixton Blog & Bugle recently published a critical commentary on the process. Even among our dedicated committee, several attended some events but only one read the full 1200 pages.
In the Rec, we have many from a very diverse and large potential group, who will participate if approached face to face on the premises. This was well demonstrated by the 2014 user survey when BRUG members on tables in the foyer at crucial times more than doubled user input. Many users are also active in their children's schools, on local estates etc. We have positive lessons from the documentation and workshop on the Feasibility study.

BRUG wants to effectively involve the maximum number in the consultation on the Future Rec. We therefore want to be involved immediately in the discussions on, setting up of the consultation process, including any selection of a consultation specialist.

Robyn Dasey,
BRUG Secretary

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