Rise in charges as Falkirk Community Trust plugs the gap

The Kelpies helped Falkirk pull in almost 1 million visitors
The Kelpies helped Falkirk pull in almost 1 million visitors

Fitness fans and sports clubs are to be hit in the pocket after it was agreed to hike charges at leisure and sports centres across the district.

An increase of three per cent will be applied from April as Falkirk Community Trust, which manages the area’s leisure and cultural activities, struggles to cope with a half-a-million pound funding cut.

Book lovers will also be affected as fewer paper and hardbacks will be bought for local libraries.

However, the Trust, which came before Falkirk Council this week to present its business plan for the next financial year, said improvements were also planned for some of the area’s most popular attractions.

Presenting the plan, culture spokesman Councillor Adrian Maloney told the council: “I know the increase in charges is controversial.

“The challenges facing the Trust and the council are immense.

“We have to do the best we can.

“My view is to protect services and weather the storm. We have much tougher times to come and that worries me.”

The Trust’s plans are in response to a proposed £620,000 cut in the grant it will receive from Falkirk Council in the next financial year.

The reduction, which will continue in the coming years, is part of the local authority’s plan to plug a £40 million black hole.

On Monday, members were asked to approve the plans and grant a service payment of £12.6 million to the Trust – the cash needed to run its activities in 2015-16.

But the council was also asked to adjust a funding agreement which will allow the Trust to extend its borrowing limit from £200,000 to £1 million for “three or four projects”.

However, opposition councillors criticised the rise in charges, claiming it would affect those who could least afford it.

The SNP also called for more clarity on investment plans and argued for an agreement to be first put in place to make the Trust’s grant submit to performance scrutiny.

SNP Councillor John McNally said: “There is a real concern about any impact higher charges will have on the community attending these facilities.

“Before we increase the borrowing limit, we need an indication of what this money is for. We hear three or four projects, but there are no hard facts before us.

“The Trust needs to demonstrate a clear need for a £1 million borrowing limit.”

SNP Councillor Tom Coleman criticised plans to cut the book budget.

He said: “This is one of our statutory obligations, and we’re not meeting that.”

But Labour’s Linda Gow praised the Trust.

She said: “The Trust is still in its infancy, but it has won awards and we read in its annual report positive growth and positive actions.”

Investment plans will see £160,000 being spent on a new wave machine for the Mariner Centre and £109,000 being used to spruce up flumes at Grangemouth Sports Centre.

Also almost £300,000 will be invested to improve ICT facilities in all centres, allowing customers to book online.

The Trust also reported that, in its first full year of operation, around 960,000 people had visited the Helix.

The Trust’s Chief Executive Maureen Campbell told the council the organisation looked forward to a visitor centre in the summer and more merchandise for sale.

A vote for the SNP’s amendment was defeated by 16 votes to 14.