Children in care are facing a 1,370 per cent hike in the annual fee to access Worthing leisure centres after a charitable trust said their cut-price discount was unsustainable.
South Downs Leisure, which operates Worthing Borough Council’s leisure facilities, is ending the £20 a year membership scheme for looked after children and young adults leaving care with a GEM card.
The trust’s planned increase to £24.50 a month still represents a 46 per cent reduction on the full adult FIT4 price – but critics of the £274 annual rise said it would price vulnerable people out of the service.
South Downs Leisure said the revision was still a substantial subsidy. But councillor Michael Cloake, chairman of West Sussex County Council’s Children and Young People’s Services Select Committee said: “It just smacks of commercial interest being put above the interests of our most vulnerable and needy people. Ultimately, these kids can’t afford it.
“They need a bit of a leg up in life and this is just another organisation knocking them down.”
Mr Cloake believed the move was against the charitable aims of the trust and called for it to be reviewed.
Liberal Democrat county councillor Bob Smytherman, who helped set up the scheme, said the change was ‘disappointing’ and backed calls for a rethink.
He said: “I have written to my colleague Morwen Millson as chair of the (county council) corporate panel to see if we can persuade South Downs Leisure to rethink.”
Duncan Anderson, trust chief executive, argued the rate could not be continued unless others, like the county council, contributed.
He said an amicable meeting was held with council representatives to discuss the issue.
“We have offered West Sussex the opportunity to contribute to this subsidy and bring this price down further as currently we are subsidising the 147 members to the value of approximately £60,000+ a year,” he said.
“The new scheme will still be subsidised by over £20,000 per year.
“It is very disappointing that South Downs Leisure, which is a charity itself and has to make ends meet, is providing a subsidy and service to these vulnerable children and adults and is currently under criticism in doing so.”
Anyone with less than three months left on the membership could continue for another year, Mr Anderson confirmed.
He said: “Mistakes were made to offer a membership for £20 a year or 5p a day and this is not sustainable at the current price unless funding can be found.”
In talks with Mr Cloake, he claimed the new price was ‘extremely generous’.