Schools forced to pay thousands for sports

SCHOOLS in Westminster are paying thousands of pounds to use council-run facilities, the Wood&Vale has learnt

Susanna Wilkey

SCHOOLS in Westminster are paying thousands of pounds to use council-run facilities, the Wood&Vale has learnt.

The use of sports facilities such as Paddington Recreation Ground is costing schools across the borough an unhealthy amount of cash.

But many have no choice because they do not have their own playing fields and must provide sport for the pupils.

St Augustine's and St George's use Paddington recreation ground as do many primary schools and they all have to pay.

MP for Regent's Park and Kensington North Karen Buck has raised the issue in Parliament. She said: "One school spends £4,800 for Paddington Recreation ground and £10,000 for all the sports facilities it uses.

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"The situation is schools in the local authority area are having to pay the council to use council facilities. That is crazy and the sums involved are relatively small for a local authority but large for the individual schools.

"It wouldn't hurt a local authority like Westminster which has millions of pounds to give the facilities for free.

"But when it comes down to the schools, which are having to put all their core funding into teaching, it seems wrong to ask them to spend thousands out of their budget to pay for council run sports facilities.

"Each school is different - some have more outdoor space than others but then there are schools which have cut their costs according to their means and so the kids just don't get as much access to sporting facilities and play because the school cannot afford it.

"We want kids to be doing as much sport and physical activity as possible. But if schools are having to pay to use council owned playing fields it is restricting the amount they can do.

"There are plenty of other councils that let schools use their facilities for free so why can't Westminster?

"It seems to be a no-brainer for parks and playing fields - they should be free for schools.

"These pitches were also paid for by government money and the council is charging schools to use them."

Cllr Barrie Taylor also believes schools should be able to use the facilities for free and raised the issue at the council meeting on Wednesday.

He said: "There are so many schools in Westminster without playing fields that for the local authority to double impose something like charging them it seems right out of kilter.

"What we should be doing is encouraging sport to take place, not stepping in the way. We should be helping them make it work well, not charging them.

"There is a massive emphasis now on obesity among children and the only possible compliment to that is to get kids more active - this is discouraging that.

"Sport needs to be instilled into children while they are at school so when they grow up it becomes part of their everyday lives."

Customer and community services boss Cllr Daniel Astaire said: "We believe that keeping fit and healthy is important for everyone, especially young people, so schools in Westminster benefit from considerable discounts of up to 75 per cent when they want to use local facilities.

"The council also provides a number of free activities, including free swimming lessons and free use of sports pitches - including some periods at Paddington Recreation Ground - on a casual basis.

"If the school were to have its own playing fields it would pay out the same amount of money every year in maintenance regardless of whether this was directly with a contractor or indirectly through the council."