PLANS to cut back on a scheme that allows past and serving members of the Armed Forces free access to council-run leisure facilities have been slammed as a “cynical attempt at penny pinching on the backs of the brave”.
A report to Wirral’s ruling cabinet on Monday outlines how the authority plans to save in excess of £2m by transforming its leisure services.
It states that current prices for activities at council’s leisure facilities are “very competitive when compared to other local authorities in the area” and the “challenge is how to maximise income” without making the facilities unaffordable.
One of the proposals being put forward is to alter the discount given to current and former members of the Armed Forces.
At present, all current serving and former armed service personnel receive free use of facilities at all leisure facilities, at all times, with 2,400 individuals registered for what the council deems a “generous concession”.
The proposal is to target the free use benefit to current serving members of the Armed Forces – including the Territorial Army and Reservists – who are from Wirral and former service personnel who have suffered a disabling injury when in the services and are in receipt of a disability benefit.
But Wallasey Tory Cllr Paul Hayes has slammed the move.
He said: “This move is outrageous, coming just days after the people of Wirral celebrated the contribution of our Armed Forces during Armed Forces Day.
“The courageous men, women and veterans of our Armed Forces are deserving of our continued gratitude and support.
“This cynical attempt at penny pinching on the backs of the brave is a disgrace.”
Cllr Hayes added: “The cabinet report calls this scheme a ‘generous concession’ – I say it is the least we can do for those to who are prepared, or have been prepared, to make the ultimate sacrifice for us all. I call upon cabinet to immediately reject this plan.”
A new programme will also be made available for serving members and injured or disabled former service personnel which will include one-to-one gym instruction.
The report sets out that those who currently have the benefit of free use but would not qualify under the new policy will be given access to a discount of up to 25% on the corporate Invigor8 membership.
Cllr Chris Meaden, cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, said: “We want to continue to invest in quality facilities – like we are doing at the moment with the £2m scheme to improve our leisure centres and make them more attractive to customers – but we also want to make sure our facilities remain accessible and affordable for the most vulnerable members of our community.”
She said the new pricing structure is aimed at making it fairer and less complicated, adding: “If the report is backed by cabinet, serving armed forces personnel from Wirral will still be able to access our leisure facilities free of charge, as will any former serving officers living locally who have suffered a disabling injury or receive disability benefits.
“Indeed, the plan is to improve our offer in this area by offering them one-to-one gym instruction and, working with other departments, a wider package of support.”
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