We need to act now!
Rutherglen Amateur Swimming Club’s vicechairman feels the Scottish Government and South Lanarkshire Council are putting their heads in the sand over children’s health.
Earlier this year, the Reformer reported the club feared for its future after an estimated rise in costs of £20,000.
South Lanarkshire Council approved a rise in the use of its facilities fees as part of its £18.242m savings plan, and the club, which trains at the Lifestyle sports centre in Eastfield, fears the worst, as it will have to pass the increased costs onto its members.
Club vice- chairman Mark Fawcett, a GP in Glasgow, is especially concerned as it could lead to young people having less exercise and not being able to continue the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, which were held in Glasgow last summer.
Dr Fawcett wrote to Shona Robison MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Sport, earlier this year, voicing his concerns after South Lanarkshire Council’s decision to charge clubs for the use of their facilities.
Responding to his letter, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Dr Fawcett has raised some valid points about the importance of physical activity and the Minister for Sport, Health Improvement and Mental Health responded to him on April 2.
“All local authorities have a statutory responsibility to ensure there are adequate sporting facilities for their residents. However, it is for local councils to determine the level and range of support that is provided, taking into account local needs.
“Last year the Scottish Government launched a 10-year plan to tackle physical inactivity in Scotland, which looks to build on the active legacy ambitions of the 2014 Commonwealth Games. We continue to work with partners to promote the importance of sport and physical activity through a number of campaigns and are investing over £3m a year in physical activity projects.”
However, Mark believes the real issue is being avoided by both the Scottish Government and South Lanarkshire.
He said: “I find it quite disappointing that the Scottish Government have essentially shown no support and devolved all responsibility to the local authority without vocalising any support for a subject that they profess to promote and is at the forefront of their policy portfolio, and the local authority are pleading lack of funding from Scottish Government, and hence ‘not our fault’ also.
“Both are missing the bigger picture. The problem is this compartmentalisation of ideas and funding into education; health; employment; which in parallel isolation are making little progress into the needs of the area or the nation.
“What is needed is big picture thinking that sees the interaction of all these things to produce a more effective, sustainable and productive outcome. Something both local authority and national government say that they are wanting but are not making any advancement towards achieving.
“The money is tight, we get that. The policies being implemented however only exacerbate this in the long term whilst the more disadvantaged of the community are bearing an inequitous proportion of the burden and consequences immediately. This is a far cry from the social justice platform that the county’s major political parties campaigned upon.
“Withdrawing funding from sports clubs will place yet another barrier to the less advantaged families in our community.
“It places a greater burden on the health service as reduced activity leads to increased obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and stroke prevalence and all the expensive sequelae that come along with this such as healthcare costs; rehabilitation services; social work support; health related financial support.
“It reduces employment productivity as it has been shown that those who are healthier and engage in sport are rewarded with increased performance at school and therefore are more likely to enter further or higher education and therefore be more successful in the workplace, producing the innovators and taxpayers of the future that this nation, this everaging nation, requires to be self sustaining and successful.”
Gerry Campbell, general manager of South Lanarkshire Leisure and Culture said: “The council and SLLC has had to achieve significant levels of savings in recent years, and that remains the case for 2015/16 and beyond.
“This has resulted in difficult choices. As part of the efficiency programme, from April this year, there will be an increase in charges for sports clubs using our facilities.”
Rutherglen MSP James Kelly has spoken with Mark about the issue.
Mr Kelly said: “Dr Fawcett has been in touch with me about concerns with the on-going costs for Rutherglen Swimming Club. I have raised this with the council and I am awaiting a response.
“There is no doubt that these cuts are a direct result of the reduction in council’s allocation from the SNP government in Edinburgh.
“Leaving that aside, it is important in the aftermath of last year’s successful Commonwealth Games that we support local sports clubs.”
The swimming club recently wrote to local councillors inviting them to see for themselves how the club is doing.
One who took up the opportunity was Cambuslang East SNP councillor Christine Deanie.
A member of Cambuslang and Rutherglen Sports Council, she said: “It’s a thriving club and with the legacy of the Commonwealth Games, we should be promoting sport and keeping the equality there for the children, from any background, to participate.
“The SNP group didn’t vote for the budget this year.
“If you put the money out now on sport, it saves you later. It’s a false economy and it encourages good health now.
“Some people will not be able to afford it with the price rises, and a lot of people are too proud to say money is an issue. We will end up with people physically drifting away from sport, and in the 21st century, that’s not on.
“What we have got at the swimming club is a group of volunteers and you can’t quantify the time, commitment and dedication they put in.
“This measure is counter-intuitive - there’s not just health benefits, but it helps the children build relationships and a team spirit, which adds to the community.”
Mark concluded: “The population is ageing. The nation will rely on a productive, active and innovative workforce to be able to support the ever increasing ageing demographics of the nation.
“The majority of healthcare spending per individual is in the senior years of our lives.
“If we can keep people healthier for longer this will not only have a personal benefit to the individual and their families, but we as a society will benefit from a productive, engaged, more prosperous and happier community.
“Th e i nv e s t m e nt , the commitment to this goal must be made now though. Waiting until ‘ better days’ will not happen. Waiting for oil prices to recover will not work. Waiting for a better economic climate is a fallacy as it will not come, unless we do something now.
“The statistics that children in South Lanarkshire are destined to have a life expectancy five years less than the nation’s average - which in itself is not great - are only statistics at the present moment. We can change this, the reality can be different, can be better. But we need to act now, waiting to see if the statistics are eventually true or not, is too late and only condemns other generations to a similar fate. Obama said in his campaign when speaking of change, ‘yes we can’, I would echo this, but it’s not just a ‘we can’, it’s a ‘we must’, there is no other option.”