Council blasted over swim perks 'disgrace'

A SCHEME giving Harrogate councillors cut rate entry to their own council-run gyms and swimming pools has been branded a "disgrace".

Critics say a 40 per cent discount available to councillors, which was launched last month, is ill-timed and insensitive, with the council set to raise prices at its leisure facilities in April.

Claire Kelley, prospective parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats, said: "If the Tories can afford to make this reduction for councillors then they should open the offer to all Harrogate council taxpayers.

"To just look after their own at the expense of council taxpayers is a disgrace."

Monthly discount

Councillors are eligible for a monthly saving of 17 – available to all Harrogate Council workers – when they take out corporate leisure membership, giving them reduced entry at five swimming pools and three gyms run by the council.

Membership is usually 42.50 per month, but under the new scheme they pay the reduced rate of 25.50. All 1,400 council employees qualify for the deal, with 150 permitted to hold membership at one time.

In an email to staff, the council said it would consider extending the offer to employees' partners and family members in the future. This could also apply to councillors' families.

Council response

The Conservative-led council has defended the discount, saying that opening it to council employees, including councillors, will save taxpayers money.

Coun Richard Cooper, from the council's cabinet, accused the Liberal Democrats of looking to deflect attention from their "current difficulties", including the imprisonment of former deputy mayor Morris Lightfoot in December.

"We are not aware of any councillors who are taking advantage of the corporate membership scheme," he added.

But Mrs Kelley said councillors should not even be considered for "these sorts of perks".

"Councillors are paid for the work they do for the council. I think when they've refused 50,000 from the Government for free swimming for over-60s and under-16s, they shouldn't be asking council taxpayers to subsidise this big discount," she added.

'Complete misunderstanding'

Harrogate Council rejected the Government's concessionary swimming idea in September, saying it would cost the taxpayer at least 25,000 a year.

Yesterday, council leader Mike Gardner hit back at Mrs Kelley's remarks, saying: "This isn't about rewarding people, it's about encouraging people to pay out of their own pocket to be a member of a gym.

"Councillors are council staff, so we would have had to decide to actually exclude them."

Coun Gardner said the concessionary swimming proposal and corporate membership scheme were "entirely separate", adding that Mrs Kelley's comments showed a "complete misunderstanding" of the situation.

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