If a commercial enterprise abused its dominant position in the market place — for example by squeezing out the opposition — it would be illegal.
When it’s an arm of local government it’s apparently legal.
As we reported last week, Everybody Sport and Recreation, which now runs leisure centres across Cheshire East, is kicking out swimming clubs that use its pools to teach people to swim.
A spokesman for the organisation told us last week that it planned to “deliver the Learn to Swim (Amateur Swimming Association stages one to seven) in-house,” which we think, waffle and business-speak aside, means that it wants to keep the money for itself.
For those who don’t know, Everybody Sport and Recreation is what used to be the leisure arm of the council, but as it sheds services to cut costs, Cheshire East Council has set up standalone companies, one of which runs leisure centres — built using ratepayers’ money don’t forget.
While a charity, Everybody Sport and Recreation is a non-profit distributing organisation that tries to make a profit, though any profit is reinvested in services or growth rather than being distributed to shareholders. This contrasts with a non-profit organisation, whose aims are other than making a profit.
It’s true that Everybody Sport and Recreation may use its profits to improve leisure services but it seems wrong that this should be at the expense of volunteers. This is particularly the case for an organisation whose aims include “growing an ethical business” and “building strong communities and effective partnerships”, neither of which are met by kicking out long-established volunteer-run groups. (And what happened to Big Society?).
As we have sadly come to expect from Cheshire East, the approach has been heavy handed and somewhat economical with the truth.
In last week’s Chronicle, Everybody Sport and Recreation said: “It is not the case that we are closing any swimming clubs down” yet Congleton Amateur Swimming Club was created to teach people to swim and does not enter competitions.
It stands to be barred from teaching two thirds of its pupils, so what else should Everybody Sport and Recreation expect other than it would close?
It’s hardly a secret organisation — it was featured in the Chronicle last year and presumably is well known at Congleton Leisure Centre. The powers that be must have known what would happen.
Macclesfield Amateur Swimming Club — founded in 1893, the same year as the Chronicle — is also dedicated to teaching people to swim. It says it will not be able to continue after being told it can no longer hire the pool in Macclesfield.
Everybody Sport and Recreation also told us last week that it had “involved the swimming clubs in the consultation process” over six to eight months, yet the Congleton club’s Sue Conway, in a letter to the Chronicle this week, says: “We were ignored, and have not been party to any consultation.”
In another letter, Dave Gittins, of Dane Valley Amateur Swimming Club, says that the first his club knew was a letter in October — four months ago — but as the club did not meet until January there had in fact been no consultation.
“It is frustrating that an elected representative does not avail themselves of the full facts before speaking publicly on an issue,” he wrote.
We know the economic situation and that Tory cuts are forcing Cheshire East Council to take drastic steps but Everybody Sport and Recreation has been given premises that were built and paid for by the public.
Its own stated aims are to be ethical and to build strong communities — it’s hardly doing either when it kicks out long-established community groups doing good work and run by volunteers.
It’s definitely not ethical to claim to have consulted people for six to eight months when those very people claim that this is not true.
Being ethical means questioning what actions are right or wrong in any circumstance.
Chucking out volunteers teaching people to swim for your own benefit — charity or not — is definitely not ethical.