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Pricing changes for Aberdeenshire sports and community facilities assessed

By Kyle Ritchie

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A new approach to pricing for sports and community services in Aberdeenshire which takes into account the impact of coronavirus has been scrutinised by councillors.

Aberdeenshire Council's communities committee met online on Thursday and the proposals that are looking to be put in place until the end of March were outlined.

The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a shut down of Live Life Aberdeenshire's indoor facilities from March 21 to June 30.

Pricing will be adapted for sports services in Aberdeenshire, which takes into account the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Pricing will be adapted for sports services in Aberdeenshire, which takes into account the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

This was followed by a gradual and ongoing re-opening process in line with legislation and guidance from the Scottish Government.

To be able to open safely all services were adapted to ensure that they were compliant with the necessary regulations.

During the online meeting a report from the local authority's service manager for facilities and funding Tim Stephen outlined that this has led to a reduction in service capacity; reduced volume of opening hours; a requirement to move exclusively to online booking and payment; and a reticence from some users to return to services.

It has also meant Live Life Aberdeenshire has had to support education through the provision of extra space for curricular delivery at campus facilities and in some cases in dedicated public facilities.

This has led to an increased cost of services due to reduced capacity and additional cleaning costs; reduction in the amount of space available for groups to use; and a need to work with vulnerable customers, especially those with health issues, to ensure that they can access the services to obtain health and wellbeing benefits.

Mr Stephen told the meeting: "We recognise that some customers have found accessing services challenging and in some cases more expensive as social distancing has necessitated the withdrawal of a number of products which were previously on offer and cannot currently be supplied.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to reassure you we are monitoring these customer issues and are taking steps to resolve them in a Covid safe manner and where we can we are pricing new and adaptive products to minimise any barriers to access."

In his report he outlined that to meet the challenges created by the pandemic a more flexible approach to charging is required until March 2021, when the pricing structure will be reviewed.

It will see the continuation of the suspension of the direct debit membership scheme on the basis that there are alternative pricing options that recognise frequency of use. These are seen as more appropriate as a result of both the reduced services available and the need to discourage very high usage by individuals.

Where groups request or require exclusive facility usage which results in a significant cost to the service, for example cleaning, groups would make a contribution towards those extra costs.

Live Life Aberdeenshire is incurring additional cleansing and sanitisation costs, which have not been factored into existing price calculations. It will be looking to pass on a proportion of these costs to those who regularly hire facilities.

Delegated powers will be used to amend fees where social distancing makes the current fee structure untenable or the product is a new one. The officers will ensure that they use the existing fee structure as a guide wherever possible.

Officers will work directly with the Health and Social Care Partnership to identify where there are requirements for projects aimed at particular client groups with acute health needs. In those cases, delegated authority will be used to set prices for the products as appropriate.

The service will be working within its agreed pricing framework, and concession prices and qualifying criteria will remain in place; the existing differential in charges for commercial and standard lets will be the same and where schools utilise facilities for curriculum use, they will be charged for usage, which has not changed.

Committee chairwoman councillor Anne Stirling welcomed the report and asked if the officers could also engage with the council's area committees to work at a more local level.

She said: "Thank you to all the teams involved for the approach they have taken since March particularly.

"The progress that you are making is phenomenal and the resilience that you have shown is absolutely incredible."

The committee agreed to endorse the flexible approach to pricing that has been taken to date and delegate the pricing changes without referring back to the committee until March 31, 2021. An update report will be presented to councillors.

Meanwhile, the council has announced it has surveyed customers returning to use sports and leisure facilities, and it was outlined that a review of the online cancellation and refund policy was needed.

A council spokesman said: "As a result, we’ve upgraded our IT systems to allow us to refund any purchases you have made in error back onto your card.

"If you cancel a session you can now keep the credit on our system to use next time you book.

"We are always happy to receive feedback which helps improve our services."

For more information on sports and leisure opportunities across the area, including facility timetables and how to book a visit, see http://bit.ly/SPAbook

People can also call the customer helpline on 01467 532929 from 9am until 8pm, Monday to Sunday.

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