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Council-run sports centres in Worcester being hammered by rivals
FEARS are being expressed for council-run sports centres in Worcester - with taxpayer-funded facilities being "squeezed" by rival competition.
Worcester City Council says it expects sports centre income to plunge more than £200,000, largely due to private operators.
In recent months a David Lloyd Leisure and Fit4Free outlet have opened up in the city, hammering the council's budgets.
Politicians are now calling for a review into how to improve the council's sports centre offer, amid claims the current income levels are in "cardiac arrest".
In 2012/13 the council budgeted for £972,000 from sports centres in the city, and ended up pulling in £958,000.
In the current financial year a target of just over £1 million was set, but plunging income means by the end of December it was at just £563,136, with three months of 2013/14 left.
The council is now forecasting income of £787,620 next year, dropping it by more than £210,000.
Service manager Mike Worsnop said research by the council showed how David Lloyd, in Warriors Way and Fit4Free at St Martin's Gate have attracted at least 8,000 members between them since last year.
"Since 2009 we've seen a steady decline in income," he said.
"We've had two new leisure sites open very quickly together, one at the more exclusive end of the market and the second one at the other end, which has accelerated the position."
The council is trying to turn things around and dramatically slashed prices this month, with the centres in St John's and Nunnery Wood offering six months membership for £99, down from £170.
So far 251 people have signed up, and the deal being extended to this Sunday in a bid to get 300 new customers in.
Councillor Simon Geraghty, leader of the opposition Tory group, said: "The income is in cardiac arrest, that's the way I'd describe it.
"We've only got a short period of time to turn it around before we've got to make big decisions.
"It seems to me that we're being squeezed at both ends of the market - I don't want to see any centres close but it does beg the question of what this council's role is for fitness and leisure."
Duncan Sharkey, the managing director, said: "It's a commercial business and what we need to do is 'refocus' it to find a pricing policy that will attract people in.
"We reduced the headline rates because we want to compete, with other leisure centres you often pay one rate and then extra for other add-ons, but not with our facilities.
"That's the message we've got to get out."
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