An obesity busting scheme giving free gym sessions and swimming to all Birmingham residents has been slammed as a waste of money by a leading city Conservative.
Coun Nigel Dawkins, who hopes to become Selly Oak MP at the next general election, believes that the health service and council could find better uses for the £9 million being spent on the Be Active project.
The project, which was approved by Birmingham’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat cabinet last week, offers all residents the chance to use a council-run gym or swimming pool for free at off-peak times in a bid to tackle soaring levels of obesity in the city.
But Coun Dawkins (Con, Bournville) believes that expanding the scheme to all people, including those with higher incomes, is unnecessary.
He said: “With the current economic climate there is a need for painful and strict budget restraint and yet we find ourselves able to spending £9 million on making facilities free to people who are perfectly capable of paying for them.
“It seems such a poor use of money. I would much rather see this money spent on targeting specific groups of people with health problems and for it to be used for investing in better equipment in our sports facilities.
“Clearly the health trusts who have donated almost £5 million to this scheme perhaps have too much money.
“What happens when the money runs out in 18 months time or even sooner? We then have to turn around to all of our customers to tell them that they now have to start paying again. It will be terrible and totally unnecessary disruption to the way we run these sports facilities.”
Cabinet member for leisure Martin Mullaney (Lib Dem, Moseley and Kings Heath) hit back saying the project might save money, and lives, in the long run.
He said: “It is a trial project, if we see a positive impact not just on participation but on the health of the city, we will obviously ask the health trusts to continue the funding.
“It may be that obesity is reduced and there are less people needing treatment for conditions such as diabetes.”
Be Active follows the Gym and Swim for Free schemes piloted in Ladywood, Hall Green and Perry Barr which were hailed as a huge success.