Birmingham’s leisure centres could be spared the worst of council cut backs when a £2 million deal to extend the Be Active free gym scheme is signed in the next month.
The NHS is expected to bankroll the scheme which offers free gym membership for all residents for the next year.
The scheme’s extension comes at a time when council leisure centres are facing budget cuts which could lead to cuts in opening hours, certain facilities being dropped or even whole centres closing.
But it will mean that community leisure centres and swimming pools will need to continue to offer free sessions at off-peak times and could spare them the cuts.
Be Active has been hailed a success with almost half of Birmingham’s adult population taking part and public health bosses expect to reap the benefits for years to come through a healthier population with less hospital admissions.
Members of the city’s leisure scrutiny committee welcomed the continued investment as well as plans to increase funding through the Government’s social impact bond scheme and even sponsorship.
Committee member Phil Parkin (Con, Sutton Trinity) was concerned at supporting a universal, free-for-all scheme at a time when budgets are being squeezed and suggested a targeted scheme.
“Is this an effective use of taxpayers money. I wonder if we should target the support at those who need it,” he said.
Be Active manager Keran Jerwood said: “It saves the NHS money in the long term, and the £2 million cash injection will be extra money for the council to keep leisure centres open.”
John Denley, associate director of public health for South Birmingham, said that although it cost money up front, the gains in tackling obesity, heart disease and other fitness conditions made it cost effect.
“It is not just physical fitness, there is social benefit in meeting people, people feeling good about themselves and combatting mental health problems,” he added.
Coun Parkin replied that if it kept leisure centres going, he welcomed the extension.