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Highland Council’s rent hikes could threaten the viability of children’s sport and leisure clubs

Matt Smith, chairman of Cradlehall Primary School FC, who are facing a £6,000 bill for using a pitch and hall at Millburn Academy in Inverness. Picture by Sandy McCook
Matt Smith, chairman of Cradlehall Primary School FC, who are facing a £6,000 bill for using a pitch and hall at Millburn Academy in Inverness. Picture by Sandy McCook

Sport and community groups for kids are fearing for their future after Highland Council agreed to hike rental costs for classrooms and pitches.

There are worries that many groups will struggle to continue.

Most will be left to simply pass the extra cost on to parents.

As the worst cost of living crisis in recent memory bites, that could see a lot of children withdrawn from extra-curricular activities for financial reasons.

Cradlehall Primary Football Club is one of many that has been hit.

What has changed?

Under the previous agreement, the Cradlehall club was not charged for using an indoor hall and an outdoor astro pitch at nearby Millburn Academy.

That’s because as an Inverness primary school, they were affiliated to the council.

But at a meeting back in March, a proposal to scrap that agreement and design a new structure of charges was agreed by councillors.

That means Cradlehall’s football club – which is open to children from primary 2 to primary 6 – is now being hit with a bill for £6,000.

The football club has been using facilities at Millburn Academy.

Matt Smith, a coach who is also chairman of the volunteer-led club, said they will ditch their indoor sessions – cutting the bill to £2,000 – and absorb the financial hit for the first term.

But that model will quickly become unsustainable.

Mr Smith said: “Parents I have spoken with have voiced support of the club’s position.

“These charges are unfair and a detriment to engaging children in physical activity as there is now a significant cost barrier to entry.

“I feel frustrated because it’s already difficult to get children fully engaged with sport.”

A 400% hike in the cost of playing

Previously, kids at Cradlehall paid an annual £30 subscription fee to cover things like strips and insurance.

Under the new cost structure, that figure needs to jump to around £120 – a four-fold increase – just for the club to break even.

Mr Smith added: “These kids have had two years of significant disruption already because of Covid.

Cradlehall coaches (l-r) Matt Smith, Duncan Alexander, Iain MacPherson, Brian Eardley and Grant McBride have raised concerns. Picture by Sandy McCook

“This on top of it makes it even harder to get them to engage physically and socially.

“If we don’t cover the cost of the hall in the winter – I can’t see six and seven-year-olds enjoying running and playing outside in the cold driving rain.”

And Cradlehall Primary FC is not the only group affected.

Costs are rising across the board, which Highland Council says will generate an extra £389,000.

Polska Szkoła Inverness (Inverness Polish School) was paying £5,500 to rent a space at Inverness High School.

Under the new terms, it’ll be paying £11,000.

According to those at the Saturday school, the doubling of its rental costs will threatens its future.

How has Highland Council responded to the concerns?

A council spokeswoman said the local authority is unable to comment on specific groups.

She added: “Amendments to lets hire charges were presented to the meeting of the council on March 3, 2022.

Highland Council’s HQ in Inverness.

“Members were present and asked to agree the 2022-23 budget, inclusive of budget savings, charges and income generation.

“They were asked to consider ‘All lets to pay; no free lets or discounts to anyone – unless offset by a payment from ward discretionary budgets and excepting community councils.

“This was approved at full council. Arrangements were then made to update the charging information on the council website.”

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