Councils don’t have to spend money on “nice to have” services – but they make life worth living

Impression of Broomhill pool. The building to the right will become a leisure centre. Picture: KLH A

Impression of Broomhill pool. The building to the right will become a leisure centre. Picture: KLH Architects - Credit: Archant

The news that Ipswich Council is to make a further £500,000 available to allow work to start on refurbishing Broomhill Pool has been widely welcomed – but opposition leader Ian Fisher has pointed out that ultimately the cost will probably fall on council tax payers.

Restoration work has taken place at the Ipswich Regent under both political administrations new sea

Restoration work has taken place at the Ipswich Regent under both political administrations new seats were installed in 2007. PICTURE ANDY ABBOTT

Here political writer Paul Geater shares his view on the issue.

That may well be true – it is difficult to imagine the new Broomhill sports centre making enough money to pay off the interest on the extra £500,000 investment without using council tax receipts.

So from that point of view the total £1.5m capital cost that the council will have contributed to the restoration of the building can be see as a subsidy.

Conservative leader Mr Fisher has made it clear he wholeheartedly supports the restoration – but feels it is right the public funding of the project is acknowledged.

This, of course, raises the question of how much a local authority should subsidise the “nice to have” services as well as the “vital” services.

In Ipswich the council subsidises the Regent Theatre, which it owns, and also provides financial support for the New Wolsey. It runs two swimming pools and three sports centres which cannot be run at a profit. It runs the museum and Christchurch Mansion – and spends money maintaining its parks and promoting events on them like Ipswich Music Day.

Is that a good use of the council taxpayers’ money? If you don’t swim or do sport and don’t go to the theatre you might think not – but for many people this kind of cultural support is what makes living in the town worthwhile.

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And it isn’t really just a political divide. When the Tories and Liberal Democrats ran the borough between 2004 and 2011 some of their opponents warned leisure services could be slashed.

The cafe at Crown Pools may have closed – but there was significant investment in the Regent which has continued with the current administration.

It is interesting that other local authorities are also investing in leisure facilities – in East Suffolk work has just started on updating Leiston Leisure Centre after the work was completed on Woodbridge Swimming Pool.

In West Suffolk Moyses Hall Museum and The Apex in Bury are run by the council – as is the wonderful West Stow Country Park. Essential spending? No – but would we really want to live in a world where councils didn’t run “nice to have” services?

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