Sports facilities report sparks anger

A NEW report criticising sports and leisure facilities in mid Suffolk is in stark contrast to what the general public thinks, council chiefs have said.

A NEW report criticising sports and leisure facilities in mid Suffolk is in stark contrast to what the general public thinks, council chiefs have said.

An Audit Commission inspection gave Mid Suffolk District Council's leisure services and swimming pools just one star for its standard of service. The top mark is three stars.

Inspectors found problems with the standard of cleanliness at the Mid Suffolk Leisure Centre in Stowmarket, with the ceiling in the men's changing rooms dirty on one occasion. Trailing wires were also exposed, with ceiling tiles missing.

They felt staff morale was poor, with minimal training given, and argued this would cause problems for the council as they tried to improve matters.

Inspectors also felt the council was unduly concerned about administration, and spent money on sport and recreation without clear information about who they are providing the services for. Child protection training for staff at the Stowmarket leisure centre has also been inconsistent.

David Ruffley, MP for the Bury St Edmunds Constituency which includes Stowmarket, is so concerned that he has raised the matter with the council's Chief Executive Andrew Good, seeking reassurances that the authority will tackle the problems.

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Mr Good said: "The council feels somewhat aggrieved that if the paying public say we are good and

on most counts we are performing well, the Best Value inspector has a different view.

"We will continue to work with customers to improve standards within a budget that is affordable. The council is never afraid to learn from others."

Recreation manager Anselm Gurney said: "There is a huge discrepancy between other survey findings, such as the Suffolk Speaks poll undertaken in 2001 by MORI, as well as our own market research, and the views of the Best Value inspectors.

"The MORI survey found that 86% of Suffolk residents who used the district's leisure facilities were satisfied with them, the highest score in the county, equal with Ipswich Borough and 7% higher than Suffolk Coastal, who were judged by the audit commission to be providing an excellent service.

"Similarly, national performance indicators generally place the district's leisure facilities in the top 25% of UK councils. The council's own market research also showed that out of the 700 district leisure users polled, between 85% to 95% of customers rated facilities, activities and staff service as either good or excellent.''

Chris Fry, head of the leisure and amenities department, said he was astounded, adding: "Almost all objective measures show that the recreation section is providing a good, if not excellent, service."

The full report, just issued after the routine inspection, is available on the council's website at

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