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Youth sports clubs struggle due to cost of hiring PFI halls

SCOTLAND'S youth workers have attacked schools built under the controversial PFI scheme for restricting the ability of children to play sports by charging exorbitant rates to open buildings after hours to clubs and community groups.

YouthLink Scotland, the national youth work agency, said that, in some parts of Scotland, clubs pay up to £45 per hour to hire a school sports hall. Chief executive Jim Sweeney said schools built using the private finance initiative (PFI) or public-private partnerships (PPP), where buildings are owned by commercial companies rather than the local authority, were making sport for children unaffordable.

He pointed to a recent report from sportscotland that found only 35% of available indoor space was utilised during term time across schools in Scotland, a figure that drops to 17% during holidays.

"In Spain, there is no cost for after-school activities and premises are opened up for community use, but currently in some parts of ­Scotland, clubs are paying between £19 and £45 per hour for school sports hall hire and more for sports centre hall hire," he said.

"YouthLink Scotland members have told us of instances where groups have had to fold or they feel forced into using ramshackle premises due to cost."

He added: "PFI/PPP was at the time hailed as the answer to crumbling facilities and dilapidated school buildings but the unintended consequence is that many of these buildings are now unaffordable for local and national voluntary organisations."

The issue has been raised in the wake of a draft strategy for youth sport published by the Scottish Government last week.

Kim Atkinson, policy director of the Scottish Sports Association, which represents governing bodies of sport, said their vision was for any facility that had received public funding of any kind to provide free access to all sports clubs. She said: "This recognises the opportunity to support and ­invigorate community sports clubs by building upon the existing model of free access to libraries and museums."

Girlguiding Scotland said ­the cost of premises could range from less than £1 in a church to £18 per meeting in a community centre and £25 in a school.

Chief executive Denise King said the organisation had a waiting list of more than 3000 girls and finding affordable venues was an issue. She said: "If the community aspect of the school facilities is pushed more or profiled more, it would be a great opportunity for us. We are in a good position of wanting to grow and we need more places to go."

Dave Watson, Scottish organiser of union Unison, which campaigns against PFI, said: "Obviously, if it is a commercial company running the school, which is essentially what happens in a PFI contract, then they are going to want to maximise income or at the very least recover absolutely every last penny of cost."

SNP MSP Mark McDonald, who raised the cost of facilities during a debate on the draft youth strategy at Holyrood last week, said clubs in deprived communities could face particular challenges, with parents less likely to be able to pay to help. But he added: "There needs to be a bit of give and take in terms of ensuring that you are not making a place run at a loss."

Councillor Douglas Chapman, spokesman for education, children and young people at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), said councils were working hard to open up school facilities for community use. A Scottish Government ­spokeswoman said: "In line with the joint Government/Cosla school estate strategy, we want everyone to be able to benefit from school ­facilities. We would encourage local authorities, who run and manage the buildings, to make this happen where possible." Schools are no longer built under PFI/PPP.

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