In My View: Dibden Golf Centre
New Forest District Council is proposing to privatise Dibden Golf Centre.
The news will come as some surprise to users because the much loved facility has been well managed by council staff for many years. The plans have been kept carefully under wraps until after the local elections.
The ruling conservatives have decided to put the proposals direct to the Cabinet, comprising of just six members, without any proper process of scrutiny having taken place, no consultation with local members and no real chance for any of the newly elected councillors to consider the merits of such a move. It is not known what the users of the centre think because no formal consultation has taken place.
Although the conservatives, for the moment, appear to stop short of trying to sell the centre it seems they know consider that running it is no longer deemed a core council service. The move is likely to provoke widespread alarm and not just with golfers and the staff who run the centre. The managers and staff at the council run leisure centres will no doubt be thinking how long it will be before the conservatives decide that running leisure centres is also not a core activity and can be sold off to commercial concerns.
It seems that money is driving the new policy. The report going to Cabinet indicates that the council might expect to receive an additional annual income of £100,000 by making the council employees redundant and bringing in the private sector to manage the operation. This means that over a three and a half year period they will have recouped the £350,000 lost on the legendry “Slippery Sports Hall Floor” case.
It is unclear to me exactly how the private sector could manage a golf centre more profitably than council staff. An obvious way would be to increase membership fees and green fees, perhaps turning it into an exclusive club. If this happens, it will effectively exclude many young people from using the club. A good many others, those on low incomes and particularly elderly people on fixed incomes may find that they can no longer afford to play.
There are already a lot of private golf clubs operating in the New Forest area, with only so much business to go around. I fear we are on a slippery slope towards a situation where either the cost of playing golf becomes prohibitive, or the quality of provision is allowed to decline. The physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise are well known. I don’t want to live in a society where these are only available to the rich.