SOARING fees handed to local sports teams who rely on a school’s facilities have led them to give a stern warning about their future.

Teams across a range of sports have used the facilities at Netherwood Academy for years out of school hours without complaint.

However, in recent months they have been stung by fees that have almost doubled, with the Astrea Academy Trust which runs the Wombwell school having to shoulder rising costs from contractor Amey, which supplies its out-of-hours caretakers.

The school operates under a private finance initiative (PFI) contract, by which 400 hours outside of normal school time are subsidised by the council for extra-curricular activities and community use.

However, a spokesman for the trust said it is the additional hours aside from these that, due to the number of groups that use the facilities and the wages paid to outside caretakers, have led to the increase.

In Text Promo Image

“Ensuring that we make our facilities as available as possible to community groups is very important to us,” continued the spokesman.

“And we are pleased to have such a wide range of clubs and groups who want to use our facilities.

“However, as the school operates under a PFI contract, the number of hours available is not controlled by the academy, but by Barnsley Council and by the PFI contractor Amey.

“Similarly, the charge out rate is determined by the PFI contract.

“Whilst we very much appreciate the 400 hours subsidised by the council, demand far outstrips this.

“For these additional hours, we have to set booking fees that cover the costs of out-of-hours use as set out in the PFI contract.”

A spokesman for Amey said: “Our caretakers work hard to provide a safe, secure and clean environment at Netherwood Academy, and as part of their role they are entitled to enhanced pay during weekends to open the facilities for users other than the schools.

“We recognise the importance of making these facilities affordable for the local community, but we must balance that requirement with the need to cover the costs of keeping them open, secure and well maintained.

“We would like to make it clear that the cost rises reflect the operational staffing actual costs only they do not amount to any increased profit for Amey or its partners.”

A spokesman for Barnsley Council, said: “Schools are responsible for setting prices and should make reasonable charges during those periods where the council has covered the cost of the additional opening. Outside of that, schools and academies are free to set prices that cover their costs and generate a financial return as they see fit.”

Arrangement is deemed ‘unsustainable’

SPORTS clubs which hire Netherwood Academy’s facilities, including one of the borough’s oldest teams, have called the current situation ‘unsustainable’.

Dean Shepherd, of Sheffield and District Junior Sunday League side Wombwell Juniors, said the club’s under 12s are now charged £60 an hour, while its two under 15 teams and under 16 team are charged £40 an hour.

The team, approaching its tenth year, previously paid £40 a game - which Dean said generally covered a two-and-a-half hour period.

“It’s not sustainable for a self-funding club,” said Dean, who manages the under 15s Reds.

“We only charge £4 a week subs, if we put that up a third of kids wouldn’t be able to afford it.

“We’re lucky we’re in a decent financial position, and we work hard to get sponsorship.

“At Barnsley Academy they’re charging about half of what Netherwood do, but a good percentage of parents don’t drive so that’d be a massive logistical problem getting kids there. The majority are from Wombwell and most are within walking distance.

“And the facilities are really good. We’ve never had to call a game off.

“The kids come first. Kids need to play otherwise they get out of the habit, and once they lose it they find something else. The attrition rate from 14 upwards is horrific, teams fold because they can’t get players in.”

Bert Beaumont, secretary and founder of Barnsley Leaders basketball team, said the side had paid a ‘good rate’ of £15 an hour which has now doubled to £30 during the week, and £60 at weekends - to use Netherwood’s courts.

“We only found out in September, so unfortunately we weren’t made aware until after we budgeted,” said Bert.

“We haven’t fallen out with Netherwood as they do provide a great service. It’s the best facility in Barnsley. It seems to be the contractors’ problem, but it’s the kids in Barnsley that are suffering.

“Basketball isn’t on the curriculum and we’ve always provided it, but we are finding it harder to provide that service.

“We understand because of significant budget cuts, the council haven’t been able to offer the level of support they could before.

“In the past, with the council-run football pitches and schools also run by the council, there were never any problems.

“But school budgets are also constantly under threat. It’s a complex situation.”