Council-owned leisure centres have been criticised for banning cash payments. The private company which runs all of Cornwall Council’s leisure centres has stopped accepting cash payments at two of them and opened a trampoline park as cashless from day one.
The criticism includes the claim that the move hits the most vulnerable in society – children and the elderly – the hardest.
The boss of the company, London-based non-profit Greenwich Leisure Limited, which has a multi-million pound contract with the council, said users will not be refused entry. However they will be told what they need to do to use the centre on subsequent visits as they will not be allowed to pay in cash.
Local user Ken Sampson said he has had serious concerns since Helston Leisure Centre went cashless last month.
GLL confirmed that the move at Helston followed the same change at Launceston Leisure Centre in June and that the Newquay Trampoline and Play Park has been cashless since it opened in July.
The company has also confirmed that Bude Leisure Centre will be next to go cashless but no date has been given.
Mr Sampson said: “Greenwich Leisure Limited, based in Woolwich, is telling the people of Helston if they want to use their Cornwall Council pool that they must use a card. Cash is not accepted and consequently many people are inconvenienced and barred altogether.
“They have implemented a policy whereby they refuse all cash payments at Helston pool. This has already caused much inconvenience for service users as it is evidently discriminating against children, the disabled, the elderly, those without bank accounts, and those who wish to pay a low sum in cash for their own budget reasons.
“Contrary to Cornwall Council’s access strategy and the 25m people in Britain – or 47% of the population – living in a cashless society would present real challenge, according to the Access to Cash Review: Final Report from March 2019.
“It appears the staff were not consulted and are doing their best, but are unhappy.
“I understand GLL manages the Pool on behalf of Cornwall Council. I also understand that the council is committed to fairness and equity of service and promoting access to one and all. So I am alarmed that this policy seems so contrary to that.
“When Helston pool is turning away children without debit cards, disabled people and their carers who do not have capacity to pay by card or the elderly who prefer the use of cash it seems very wrong.
“My concern is the social justice angle. Going ‘totally cashless’ is premature. I suspect GLL, which is based in London, is unaware of the issues affecting Cornwall. I have no problem with the use of cards, but the compulsory nature of this policy appears to have received no thought.
“Children can attend with their pocket money, their parents now have to book before online, so all independence of managing small amounts of money, the joint activity with friends and the spontaneity has been lost.
“LINK (The banking organisation) funded the Access to Cash Review and they say local authority services should not become cashless because it would be actively discriminatory and exclude vulnerable groups.
“Disabled people who are unable to manage their own financial affairs are now dependent on others, the elderly who feel – and are – less at risk when they use cash and people struggling with low-wages, debt or gambling compulsion manage this by using a set amount of cash per week as it helps budgeting.
“There is also the large numbers of people who want choice and prefer cash for low-cost items. All now rejected from accessing a Cornwall Council-owned service.
“I wonder if GLL are contractually obliged to honour Cornwall Council’s leisure strategy of inclusion, promotion of health, etc. If they are it is hard to see how excluding vulnerable groups as defined by the banking industry LINK network meets them.”
GLL was awarded a 25-year contract in 2016 to run leisure centres across Cornwall for the council.
James Curry, head of service for GLL (South West & Wales), said it had given several weeks’ notice of the changes, consulted Cornwall Council and discussed them with staff and users.
He said: “GLL announced it would be implementing a cashless approach in its leisure centres in January this year. In Cornwall, Launceston Leisure Centre became cashless on 1 June, the new Trampoline and Play Park in Newquay has been cashless since opening on 19 July and Helston went cashless on 9 September.
“In each case, the new system was well-publicised six weeks before going live in the venues concerned. This included posters and banners in the reception area, social media posts and prominent website information. The change was also discussed with the centre’s customer forum.
“We consulted Cornwall Council about our plans at the start and have kept them fully informed throughout the implementation process.
“Customers are encouraged to book and pay online in advance for classes and activities. The customer service adviser on duty can take card payments and, working on the same principal as an Oyster Card, membership cards can have funds added to them – making it easy for children or adult members to pay without using money. GLL also accepts other national pre-loadable cards that are widely used in the UK and gift cards can be bought online in advance.
“Before moving to a cashless operation, we researched the number of cash transactions being made in our centres and, proportionally, the number was tiny. We believe adopting an approach that doesn’t involve coins or notes is safer, easier and in line with current trends. Our aim is to make life easier for our customers and our experience in both Launceston and Newquay suggests that is what the new system achieves.”
He also said that nobody would be turned away, adding: “Our staff have all been asked to explain the options to anyone who visits without the means to pay at a cashless centre and entry will not be refused. It would surprise me greatly if this has not been the case in Helston.”
We have asked for clarification about that and been told that staff would explain to the users what they needed to do on their next visit as they would not be allowed to pay with cash or enter without payment.
Cornwall Council deferred to GLL for comment.
Main photo from Pixabay
Source: Cornwall Live