Charging for ParkRun
Posted: Sun, 17 Apr 2016 20:00
Quite rightly the decision by Little Stoke Parish Council to charge their local Park Run to use their facilities has caused a media storm the poor old council will not have expected.
If you hadn't heard of ParkRun before you almost certainly have by now. The success of parkrun over the last few years has been to generate a safe and welcoming environment for a wide range of runnrs to take part in a fun run and to stay active. It has been held up at almost every sports seminar, conference and event in recent years as the example that other sports should follow. How do we create a parkrun for x, y, z has been the question in front of policy makers mesmerised by its recent success and high profile.
Whilst we are all outraged at the decision, (Social media does make outrage so easy these days) we understand the difficult decisions local councils and authorities are going to have to take in the coming years which will mean there may be more Little Stoke moments.
In their defence the Parish Council pointed out that they charge other sports organisations to use their football pitches. For those of us who play for a club and use others facilities we recognise that problem. At the Think Tank we have seen reports of around a 40% increase in use charges for local authority and school facilities over the last 2-3 years. As local government comes under increasing pressure to balance ever decreasing budgets service charges are going to become the norm. The grey area for ParkRun in this case has been its voluntary status and the fact that it wants to remain free to entrants. if this were a commercial 'Tough Mudder' organisation there may be a case to be made to suggest they make a contribution as they charge entrants (although rely on many volunteers) and can often make a nice profit for their commercial operators. Football and other sports clubs exist with members who pay their way when it comes to the majority of the 150,000 amateur clubs up and down the country. ParkRun falls between these traditional models. It is neither a club nor a pure commercial entity. The Parish Council suggested ParkRun should pay because they have sponsors and pay their Directors. This is where the charge becomes a little less black and white.
Quite rightly those of us who feel that ParkRun should not be charged and remain free to its participants will cite the benefits to society as a whole for the physical activity taking part. Indeed Prof Mike Weed has estimated a cost and saving to the benefit of society of some £8.7m (A fairly simplistic measurement bit gives some context). Of course the problem is that Little Stoke Parish Council receives non of this £8.7m to keep open its park. This is notional money we know society can save in the long run and as policy makers we love citing these figures. But the Councillors at many councils up and down the country are facing 20-40% cuts in their budgets now and in the years to come. They have a legal duty to set a budget. They can't use the magic £8.7m from parkRun savings! So our challenge in the new Sports Strategy will be to reward all aspects of health and physical activity to recognise their contribution to the health of the nation. Otherwise we will see many more Little Stoke Parish Council decisions