The council’s misfiring attempts to help businesses in the borough through the coronavirus pandemic reached a nadir in the summer when the Fisher’s Folly propaganda department announced that Croydon was “waiving” personal trainer licence fees – without mentioning that they hardly ever issue the licences in the first place.
For the past three years, Croydon has only ever issued a single licence for a personal trainer to conduct sessions in the borough’s parks.
Yet in July, with more than £1million-worth of government-funded grants for businesses undistributed by the council and some of the borough’s libraries and leisure centres still not open, the council’s “media relations department” teamed up with Oliver Lewis, the cabinet member for sports and shit, to issue a press release to announce that, “Croydon Council is to temporarily waive the fee required for sports clubs, personal trainers and businesses to run exercise sessions in parks, in light of covid-19 government restrictions.”
They even quoted Councillor Lewis as saying, “With classes limited to no more than five participants, we know that our sport and fitness providers have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. By temporarily waiving this fee we are showing our support for this industry, whilst our thorough park user agreement will ensure that safety remains everybody’s top priority.”
Note that: “Showing our support for this industry”.
Lewis must have known when he signed off on the propaganda department’s press release that the council had never issued more than a single personal trainer licence in each of the previous three years.
In a Freedom of Information response, the council effectively admitted that it does not bother to conduct any enforcement work to check whether those running fitness groups in Croydon’s parks have a valid licence.
A Katharine Street source said, “It all amounts to the worst kind of gesture politics. An empty gesture, at that.
“Going to all the time, trouble and expense of announcing a policy that has no impact whatsoever, yet meanwhile nothing is being done by Lewis to reopen libraries, Purley Pool or Croydon Arena. It amounted to little more than a scam, a con trick, claiming to be doing something when the opposite is true.”
The press release remains on the council website.
“Anybody wishing to use one of Croydon’s parks to run exercise sessions must still obtain a park user agreement,” it says. “Park user agreements are issued to sports and physical activity clubs, personal trainers and businesses, permitting the use of park space to run organised activities which allows the council to regulate use and maintain safety.”
In the FoI request, the council was asked to detail the number of licences issued each year to personal trainers to permit them to hold classes in the borough’s parks.
The response came back:
According to the FoI, the single licence issued each year has yielded more than £6,500 in fees since 2017, which may not be an answer to the cash-strapped council’s financial problem, but evidently is an untapped source of revenue to support the council’s other sports and leisure activities.
“Imagine what the personal trainer who has been paying for a licence must feel like when they realise that no one else in their business is bothering with the council?” our Town Hall source said.
For the council does little to ensure that only licensed personal trainers operate in the borough’s parks. “Parks are patrolled every day by officers as part of their duties but we are unable to provide a specific figure with regard to enforcement measures relating to personal trainers,” the FoI response stated.
So anyone can stage fitness sessions in Croydon’s parks with little expectation of being asked to demonstrate that they have a licence to do so.
Which makes Lewis’s grand gesture to “waive” the fees a lot less generous than he and the council would have people to believe.
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