Free gym membership for all Wigan army vets "costs too much"
Wigan Council has vowed to write to MPs to campaign for army veterans to get free gym membership – after rejecting the scheme.
The borough already has a scheme of free membership for serving military and for vets for 12 months after leaving active service but funding it indefinitely would “cost too much”, a cabinet meeting heard.
Coun Chris Ready, cabinet member for communities and neighbourhoods, said Coun James Paul Watson’s motion for permanent free gym membership for vets – submitted last year – was something the council could not afford.
According to current figures corroborated by the council, if this scheme was extended to the vets getting free gym memberships at the moment, it would cost the council £5,982 per year.
But, councillors fear that if even a small proportion of the 22,000 veterans in the borough take this free offer up, it could cost a fortune.
Coun Watson, who suffered a spinal injury in Afghanistan in 2010 and has nerve damage in both legs as a result, issued a letter to council cabinet members urging them to support his motion before the meeting.
“You’ve all seen the budgets we are facing at the moment and the unprecedented difficulties not only for this council but many across the country,” Coun Ready said. “In consultation with the leader we are going to retain the offer we have already got.
“We understand there are some difficulties after that 12-month period. One of the issues I’ve got is that only 19 people took up the offer of the free 12-month membership out of 22,000 vets which is quite concerning to me because we need to go out there and promote this.
“The figures shown in the report are on the numbers of 19, and if this went to the maximum it would cost us millions and it would be an unknown figure, which would be irresponsible with the budget. Even 10 per cent take-up would be a lot of money.
“What I will say is that this is not just about money, it is about looking after our ex-servicemen. What I want to do is set something up myself with Coun Yvonne Klieve, and if Coun Watson wants to be involved in that and look at the scale of this then he can.
“I will sit down with Coun Watson and go through this stuff because I think we should write to Johnny Mercer (Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) and ask him that this should be a national scheme and fund it that way.