More Outdoor Centres in the Firing Line

There has been a veritable bonfire of the Outdoor Education Services across the UK. With North Wales being home to numerous authority and private centres it seems they make the news a lot. Add the fact that I am employed directly in the sector it breaks my heart when I know the good they can do, yet as a business owner, I also know a little bit about running a business to at least break even.

The latest centres up against the wall and in front of the firing squad that is a consultation process are all the centres owned by Birmingham City Council and in particular the famous Ogwen Cottage, in the heart of the Ogwen Valley. A place where real outdoor education happens in a rural setting with a mountainous back drop.

The councils reason for wanting to cut off the head of outdoor education to spite its face are laid out in the report that can be downloaded here. Those reason it lays out for the cuts are:

  • The number of schools and pupils using the centres have dropped.
  • The Outdoor Services department loses £1.2 million pound a year.
  • The repair bill on all the building in the services is estimated as £4.2 million.
  • The Council needs to make additional saving to its overall budget of £340 million.
  • They seem to be leaning to providing more money to child services, probably after Baby P and other high profile failures.

I am all for outdoor education being run by local education authorities as they do focus more on education than fun. I have mentioned this before here. However I have never before seen the figures for centres, and as a tax payer I would serious question why I would pay for a system that is barely used and loses money hand over fist.

I should clarify that statement, the report shows that all but a few of the centres Birmingham city council used/own made a loss. Below is a table that goes someway to illustrate my point. The top three having particularly high loses for relatively low user numbers and unfortunately Ogwen Cottage is among the worse offender of cost per pupil.

Centre Profit/Loss in 2013 Number of users in 2012/13
Bockleton (Residential Centre) -171,581.89 1387
Stansfeld Study Centre (Residential Centre) -100,869.14 1090
Ogwen Cottage Outdoor Pursuits Centre (Residential) -181,721.63 798
Bell Heath Outdoor Learning Centre (Residential) -245,450.74 4486
Stables (Day and Residential Services) -107,102.73 No figures given
Springfield (Day Service) -8,138 No figures given
Coopers Mill (Residential Service) +136.31 No figures given
Hams Hall Environmental Study Centre (Day Service) +25,293 3000+
Botanical Gardens (Day Service) +3,963.69 6000+
Mount Pleasant Farm (Day Service) +22,181.51 3500+

I guess the big question is whether we should be looking towards the private industry and the Institute of Leisure and Amenity Management, as these are people trained to run business at a profit or the very least to break even. Unless the mountain guide, instructor or teacher has learnt to run a business it is no wonder that they are losing money hand over fist. As with the best will in the world a outdoor qualification has no baring on someones ability to run a modern business in a world of web 2.0 where google rules.

I know that the services offered at Ogwen Cottage are some of the best in the industry, they have good ratios amazing tutor/instructors yet they are failing to turn that in feet through the door or into anything resembling a sustainable turnover. So whilst I really want to support these great institutions, it strikes me that they have been mis-managed to within an inch of their lives in the cases I have highlighted here. Yes there is a decline numbers, but if a whole private industry is somehow keeping its head above water and probably make a profit, then why can’t the public sector maintain a zero economy?


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