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Telegraph did not put council story in context

I am extremely disappointed in the quality and objectivity of recent Belfast Telegraph reports on Belfast City Council. In particular, I was surprised to read the most recent report headlined 'City feels the pinch as profits tumble at top attractions' (News, July 29).

While I am in no way denying that the council is facing the same economic challenges as other organisations, the report failed to adequately set the story in context.

A detailed response, which highlighted that the alleged 'massive overspend' of £187,000 within the parks and leisure department is less than 1% of the department's budget, was ignored, as was an explanation that rising utility and operational costs contributed to this overspend.

The original committee report on which this story was based also makes clear that the overspend on staff costs for the department is 2% of its budget and that we are already putting in place measures to tackle this.

For the record, this was our response to the Belfast Telegraph: 'Rising utility costs, increased operational spending and a drop in income all contributed to an overspend of £187,000 in the parks and leisure department's target budget during 2010/11.

'However, this equates to less than 1% in a total budget of £22m and has to be set in context of the current economic climate in which many organisations are struggling to balance their books.

'While income from weddings continues to perform satisfactorily at both Belfast Castle and Malone House, the economic climate is largely responsible for a drop in conference business affecting the hospitality industry as whole.

'Zoo shop re-opened following renovation work in 2010/11 and unfortunately challenging target sales were not met. However, stock purchases were reduced by £121,000 to mitigate this situation.

'Leisure centres reported a shortfall in income from fees and charges of 2.5%. Again, this can be attributed to the wider recession.

'Participation rates at our centres remain high and there continue to be over 56,000 members of the Boost Leisure Centre Membership Scheme, although we will continue to address any decline.

'We continue to keep our fees and charges under review and will respond to market conditions.'

CLLR STEVEN CORR

Chairman, parks and leisure committee

Belfast City Council

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