Plans to outsource Craigavon leisure centre threatens unacceptable cost to communities and staff

img_0227Unite joins NIPSA and GMB to seek meetings with all political groups on Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council

Experience of outsourcing of Leisure in Belfast must be a warning to service users and staff

January 17th: On Monday evening Unite workers in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon (ABC) Borough Council joined with those of NIPSA and the GMB in a powerful display of opposition outside Craigavon Civic centre to the threat of outsourcing the new Craigavon leisure centre. Unite Regional Officer, Gareth Scott, issued a stark warning over the impact a decision to outsource poses to local service users – as well as staff – and vowed to make this issue one central to the upcoming local election.

“Alongside NIPSA and the GMB, Unite has sought to engage positively with ABC council management in the process of replacing three existing leisure centres – in Craigavon, Lurgan and Portadown – with one in Craigavon. Indeed our members identified a range of revenue-raising proposals including new courses and activities which could be accommodated in the facility. Unfortunately rather than seek to improve finances through increasing value-added, council bosses appear to be intent on pursuing a cut-cost option regardless of the consequences. They have presented councillors with a highly questionable business case claiming that outsourcing management of the facility will save an additional £0.8 million a year.

“Even if the figure was accurate, which we don’t believe it is, this is a relatively minor saving but would come at a huge social cost. The experience in Belfast City Council where leisure centres have been outsourced to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) should be one closely studied by any councillors before they proceed.

“GLL have failed to deliver the promised cost-savings which underpinned the decision to outsource management of the centres. At the same time, staffing levels have been cut to the bone with serious impacts for users; indeed poolside staffing has been cut to the point that access for those not already able to swim and who are unaccompanied is highly restricted. Cutbacks on regular chlorination and checks have led to deadly bacteria and spores, including Legionella, being found and pools and Jacuzzis being repeatedly closed to the public for cleansing.

“The savings GLL has delivered have principally came off the back of their staff. A threat to staff pensions was only defeated through strike action but a two-tier workforce has been created with significant redundancies and ever growing proportion on the poverty-pay, casual GLL contract. Councillors should be aware that once they sign such a contract, the cost of getting out can be enormous. In a recent Belfast City council debate a representative of one political party claimed that the clawback cost would amount to a ten percent rates hike, hundreds of redundancies and the closure of several leisure centres. Do ABC councillors want to sign up for this?

“Unite and the other unions are seeking urgent meetings with all political groups on the council. We are determined that the issue of outsourcing this leisure centre will be front and centre for the community in Craigavon, Lurgan and Portadown in the weeks ahead of the local elections”, Mr Scott said.

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