Craigavon protest called over threat by Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough to outsource leisure services

Craigavon protest£3.2 million of ratepayers money has been wasted on consultants threatening a possible 14 percent rates hike post-election

Work force representatives from the GMB, NIPSA and UNITE unions who represent the workforce in Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council issued the following statement in defence of local leisure services .

At the recent meeting of the ABC leisure services committee, two parties combined to recommend that a private enterprise company not only run the new South Lakes Project Leisure centre but all indoor leisure services. The vote was carried by the votes of Democratic Unionist and Ulster Unionist councillors although we welcome the fact that independent Unionist councillors and those of the other parties voted in favour of an in-house management model.

All parties are well aware that an offer has been on the table from the unions, for more than two years now, to work collaboratively to transform the leisure service but leave it under full council control but they chose reject this option.

Instead, at a time when rates are set to rise by two percent, more than £100,000 of rate payers money has been needlessly spent on management consultants who have, over a two year period, worked with council bosses to mislead unions and the workforce that they were seriously considering our preferred in-house transformation model.

This colossal waste of ratepayers money could have been avoided entirely if the already highly paid ABC council management team had done their jobs and engaged with unions directly to improve the leisure services . Sadly, their decision to outsource their own management responsibilities to consultants is only part of a wider trend in the council: on the basis of publicly available documents and FOI requests, more than £3.2 million has been spent on private consultants for work that could and should have been done by council senior management themselves. We estimate that if this situation continues, rates in the borough could rise by up to 14 percent in the years after the election.

Outsourcing this service will affect everyone in the Borough – both service users and employees. The experience of outsourcing elsewhere confirms the rule that users end up paying a lot more to access services. Far from achieving risk transfer, councils are left to carry the can for the shortcomings of the private company. Councillors should remember what happened two years ago in Magherafelt where the council there was forced to bring leisure centres back in-house at great cost to the ratepayer.

The unions are calling a protest outside the civic centre Craigavon starting 5.30pm on Monday 25th February to coincide with the consideration of this recommendation. We are calling on all ratepayers to join us in a demonstration of people-power so as to send the strongest possible signal that, with only weeks to local election day, the electorate expect their councillors to ensure public services remain public and subject to democratic accountability and control.

On behalf of GMB, NIPSA and UNITE unions

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