Leisure centre shake-up deferred

Leisure centre shake-up deferred

Belfast City Council has deferred a decision on the future management of its leisure centres for six weeks following its monthly meeting on Monday.

At the February meeting of the Strategic Policy and Resources committee, councillors voted to transfer the management of the 10 centres into an arms length, not-for-profit trust.That decision, which Sinn Féin opposed, was due to be ratified in the March meeting.However, councillor Jim McVeigh proposed the decision be deferred to allow consultants and unions to work on an alternative which would see management of the centres retained by the council.The Sinn Féin member told the chamber: "We believe public assets should not only be owned by the public, but also managed by public servants."Unions, who protested outside the meeting, have raised concerns that the new management model could lead to job losses.Cllr McVeigh added: "Some individuals and organisations are trying to stir up unnecessary fears among our staff and across the general public about the impact and significance of this proposal."There will be no job losses. We are not only not talking about closing facilities, but investing in them and in some cases, like a proposal to build a leisure centre in Twinbrook, that would actually create jobs."We believe that in investing this £105m, the best people to manage those facilities are our officers with the maximum amount of democratic oversight.Jim McVeighDuring the debate in the chamber, councillors said they supported the amendment but said there should be a time frame imposed.Councillor Lee Reynolds added: "We made a series of promises to this city, and it was made clear to us the financial commitments that would all upon us."It was clear that we would need to save £2m to get the capital we would need to reinvent leisure."We knew it was coming and now decision day has come, scampering will not do."The DUP member went on: "We will vote for this amendment, we will endorse it."We endorse the social enterprise model because of what has been put in front of us and we like it. We have interrogated the evidence and feel it is the best means to reinvent leisure in this city."But we will give the unions this chance [to develop the in-house model] in good faith and the resources to allow them to do it."It will be very difficult for any alternative proposal to come forward to maintain the level of quantity and quality of services this city deserves."Good luck to the unions, I wish them well, but I would emphasise there has to be a short period of time and I think a month is appropriate."The one thing that we have to give our staff as much as possible and as soon as possible is clarity."Councillor McVeigh, however, ruled out imposing a deadline on his amendment and the motion was defeated following a vote.Strategic Policy and Resources committee chair, Gavin Robinson proposed an identical amendment with an added six week timescale.The DUP member's motion was passed.


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