DUP and UUP urged to rethink vote on management of new £35m leisure centre

Architect's image of what the new South Lakes Leisure Centre will look like
Architect's image of what the new South Lakes Leisure Centre will look like

Sinn Fein has warned a decision to ‘out-source’ leisure services in Craigavon could have ‘wide-reaching consequences’.

Party representative Sorcha McGeown urged the DUP and Ulster Unionists to rethink a decision by Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon’s Leisure Services Committee to set up a CoCo (Council Company) to manage the new £35m South Lakes Leisure Centre.

Sinn Fein spokesperson Sorcha McGeown at the top of William St Lurgan

Sinn Fein spokesperson Sorcha McGeown at the top of William St Lurgan

The decision, made during a confidential special meeting this week, was split with the SDLP and Sinn Fein voting for council to maintain in-house management of the centre.

However the DUP and Ulster Unionists voted for a CoCo arrangement which had been bitterly opposed by staff and unions.

This week three unions, GMB, Unite and NIPSA jointly issued a statement condemning the decision and calling on any move towards privatising leisure services to be abandoned.

The new leisure centre, which is currently being built, is to replace the current leisure facilities in Lurgan, Portadown and Craigavon.

Ms McGeown said: “Unions made representations to all councillors, on behalf of leisure staff, urging us to keep the new leisure centre in-house.

“Sinn Féin proposed this option however it was blocked by both the DUP and UUP who voted to out source Craigavon leisure.

“This was a vote of no confidence in our staff. Our highly motivated and capable staff have the passion and vision to transform to ensure a high quality service at this rate payer funded setting.

“The path the DUP and UUP have taken us down is a dangerous one that will have consequences far more wide reaching than leisure.

“There is still time to revisit this decision and I would call on both the DUP and UUP to think again.”

Trade union Unite has forged links with other unions such as GMB and NIPSA to fight any privatisation of leisure services in the ABC Council area saying their experience of ’outsourcing’ has been ‘higher prices and reduced staffing’.

They have vowed to make retaining in-house management of leisure services a focal point of the forthcoming elections.

They have also started an online petition to keep the management of all the leisure facilities in-house fearing that a ‘CoCo’ option could lead to the privatisation of a £35m leisure centre paid for by the rate payer.

In a statement Unite said: “Workers at leisure centres operated by the ABC Council learnt with dismay of the decision by the council’s Leisure sub-committee to vote in favour of establishing a CoCo model allowing the outsourcing of the local authority’s leisure services.”

Speaking on behalf of his union’s members in the council, Gareth Scott, Regional Officer for Unite, challenged the benefit that outsourcing would offer and pledged the unions would back their members’ campaign to keep leisure services in-house.

“Unite the union workplace reps have sought to engage positively with ABC council management in the process of replacing three existing leisure centres – in Craigavon, Lurgan and Portadown – with a single one in Craigavon. Workers have raised a range of revenue-raising proposals including new activities and courses for the new facility. Monday night’s decision saw members of the Ulster Unionist Party joined with the Democratic Unionist Party in voting against the unions’ preferred option which to keep leisure services in-house.

“Leisure workers and the wider council workforce are indignant at the likely consequences of this decision – should it be ratified at the next full council meeting.

“Unite is committed to overturn this decision. No councillor in ABC council ever stood or was elected on a platform to outsource leisure services; there is no democratic mandate for this decision.”

“ABC Council workers and Unite the union will seek to make the issue of outsourcing front and centre of the upcoming local elections in Craigavon, Lurgan and Portadown in the coming weeks,” Mr Scott said.

When ABC Council was asked to comment, their response was: “The business of the meeting was confidential so we would not be in a position to comment.”