Protest over leisure services plans
ANGRY Labour councillors and party activists in an Essex town have urged residents to “save” flagship leisure services and oppose “privatisation”.The campaigners were handing out “save our leisure centre” leaflets to users of Colchester's Leisure World on Saturday, asking them to sign a petition against Colchester Borough Council's proposals.
By Sharon Asplin
ANGRY Labour councillors and party activists in an Essex town have urged residents to “save” flagship leisure services and oppose “privatisation”.
The campaigners were handing out “save our leisure centre” leaflets to users of Colchester's Leisure World on Saturday, asking them to sign a petition against Colchester Borough Council's proposals. Two hundred people signed it in the space of two hours.
In May, the Conservative cabinet agreed in principal to hand over the management of council-owned sports centres to an independent leisure trust, arguing it would enhance the service. A final decision has yet to be ratified by leisure portfolio holder Kevin Bentley.
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But the Labour Party claims the Tories are “hiving off” the council's award-winning leisure and sports services and, in effect, privatising the council-run service.
Tim Young, leader of the Labour Group on Colchester Borough Council, said: “Most of the users of Leisure World were unaware of the Tories' plans to privatise sport and leisure in Colchester and between 80 and 90% of the people we spoke to were happy to sign or take a leaflet.
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“There has been no consultation with users of these services about these proposals which will mean that the running and management of Leisure World and other facilities will be taken over by a trust not accountable to the democratically-elected borough council but to an appointed board of trustees.
“We're certain that this will mean cuts in the range of services provided at these centres and a probable significant increase in fees and charges. Local people who oppose these proposals should back our campaign against them.”
But Mr Bentley insisted: “This is not selling off and this is not privatisation. This is simply a political stunt by the Labour group.
“The most important thing is that we retain this asset of Leisure World and we are looking at setting up a trust to enable the excellent and qualified staff to have the freedom to use their expertise and enhance the already excellent service.
“We are seriously looking into this and a decision is expected in the early New Year. We have to make sure it is the right move because we are talking about Colchester ratepayers' money.”
Should the transfer go ahead, the council will retain ownership of Colchester Leisure World, Highwoods and Tiptree sports centres, but the trust will take over the responsibility for them and sports development and community sports activities.
The board of trustees will include experts from sports facilities management, the sporting world and local authority representatives.
In May, the council reported the transfer could save it at least £134,000 net, even though running the trust as a separate company would cost an extra £241,200.