Leisure centre job fears

By Anthony Neeson

Staff at West Belfast leisure centres say they’ve been left in “limbo” after a Belfast City Council Committee voted in favour of outsourcing the city sports facilities to a Trust.

The Strategic Policy and Resources Committee at City Hall voted in favour of the changes by a margin of 10 to six on Friday. Sinn Féin voted against the change, but if the full Council backs the decision during its monthly meeting this Monday, the change will come into effect in the autumn.

 

Worried

Local leisure centre staff that the Andersonstown News has spoken to say they have been left “worried” by the decision and predict that not only will it lead to changes in terms and conditions, but possibly job cuts too.

One leisure centre employee said the general feeling is that “the SDLP shafted us”.

He also said there was general confusion among staff because if the Council vote in favour of the move on Monday then staff will be employed by a Trust yet still paid by the Council. He said there was also a fear that some services could be run down in the long run.

“Every time you ask one question you end up with more questions,” he added.

Andersonstown Leisure Centre and Falls Leisure Centre are the two best-attended leisure centres in Belfast. In 2013, 177,575 people used Andersonstown, while 168,583 used Falls. 84,970 people also attended  Whiterock Leisure Centre in 2013. Combined that is a total of 431,128 people in 12 months.

SDLP group leader on Belfast City Council, Cllr Tim Attwood, welcomed Friday’s committee vote.

“For 17 years, parties, officers and unions have been looking at ways at how we can develop more efficient leisure services. It is important that we also look at other models,” he said.

“I have seen the NPDO (non-profit distributing organisation) model in Greenwich, a charitable social enterprise which provides first-class services for the public and gives enhanced skills and career progression for staff.

“The SDLP supports, in principle, the decision to examine the potential of this social/workers’ enterprise model. It is essential that we undertake a comprehensive due diligence to see if a Belfast NPDO model can work effectively.

“We also want to ensure that the process is subject to best value, equality and European legislation. We will continue to talk with trade unions and staff to address all concerns.”

Sinn Féin leader on Belfast City Council, Cllr Jim McVeigh, said that his party was the only group at Council to vote against the establishment of a not-for-profit Trust that will in the future manage our facilities.

 

Control

“Every other party voted in favour of such a proposal,” he said.

“We have consistently opposed the introduction of such a management model because we share the concerns of our hard-working staff and the trade unions that such an arms-length structure could lead in the future to a loss of democratic control and might undermine the public influence over future decisions in relation to our leisure services. We will again oppose the introduction of a Trust at full Council on Monday, February 3rd.”

A well attended meeting was held in Andersonstown Leisure Centre on Tuesday organised by People Before Profit (PBP) to allow workers and users to have their say on the future of leisure centres in West Belfast. BPB’s Gerry Carroll was among those who spoke, as did éirígí’s Pádraic Mac Coitir. A further  protest will take place outside the Andersonstown Leisure Centre on Saturday at 1pm.

Sinn Féin have called their own meeting with leisure centre staff which will take place at City Hall on Wednesday, March 5 at 6.30pm.

 

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