Belfast Telegraph

Friday 1 August 2014

Council centre bosses are at least fighting fit

David Elliott, Business Editor
David Elliott, Business Editor

Sometimes sound economic policy comes when you're least expecting it.

Having waxed lyrical about the pros and cons of membership of both a private and public sector-owned gym last week, I was privileged to be visited by someone who is embedded in the latter.

I'm currently straddling membership of Belfast City Council's centres as well as one with budget chain Pure Gym (an administrative error on my behalf) so felt in a good position to be able to offer a bit of insight.

But my new source was able to offer me a much more rounded view than my cursory comparison of costs and facilities gave.

I justified the extra cost of the BCC membership on the additional use of a pool and the ability to visit numerous sites, but there's more on offer from public leisure centres than first meets the eye.

As well as providing discounted services to both children and the elderly, they also have the ability to take GP referrals, Deep Throat told me.

That means if a doctor thinks you or I need to spend more time in the gym they'll refer us to an instructor at a BCC leisure centre who'll be able to get us fit and less likely to take up the resources of the NHS.

These were only some of the less obvious benefits of the leisure centres , but our new source was able also to explain how to help get the leisure centre running at a profit again.

Rather than transfer the responsibility of the leisure centres to a central trust – as currently planned – he said a management shake-up or a change of how managers are incentivised under the current structure could be as effective.

Certainly that would be the first thing to happen in the private sector for any loss-making business but may be more difficult under the rules of public sector employment.

But it does fit in with the Finance Minister's plan to sweat the public sector's assets rather than reducing them.

Certainly there does seem to be plenty of motivated people working for BCC's leisure centres because two of them came to persuade me not to end my membership. Nobody has darkened my door from Pure Gym.

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