Belfast Telegraph

Unions to table Belfast leisure centres revamp plan

By Rebecca Black

Trade unions have been given £10,000 and six weeks to come up with an alternative plan to manage Belfast leisure centres.

The deferral follows a proposal by the council to outsource the running of its 10 leisure centres.

Many of these leisure centres are run-down and all currently operate at a loss, subsidised to the tune of around £8m per year by the council.

Belfast is also set to take over the Robinson Centre, currently run by Castlereagh Borough, when the two merge into a super council in May.

The new plan for leisure centres would see the management of the leisure centres transferred to a not-for-profit trust.

Trade unions reacted with fury to the decision and have staged several protests at City Hall over fears of job losses and cuts to services.

Around 30 protesters staged a demonstration at the back gate of City Hall last night as councillors discussed the matter.

One of the union officials protesting last night said they feared the plan for a trust to manage leisure service would mean redundancies and cuts to services.

"What it could mean is job losses," he said.

"It could mean cuts in the terms and conditions of the workers who work in the leisure services and it could mean a much reduced service given to the people in Belfast," he said.

"The ratepayers would find that the leisure services they have today would be reduced in the future."

Inside the meeting Sinn Fein councillor Jim McVeigh proposed that £10,000 be set aside for consultancy work on an in-house management model.

This would be considered by representatives alongside the trust model and an "informed choice" then made.

This was voted down, but DUP group leader Lee Reynolds said they were willing to allow the unions to make their argument, provided there was a time limit put in place.

A six-week limit was voted on and agreed.

However, PUP councillor Billy Hutchinson criticised the time limit and resources saying that the unions are being set up to fail.

"We are walking them (the unions) into a brick wall, they need resources and we are not giving enough to them," he said.

 

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