GENE BRODIE, our bookish gyms correspondent, on an added twist to the tale of a 20-year leisure centre management contract
GLL – Greenwich Leisure Ltd – could be lined up to take over the operation of Croydon’s library service.
GLL is the social enterprise company which runs leisure facilities for a number of local authorities, but which attracted controversy in Lambeth when they were put in charge of “bookish gyms”, through the unnecessary and unwanted closure and conversion of some public libraries.
On Monday night, at the Croydon Town Hall, it was announced that GLL was to be handed a 20-year contract to operate Croydon’s gyms, swimming pools and other leisure activities. This extensive deal sees football pitches and tennis courts in Croydon’s parks brought under GLL control, rather than the parks contractor, id-Verde. GLL will also operate the recently refurbished Old Ashburton Library in Ashburton Park, as a café, nursery and leisure centre – almost a bookish gym.
But GLL may yet have a real hand to play in the management of Croydon’s 13 public libraries.
Outsourced in 2013 by the Tories to John Laing, that building firm handed Croydon’s libraries contract to Carillion, another builder with little background in running libraries and now in the midst of a serious financial crisis.
GLL had been among the bidders to take on Croydon’s libraries four years ago, and then – because of their local authority experience and background in library management – were regarded by library campaigners as the least-worst option. Now, with Carillion seemingly on the brink of a corporate collapse, Katharine Street sources indicate that GLL may have been approached about their willingness to run Croydon’s libraries as well as its leisure centres.
Certainly, the Labour council’s cabinet member for culture, Timothy Godfrey, is no fan of either Carillion, nor Fusion, the current leisure centre operators whose agreement in Croydon expires at the end of March.
Fusion’s cost-cutting and poor standards of care in the borough’s pools and leisure centres have seen a rising number of complaints about neglected and dirty facilities.
“We don’t need operators like that in our borough long-term,” Godfrey told Monday’s cabinet meeting, as he introduced a very long-term deal with GLL – basically putting any decisions about the management of the borough’s leisure centres out of reach of politicians through five council election terms.
GLL’s leisure centre deal is regarded as, at worst, cost-neutral, and at best a money-maker, with at least a £1million per year saving for the council.
“Our leisure centres have been operating at 50 per cent capacity,” the Town Hall source said.
“Fusion did nothing to promote their use. GLL will do that, and that way they will generate the money to pay for the deal, in profit-sharing with the council.” The contract, which is due for legal sign-off next week, is a service contract under which GLL is expected to meet the council’s requirements. The expectation is that, by Year 3 of the deal, the leisure centres will no longer cost the council anything to run, freeing up some money for investment in maintenance and new facilities.
Some of that investment is being front-loaded, with new gym kit promised at Purley, Thornton Heath, South Norwood and at the four-year-old centre at Waddon.
“GLL will also have a big part to play in developing the council’s plans for the future New Addington centre, ensuring it is fully equipped to best meet the needs of the local community,” a council press release claimed.
“Approximately 30 football pitches and tennis courts in the borough’s parks are also included in the contract, and the new operator will have responsibility for bookings as well as for increasing the numbers of people making use of these facilities,” the council said.
“GLL will put affordability and accessibility at the heart of its offer to the people of Croydon,” the company said. GLL operates more than 250 public sport and leisure facilities and 113 libraries in partnership with 50 local councils, public agencies and sporting organisations. Under its “Better” branding, leisure facilities managed by GLL had 46million visitors last year, with more than 850,000 members.
The template for the operation, with the council working with a social enterprise business, appears similar to what Godfrey has overseen for the future management of the Fairfield Halls arts centre.
Under this deal – unlike the £3million loan and £160,000 public subsidy handed out to Boozepark last year – the council has remembered this time round to insist that GLL fully complies with the London Living Wage.
“The users of our leisure centres deserve the very best in terms of facilities and customer services, and I’m confident this new contract with GLL will deliver on both of these counts,” Godfrey said.
“We’re creating new employment opportunities for local people and at the same time saving taxpayers a great deal of money. By improving what’s on offer we will encourage many more people to use these facilities as part of a healthier lifestyle. Everyone is going to win from this move.”
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