Petition launched to save leisure centres

By Kerenza Moore   |   Head of Content   |
Saturday 2nd October 2021 6:14 am
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A petition has been launched in the wake of the news that Cornwall Council and operator GLL plan to close four of the county’s leisure centres and pool.

A series of ‘online information events’ are planned by the Council to keep the public informed of the proposal to shut Launceston in 2023, and three other centres in Cornwall in March 2022.

Launceston’s virtual meeting will take place on Thursday (October 7).

The Coronation Park Trust, upon whose land the Launceston centre sits, says it is keen to work with the local authority to find a solution, to ensure leisure facilities stay in the town.

The local authority says it does not have a statutory duty to provide leisure services, and that it “does not have the budget” to subsidise GLL, or take the centres back into its own control.

The Council is looking for groups and organisations to step forward to run Launceston and the other centres facing the axe – something that could prove a tall order, in the time window remaining.

The Liberal Democrats in Cornwall have launched a petition calling for the county’s leisure centres to be saved (www.cornwalllibdems.org.uk/leisure_centres).

Cornwall Councillor Hilary Frank said: “I wish Cornwall Council’s Cabinet had the vision to recognise the importance of our leisure centres and invest in them, or the temerity to join the Local Government Association and other organisations lobbying central government for proper funding to make public sport and leisure services sustainable and affordable to all.”

Cllr Frank says that the questions in a public consultation over the future of the leisure facilities are ‘skewed’.

“The questions are skewed towards the decision that Cabinet seems to have already made to sacrifice the four centres to enable the other nine to keep going.

“And, rather than basing their decision on meaningful criteria like population centres, areas of social deprivation or the number of schools using the pools, the questions seem to be based on a premise that there needs to be one Leisure Centre in each of the six former district council areas in Cornwall – local authority boundaries that ceased to exist over 10 years ago!

“When you realise that three of the four centres threatened with closure are east of Bodmin it is hard to figure out how Cabinet thinks any of this could possibly be equitable across Cornwall.”

The Cornish Times asked GLL for a comment about how, when, and by whom decisions over the possible closure of the centres had been made. GLL said that it was unable to comment further than a joint press release given by Cornwall Council and itself on September 22.

Unite the Union, one of three unions working with GLL employees in Cornwall, has been scathing of the company’s approach.

Since taking on the contract from Cornwall Council, GLL – a not-for-profit charitable organisation – has systematically reduced people’s permanent hours down.

“What we have dealt with mostly in Cornwall is people having their hours reduced down to the point where it’s difficult to justify working,” said South West regional officer for Unite the Union Deborah Hopkins.

“People’s routine hours would be cut to say one or two regular hours, allowing them to be registered as employed, and then they would be told that there would be extra hours available to them on the bank.”

Extra hours done on a casual basis do not come with the same employee rights to sick pay, holidays and pension contributions.

While initially it was the predominantly younger staff such as fitness and swimming instructors who were affected by these changes in contract, the union is now seeing this pattern at all levels of the GLL structure, said Ms Hopkins.

“It has enabled the company to roll the risk of the business down onto the people working for it,” she said.

Furthermore, GLL, unlike its predecessor Tempus, does not recognise the unions.

“All the unions involved in this organisation have been seeking effective, healthy industrial relations since the transfer. GLL has decided this recognition no longer applies and that staff don’t have a voice that needs to be heard.”

The union also has questions for Cornwall Council.

“Bearing in mind that there has been a change of leadership, why is the Council not reviewing the contract, rather than allowing centres to be closed. Where is the oversight?,” said Ms Hopkins.

“At what point does profit take priority over public health, which is one of the Council’s responsibilities?”

A series of virtual meetings are being held for members of the public. The information events, says Cornwall Council, will be an opportunity to find out more about the leisure centre proposals and help inform people’s response to the consultation.

The events will include information about the proposals in general as well as providing an opportunity to discuss the proposals for the leisure facilities that are at risk.

The online sessions will be held as follows:

Falmouth Ships and Castles Leisure Centre: October 6

Launceston Leisure Centre: Oct 7

Wadebridge Leisure Centre: Oct 11

Saltash Leisure Centre: Oct 13

Hydrotherapy pool in St Austell Leisure Centre: Oct 14

To fill out Cornwall Council’s questionnaire, go to https://letstalk.cornwall.gov.uk/leisure by October 31