Kentish Town Sports Center [Julian Walker]
UNION leaders have urged City Hall to radically rethink the way they operate recreational centers, warning that an “obsession with outsourcing” must end when the pandemic is finally under control.
Unite, which represents employees at popular establishments such as the Prince of Wales Baths, Swiss Cottage Leisure Center and the Oasis, has laid off hundreds of people and, according to the operators of Greenwich Leisure (GLL), also known in Camden as Better seeks councils to make up for ever greater deficits.
After the centers closed, GLL CEO Mark Sesnan said the company had gone from being a “relatively strong financial company to one that now relies on support from local authorities,” adding, “The biggest problem is that some councils are very financial. Buckled up and have more pressing priorities. “
The company, which got a new recreational contract for Camden months before Covid, is facing huge costs to maintain equipment and swimming pools – and lost its biggest annual income boost this month when people couldn’t turn to recreational centers for that celebrate new year resolutions to get fit. Currently, a skeleton staff takes care of swimming pools, provides security and answers members’ questions.
Camden has confirmed they are “flexible” to allow GLL time to pay the funds owed, but Unite said local authorities should take the service back internally.
In Camden, dozens of long-term employees working on zero-hour contacts have been told that no new work is being offered and they are now technically unemployed.
Unite Regional Representative Onay Kasab said: “Rather than GLL whirling the begging bowl around the financially ailing councils and asking them to shore up their flawed business model, council chairs should take back control of their leisure centers. Such a step makes good business sense as you do not have to take into account the “profits” for GLL. They would also increase job security for the 10,500 employees GLL currently takes on leave at 80 percent wages. “
He added, “We believe that the public using GLL swimming pools, gyms and leisure centers will be better served when lockdown restrictions are relaxed when operated by local authorities who are directly accountable to their constituents. This was the tried and true route before this obsession with outsourcing began. “
GLL says it is not structured like many companies and is a “not for profit social enterprise”.
A city hall spokesman said the majority of the staff were on vacation, adding, “We intend to reopen the centers at the earliest opportunity provided state restrictions are eased, as we did after previous lockdowns.”
Although the City Hall has not yet offered direct financial assistance to the company, it said it has given GLL more time to pay the amounts owed under the terms of the contract. The spokesman added, “We are considering all possible delivery models for the future management of our leisure centers.”
A GLL spokesperson said, “GLL works for a number of local government agencies, including Camden Council, to run recreational facilities in the community while protecting as many flexible hours and permanent jobs as possible. We will continue to push for a broader government support package for public services and recreational jobs. We see our nonprofit social enterprise model play a vital role in the nation’s recovery. “