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Bosses 'didn't know details' of leisure centre plans

swimming pool

Published by Sarah Yeoman at 6:42am 19th February 2019. (Updated at 9:48am 19th February 2019)

By Richard Whitehouse, local democracy reporter

Cornwall Council has admitted that councillors were not fully aware of all the details of a £361 million leisure services contract when it was signed.

Concerns have been raised about the process of awarding the 25-year contract to run leisure services for Cornwall Council to London-based GLL after it was announced that half of the sports hall at Polkyth Leisure Centre in St Austell is set to be closed off and used as a children’s soft play area.

Clubs which use the hall said that they were not aware of the change until they heard from other people and don’t have anywhere to go.

St Austell and Newquay MP Steve Double met with leisure centre operators GLL and they told him that providing a soft play area had been a requirement of the contract it has with Cornwall Council.

The 25-year contract was awarded in 2016 and started in April 2017 and is worth £361,250,000 or around £14.45m a year.

After hearing that the Polkyth change was part of the contract the LDRS asked Cornwall Council for a copy of the contract to find out what other changes might be on the cards for leisure centres in Cornwall. But the council said the contract could only be provided by making a request under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The council said it needed to be done this way so that the document can be redacted “to make sure that commercially sensitive information is not released”.

There had been controversy in 2017 when GLL closed squash courts at Polkyth to make extra room for gym equipment. The council has confirmed that change was part of the tender bid made by GLL.

When asked what other changes are set to be made to leisure centres as part of the contract the council said:

“The contract allows GLL to change the leisure service offering to meet customer demand over the contract as they see fit so long as public health outcomes are delivered and the centres remain open.

“The planned major investments within the contract are: expanded gym offering at Wadebridge, Bodmin, Helston and St Austell centres; a new gym at Bude; the trampoline park in Newquay; the new soft play offer at St Austell and redeveloped changing rooms at Truro.

“Also included within the contract are defined spend-to-save activities, backlog maintenance, new gym equipment and general refreshes.”

polkyth leisure centre - LDRS

When asked whether there had been any consultation on the changes included in the contract the council said:

“The contract puts into practice the Council’s Leisure Strategy 2014 which was subject to consultation.

“Due to the contract being awarded following a process governed by procurement legislation a consultation regarding proposals received was not possible.”

And when asked whether councillors were aware of the changes included in the contract and tender the council said: “Councillors would not have been aware of the detail of each individual proposal, however headline figures were provided.”

Mr Double said: “I have previously met with GLL local and regional management as well as senior councillors about the proposed changes at Polkyth Leisure Centre.

“I opposed the changes to the squash courts at Polkyth that were made in 2018 and understood at the time that these were also part of the contract agreed by Cornwall Council.

“As GLL are implementing the contract they successfully bid for, there are therefore a number of questions that need to be asked of Cornwall Council’s administration on their scrutiny and the transparency of their original decision to give GLL the contract for Cornwall’s leisure services in 2016.

“This week I have written to Cllr Adam Paynter, who is now Leader of Cornwall Council, but in 2016 was the Cabinet Member responsible for leisure services. He proposed that Cornwall Council’s Cabinet accept the GLL contract at a Cabinet meeting in November 2016.

“I have asked him if he knew about the proposed changes to Polkyth Leisure Centre before he proposed the Cabinet vote on the changes, and if he did, why there was no consultation or discussion on them either with local Cornwall Councillors or indeed the wider membership of Polkyth Leisure Centre.

“It is important that Cornwall Council is transparent with its decision making process and I await Cllr Paynter’s answers with interest. It also remains to be seen whether the unpopular changes at Polkyth and the way in which they have been communicated are indicative of further unwelcome changes to come in leisure centres across Cornwall.”

polkyth leisure centre - LDRS

Richard Pears, Cornwall councillor for Mount Charles, where Polkyth is located, said he supported the campaign by users to keep the sports hall as it is.

He said: “I have been very concerned about several aspects of the recent proposals.

“Firstly the communication and engagement with GLL about these changes to their existing users has been all wrong. Six weeks’ notice is simply not enough time to allow some clubs to make alternative arrangements. As it is now clear that these plans have been in the pipeline since Cornwall Council gave the contract to GLL, a longer period of notice really was necessary – I have told GLL they must learn from these mistakes and engage better with the users of Polkyth in the future.

“Secondly, as it now clear these changes were in the pipeline from the moment GLL took the contract, there are serious questions that need to be asked of the decision-makers in Cornwall Council’s Cabinet about how these proposed changes were communicated, both to local councillors, who were not consulted, and again the wider membership of the leisure centre, who have been left feeling let down at the lack of consultation and transparency.”

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