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Leisure centre staff ask for council help

Leisure centre staff ask for council help

Published by the Pirate FM News Team at 4:18pm 9th June 2020.

By Richard Whitehouse, Local Democracy Reporter 

People working at leisure centres in Cornwall have called on Cornwall Council to step in and provide financial support so they can reopen.

Cornwall Council’s leisure centres are operated by national social enterprise GLL and all are currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Around 900 full and part time staff work in the centres in Cornwall and they say that in other parts of the country local councils have provided financial support to help them prepare to reopen.

However in Cornwall no such support has so far been offered and the staff say that without help the reopening of the centres could be delayed.

One employee, who asked not to be named, said he was speaking on behalf of many staff working in Cornwall.

He said: “The council verbally said that it is supporting GLL but they are saying that financially they can’t offer any support.

“Most local authorities are supporting their leisure services whether they are run in house or by GLL or other trusts.

“It is putting the reopening of the centres at real risk – these are council facilities that people will want to see back open.

“It is a bit of a worrying time for staff and we want to raise awareness about what is happening.”

GLL has previously stated that it is aiming to reopen leisure centres in July if restrictions have been relaxed by then.

The GLL Cornish employee said that centres will have to operate on a reduced basis when they do open so that social distancing guidelines can be followed.

He said that people will have to book to attend and will be given strict one-hour slots. They will only be able to do one activity per visit.

He added: “In the short term there is support needed to reopen and in the long term there needs to be a step approach to the support until the business gets back to where it was.

“I don’t think it will ever get back to where it was for a long time and so there will be a need for additional support as the centres just won’t be able to get the income that they did previously.”

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The staff have written to Cornwall’s MPs asking for help in getting Cornwall Council to provide help.

“I absolutely recognise the importance of leisure facilities such as Polkyth Leisure Centre and Newquay Sports Centre to our communities in Cornwall and was very sorry to hear of the concerns of the GLL staff who recently contacted me with issues around Cornwall Council funding them. These staff have often worked in leisure centres in Cornwall for many years and it is only because of Cornwall Council’s decision to move its leisure services to other contractors, most recently GLL, that they find themselves in this position. The provision of leisure facilities is the responsibility of Cornwall Council. The government has provided Cornwall over £444million of support including £34m directly for the council during the COVID-19 pandemic. I will of course continue to press the Government to provide funding for Cornwall to go with the millions they have already provided. It is up to the council to decide how this money is prioritised – I have no influence over their decisions."

             Steve Double, MP for St Austell and Newquay

Steve Double MP went on to say: "Whilst I will continue to lobby the government for further financial support for Cornwall it is really down to the council to decide if supporting leisure facilities is a priority. They have an annual budget of around £1.2billion and decided to go into partnership with GLL in order to reduce the amount of money they needed to spend on leisure facilities, so ultimately it is up to them to support their leisure facilities properly.”

He added: “I would also note that other councils across England have entered into agreements with GLL to assist them, their staff and facilities, without further government support.  I would hope Cornwall Council will consider doing the same.”

Cornwall councillor and regular leisure centre user James Mustoe added: “As regular user of Polkyth Leisure Centre, both myself and my family, I know just this facility is vitally important, not just to St Austell but to the surrounding communities like Mevagissey. Growing up in Mevagissey I learned to swim there and I am sure the leisure centres across Cornwall have similar roles in their communities.

“I know that Cornwall Council has been given money by the Government to safeguard services – and it is up to Cornwall Council to decide what to do with this money.

“Entering into an agreement with GLL the leisure contractor to use some of these funds to help safeguard the services would protect not only the facilities themselves but also the jobs of those people who work there.

“Other councils such as Islington have already made similar agreements so I would ask the leaders of Cornwall Council to consider this carefully.

“I do think, that once we come through this pandemic and the leisure centres are able to safely reopen, they will be in demand as never before due to people needing to pick up their fitness regimes after a period of forced confinement. I certainly will be!”

In a statement GLL said: “GLL is a social enterprise and not-for-profit organisation. We work on very small margins and reinvest any surpluses back in to our communities. With no income during the past 11 weeks of lockdown and the business in hibernation, GLL has looked at what funding and support is available through closure and back to re-opening.

 “We have, along with every other leisure operator in the UK, asked for financial help from our local authority partners, to enable us to protect jobs and safeguard their public services, which will be in greater demand when we re-open.  While many local authorities have agreed to provide some help, discussions with Cornwall Council on this matter remain ongoing.

“In the meantime we are continuing to explore ways in which we can affordably open the leisure facilities we operate within Cornwall in line with the Government’s current plans (hopefully early July).  However, without some financial support this is going to be a challenge.”

A spokesperson for Cornwall Council said:The government’s requirement that all leisure centres close due to the risk of spreading COVID-19 has resulted in a major loss of income for the leisure industry.  Like many leisure centres GLL are funded through customer memberships and bookings.  GLL has identified a significant revenue shortfall up to 2022 as a direct consequence of these centres closing, and has asked both Cornwall Council and central government to support them to address this gap – but without government assistance the Council simply does not have the funds to do so. Like many local authorities, Cornwall Council is facing extreme financial pressures, with a funding shortfall of around £28m and total costs from the pandemic estimated to be more than £62m.
“In addition, we must continue to support and care for our most vulnerable residents during the pandemic, and we have a legal responsibility to maintain a balanced financial position and protect statutory services.  Cornwall Council remains committed to supporting our leisure sector, which is key to our residents’ health and wellbeing, and we have offered GLL Supplier Relief funding in line with our contractual relationship, as we have done for many of our suppliers through these unprecedented times. However, this falls short of GLL’s lost income as a result of reductions in customer membership and bookings. The Council has raised the urgent issue of protecting our leisure centres with Cornwall’s MPs, and we are pressing Sport England and the Ministry for Housing, Communities & Local Government for a commitment to provide financial support for the leisure sector – funding that was not provided in the £34m allocated by government.
“We remain in discussions to help GLL during this difficult time and, dependent on Government guidelines, GLL is now working towards a planned reopening of its Better leisure centres in early July while ensuring social distancing.  We hope strongly that residents will take up their services and restart memberships and bookings and that we can all continue to support our leisure providers at this difficult time.”

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