Preston Council’s great big leisure centre sell-off

Coun Peter Kelly outside West View
Coun Peter Kelly outside West View
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CITY council-run leisure centres in Preston are to be transferred to a London-based social enterprise.

Both Fulwood and West View leisure centres are to be transferred to social enterprise Greenwich Leisure Limited - for a “nominal amount”.

Bosses say £2m is now set to be invested in the services as part of a major overhaul, with workers to transfer to GLL - the largest UK charitable social enterprise, delivering leisure, health and community services.

The organisation is to invest £1m into each leisure centre as the full leisure service is transferred, while the council is also expected to fork out £1m as part of a complex legal deal known as a reverse premium.

Leisure had been facing an uncertain future under continued council ownership following swingeing government cuts to local authority budgets, but Town Hall chiefs say it will now be “business as usual” for staff and members as power is transferred from April 1 this year.

Coun Peter Rankin, leader of Preston Council, said: “Without doubt this is one of the most important decisions taken by the city council in recent times.

“It means a bright new future for the whole of Preston’s leisure service with new investment and fresh approach.

“The funding the council now receives from central government is over £8m per annum less than it received in 2012.

“One of the impacts of the funding reduction is that the council is simply no longer able to afford to keep the leisure centres running.

“In 2015/16 the leisure service cost the council approximately £1m.

“Therefore we’ve had to look at alternative options – and I am delighted at this deal with GLL.

“The recent experience with handing over ownership of Preston Guild Hall fills us with confidence in proceeding with this deal. It is an opportunity for investment to be made in Preston’s leisure service.”

Coun Peter Kelly, the council’s cabinet member for leisure and culture, said: “This is a landmark deal for Preston as it ensures the future for our popular and well used leisure centres.

“It means over £2m of new investment will be made into Fulwood and West View to both improve and expand the leisure facilities there.

“And in GLL, we have secured one of the best leisure providers in the UK.

“With more than 46 million visitors to over 250 facilities across the country, Greenwich Leisure has a track record of running highly successful and profitable leisure services.

“Yet as a worker-owned social enterprise, GLL put people first and run their company in a way that benefits all.

“This is fantastic news for the staff who will transfer to GLL, as well as the thousands of people who use Fulwood and West View every day.”

He admitted that, as a councillor, he would prefer to keep services in-house if possible, but said: “However, a lot of councils now don’t have leisure services that are in-house, and what is really important for me is that we were making sure we got the best services for Preston.

“We will have continued leisure facilities within Preston, and we are going to have £2m of investment to go in.”

He said the council was intending to keep a pot of money for sporting events such as Park It, and said: “We have very strong sports development in Preston and we want to continue to support it.”

Coun Kelly said, without the deal, there was potential for one or both of the leisure centres to have to close in order for the council to make the required savings.

But a deal has now been struck with GLL, subject to contract and call-in, and he said: “GLL have said it is business as usual for the first year.”

Neil Fairhurst, the council’s director of customer services, added: “The passport to leisure schemes will move over, the concessions will continue under the ‘business as usual’ banner for at least one year, and GLL have similar schemes.”

Bosses confirmed it would be down to GLL to decide a pricing structure, and so were unable to confirm whether costs may increase for customers.

They were also unable to say whether the names of one or both leisure centres could change.

An agreement - though not formalised through a contract - is also in place with Fulwood Academy for use of the car park and sports hall, and council chiefs expect a similar deal to continue under GLL.

Mark Sesnan, managing director of GLL, said: “Preston is key to the expansion of GLL’s health and wellbeing offer in the north of England.

“Our social enterprise goes from strength to strength with more people getting more active more often.

“We look forward to welcoming leisure staff into the GLL family and greeting many new and existing customers at Preston’s leisure centres, which will be operated under our successful Better brand.

“We are thrilled at the prospect and opportunity in the city. Preston has a fantastic reputation in the leisure industry and we aim to build on this and really take the leisure service forward from day one.”