Leisure staff shock as operator is ruled out

HUNDREDS of leisure staff face an uncertain future as the current operator has been barred from bidding for a new contract.

Inspire Leisure has 350 employees running sites like the Felpham Leisure Centre and the Waterloo Square bowling greens. Its contract is due for renewal in April 2016 but the not for profit organisation has quickly been ruled out of the contest.

Mike Dickson, its chairman of trustees, said he was shocked by the decision made by Arun District Council’s consultants.

“I feel let down by what has happened. The staff are really distraught. They have worked really hard and to achieve what? To have someone else come in and take over everything they have done. They have been kicked in the teeth,” he said.

The end of Inspire’s contract in 14 months will see the staff transferred to the new operator but Mr Dickson said he feared many would lose their jobs once the new contract started.

The news has also halted Inspire’s plans to invest £4m at the Felpham Leisure Centre off Felpham Way.

These proposals included a front extension with an enlarged cafe, new first floor changing rooms, an extra drama room, a dance studio, a hydrotherapy pool, a health suite and a steam pod.

But a gym extension underway will be completed.

An Arun spokesman said the council’s contracts had to comply with European laws.

“The new leisure contract falls under this legislation and, to this end, it was agreed by the council to appoint independent consultants, The Sports Consultancy, to manage the procurement process for this contract.

“The district council has a statutory obligation to follow a fair and equal assessment process to ensure that there is open competition and transparency.

“This independent process will enable us to provide a high standard of leisure provision while offering best value for money to our local council taxpayers,” he said.

Paul Dendle, Arun’s cabinet member for leisure and amenities, said: “I am confident that this independent process will deliver the best value for money for the council and community as a whole.”

Inspire Leisure was set up by Arun in May 2005 to bid to run leisure services on 27 sites previously provided by the council.

It won the contract and hoped to be selected for a further term. But it was told by The Sports Consultancy last Thursday it would not be invited to tender.

Mr Dickson said the first stage of the process had seen 75 per cent of the marks in two areas which he said were biased towards national operators.

In the remaining areas, Inspire scored more than the average of the five larger companies chosen to go ahead. These categories included quality assurance and environmental management.