Labour calls for rethink on leisure centre ‘privatisation’ plans

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The New Forest West branch of the Labour party

OPPONENTS of New Forest District Council’s contentious plan to hand the management of public leisure centres to an outside organisation have urged the authority to “think again”.

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Members from Labour’s New Forest West branch campaigned on the streets of Lymington (pictured) against the idea and said its petition proved popular with members of the public.

A party spokeswoman said: “Having spearheaded the www.change.org petition against the possible privatisation of our centres, we are asking NFDC to think again about outsourcing the facilities to private or third-party management.”

The opposition came a week after Cllr Mark Steele, NFDC’s cabinet member for leisure and wellbeing, revealed the outsourcing plan had taken a step forward.

The district council is formally searching for potential partners to run the sites at Lymington, New Milton, Ringwood, Applemore and Totton. It has asked market providers for “expressions of interest”, with bids back by the end of the year and a decision on how to progress in 2020.

As reported in the A&T, there has been political opposition to the Conservative administration’s plan, which has been branded “privatisation” by the Liberal Democrats. Cllr Steele has pledged to retain public ownership of the leisure centres, which are also undergoing an internal review.

But the Labour spokesperson said it remained unconvinced by Cllr Steele’s most recent remarks: “Having listened to all Cllr Mark Steele had to say on the matter at the recent customer forum, it would seem that there are still many areas lacking in clarity.

“We feel passionately that the issue of the future of leisure centre management needs further public discussion prior to any firm decisions being made, and we are pleased that NFDC has announced that additional public forums will now take place later this year.

“At this moment the only option on the table being actively pursued appears to be outsourcing to a private or third-party company which, given the chequered history of privatisation in the UK, is not necessarily the best option.”

The spokesperson added: “This is a cross-party issue, and as such means that we are not campaigning solely from a Labour Party perspective.

“We are simply asking NFDC to listen to the concerns of our local community, and to allow us to express our democratic right to challenge what many feel is an unnecessary change to the health and leisure centres across the New Forest.”

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