Camden set to reject plans to bring leisure centres in-house amid council row

Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre

Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre - Credit: Archant

Camden Council is tonight set to reject calls to bring leisure centre contracts back in house, with its cabinet instead expected to say an external provider should keep running them.

The issue has caused an internal row within the Labour group in the last few weeks, with some councillors keen for the council to run its own leisure facilities again.

The cabinet was due to approve plans to look for outside bidders to take on the contract to run its five centres in Swiss Cottage, Talacre, St Pancras, Covent Garden and Kentish Town.

According to cabinet papers, the option to bring the services back in house was looked at, but other councils they had examined required a subsidy to maintain service and “social value outcomes”.

The cabinet paper also said bringing it in house would mean Camden wouldn’t meet its medium-term financial strategy target of saving £1million a year.

The current 10-year deal with Greenwich Leisure Limited, which runs Better, ends in March 2020.

However, the disquiet about outsourcing was brought to the fore at a meeting of the Labour group in late January.

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During the local elections last year, the council said it would look at taking back services where the option became available.

One of those who was present at January’s Labour group meeting expressed their dissatisfaction with “the lack of work that had been done on the options apart from the one put forward”.

They said: “This has been a missed opportunity, and it flies in the face of the manifesto. There’s a feeling that there wasn’t enough political will behind bringing it back-in house.”

It’s believed the Labour group meeting did back bringing some of the leisure centres’ internal services back in-house bit-by-bit, over the course of a contract.

The council will look to put a non-performance break clause into any deal. Cabinet member for culture and the environment, Jonathan Simpson, told a scrutiny committee on February 12 it would cost £30million over a decade for Camden to run the leisure centres itself.

He said: “[This is] a substantial pressure, given the austerity we’re facing and the commitments we’re making to safeguard our libraries and youth services, and protect the poorest from council tax. As a council, we are actively pursuing bringing services in-house where we can and, where this isn’t feasible, driving social value through our contracts.”