Will Dacorum “be brave” and u-turn on privatisation of leisure facilities?

Councillor Andrew Williams, leader of Dacorum Borough Council ENGPNL00320130520102927
Councillor Andrew Williams, leader of Dacorum Borough Council ENGPNL00320130520102927

Council bosses have been challenged to “be brave” by reversing plans to privatise Dacorum’s leisure facilities.

Dacorum Borough Council currently plan to end the contract with charity Sportspace so that private profit-making firm called Sports and Leisure Management (SLM) Ltd can run services in exchange for a fee.

But opposition councillors have called in the decision, and former parliamentary candidate Mandi Tattershall says it is up to council leader Andrew Williams to be strong enough to perform a u-turn.

She said: “The point of a sports centre in any town is to encourage wellbeing and physical activity which is accessible to the many not the few who can afford it.

“We know prices will rise. By ignoring the opportunity to cap real world core pricing the opportunity for SLM is to hike up prices and cut services that don’t make money.

“In St Albans and Watford there have been reports of clubs being priced out, charges doubling, and public swim sessions being removed in favour of more lucrative swimming lessons. These facilities should continue to be accessible, and affordable by all as they are owned by everyone.”

Opposition to the plans has seen thousands of people join the ‘Leisure facilities are not for profit’ Facebook group, and even more sign a public petition protesting the plans. The group is also lobbying councillors.

However Cllr Williams was not convinced.

He said: “I don’t think it would be brave to revert to the status quo. Being brave means making difficult decisions, and as the response to this decision has shown this has been a difficult decision.

“We put this contract out to tender, and we chose what we saw as the best option for taxpayers and for service delivery.

“Now the decision has been called in, and other councillors will get to re-consider it based on the same information that we had.”

Dacorum Borough Council’s housing and community overview and scrutiny committee will meet tonight to discuss the controversial scheme.

The meeting begins tonight, at 7.30pm, in The Forum.