Councillors at Belfast City Hall have voted to reject plans to keep its leisure centres under total public control, prompting the threat of industrial action from trade unionists.
The proposals had been drawn up by the Association of Public Service Excellence (APSE) in reaction to furious union protests about the council’s moves to hand over management of its dozen-or-so facilities to a not-for-profit trust.
The decision to reject the APSE plan was made by the Policy and Resources Committee on Friday, and will now have to be ratified by the full council at the start of May.
Bumper Graham, assistant general secretary of union NIPSA – representing a large number of the roughly 300-or-so leisure centre staff – said putting centres into the hands of trusts effectively means “privatisation by the back door”.
He said: “The council are going to face a massive fight, and that fight will be taken forward on a number of fronts including industrial action, legal action and a public campaign.”
In the short term this could spell “upheaval of services due to industrial action”.
However, SDLP councillor Pat McCarthy was unimpressed by the APSE plans.
He said leisure centres are costing £8m every year – and the not-for-profit trust plan would reduce this by £2m: “The bottom line is we can’t afford to be subsidising leisure facilities to the tune of £8m.”
He added that the council “hasn’t been very successful up until now” in running them.