Councillors join debate of Inspire Leisure ‘snub’

Dr James Walsh, chairman of the council's leisure, tourism and infrastructure working group, was frustrated by the decision not to include Inspire
Dr James Walsh, chairman of the council's leisure, tourism and infrastructure working group, was frustrated by the decision not to include Inspire

UNHAPPY councillors have criticised the exclusion of the current operator from the future of leisure services.

The barring of Inspire Leisure from the next ten-year contract to run facilities such as the Inspire Littlehampton swimming and sports centre and the Windmill Entertainment Centre was met with anger by Arun District Council members.

Inspire Leisure's team has become a focal point for the community in Littlehampton

Inspire Leisure's team has become a focal point for the community in Littlehampton

Dr James Walsh, the chairman of the council’s leisure, tourism and infrastructure working group, said: “It seems to me extraordinary that the incumbent we have been happy with running our leisure services for the past nine years is not included in a list of bidders for the new contract – if only to provide a yardstick against which the others could be measured.

“We know the current operator and we have a good working relationship with them. They have had faults but we have sorted them out.

“It seems only natural justice the incumbent should be able to test themselves to see if they are up to scratch.”

The suggested recommendations about the matter put forward by Dr Walsh were unanimously agreed by the working party on Thursday.

They were to express regret Inspire Leisure was not included in the shortlist for the new contract, to express regret the working group was not informed of the decision and to urge that its members should be kept up-to-date with future developments.

The members also said they were unaware of the details of the contract procedure when they were told about the process last year.

As reported, Inspire Leisure was placed outside the final five hopefuls seeking the right to run leisure services across Arun for at least ten years from April 2016.

The decision was taken by The Sports Consultancy hired by the council to conduct the tendering process.

Jim Brooks, Arun councillor for Marine Ward, said: “I’m very concerned about this. I hope very much this can be reversed.”

It was outrageous, he said, Inspire Leisure should not have the chance to build on its work since April 2006 to take advantage of proposed new facilities like the Littlehampton sports centre.

“This contract process looks like a charter for the big boys. Inspire Leisure took over under-invested facilities. They have taken on all the hard times.

“There have been ups and downs but they have pulled through and now the people who have done all the hard work can’t be there for the new contract,” he added.

Ferring councillor Colin Oliver-Redgate also said it was wrong Inspire Leisure would be unable to carry on running the services.

Inspire Leisure took on dozens of sites across the district from Arun when it was formed and had 24,000 members, though it will not release the latest number. It has 350 staff.