Inspire Leisure staff ‘stabbed in the back’

One of the Inspire leisure sites
One of the Inspire leisure sites

ARUN District Council has been accused of stabbing Inspire Leisure in the back after consultants recommended the council’s leisure services provider should not be allowed to renew its contract when it runs out next year.

It’s now likely that Littlehampton’s Windmill Entertainment Centre and Swimming and Sports Centre will be under new management in a little over a year.

Mike Dickson, chairman of Inspire’s trustees, said his board was shocked to receive a letter from The Sports Consultancy informing the organisation it would not be invited to tender when for the new contract from April, 2016.

He said: “The staff, particularly at Littlehampton (swimming and sports centre) are furious. They have put in all that work to keep the place going, and now they have been stabbed in the back.”

Inspire’s board is calling on Arun councillors to suspend the tendering process to allow a full review to be carried out, including the range of benefits provided for the community by bidders, and an assessment against regulations covering best value in public services.

Mr Dickson said larger companies had been given an ‘unfair advantage’ by the consultants over Inspire, a social enterprise running only Arun’s leisure services. Greater weight was placed on the turnover of organisations and how many sites they operate.

However, on five other scores, including quality and environmental management, Inspire was rated above the average of five larger companies which have been selected.

A statement on Inspire’s website pointed out that since it was founded by Arun in 2006, the trust had exceeded all its targets and invested almost £2million of extra funding into the district’s leisure facilities, ploughing back 100 per cent of any surpluses it made.

A spokeswoman for Arun said the council had to comply with European procurement legislation in the new leisure contract process. To this end, it was agreed by Arun to appoint independent consultants The Sports Consultancy to manage the process.

“Arun has a statutory obligation to follow a fair and equal assessment process to ensure that there is open competition and transparency. This independent process will enable us to provide a high standard of leisure provision whilst offering best value for money to our local council taxpayers.”

Paul Dendle, Arun cabinet member for leisure, said he was confident the ‘independent process’ would deliver the best value for money for the council and community.