Lib Dems question ‘value for money’ of bringing leisure centres back under council control

Three borough leisure facilities are due to insourced by Haringey Council later this year after long-running issues with previous private provider, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Park Road Pools & Fitness and (inset) Lib Dem group leader Luke Cawley-Harrison
Park Road Pools & Fitness and (inset) Lib Dem group leader Luke Cawley-Harrison

Opposition councillors have raised concerns that Haringey Council’s decision to insource three leisure facilities could cost £700,000 more per year than using an external provider.

During a ‘call-in’ hearing at an overview and scrutiny meeting on Wednesday (3rd), concerns were raised by Liberal Democrat councillors that important financial details were not provided when cabinet originally discussed bringing the leisure facilities back in-house last month.

However, the Lib Dems failed to force a review, with Labour councillors on the committee backing the original decision.

In December, the Labour administration’s cabinet had agreed to bring Tottenham Green Pools and Fitness, Park Road Pools and Fitness in Crouch End, and Broadwater Farm Community Fitness Centre in Tottenham back under council control.

The facilities’ contracts with Fusion Lifestyle, the current provider, will end in October 2024. It follows a series of long-running maintenance issues.

Clarifying the reason for the call-in, opposition leader Luke Cawley-Harrison, the lead signatory for the call-in request, claimed the additional cost of insourcing could mean “cuts to other services” and presented data showing that insourcing was the “costliest option”.  

“It costs £700,000 more per year, based on the data in your pack, than using a specialist provider to run the service,” Cllr Cawley-Harrison said.

He explained he did not include Fusion Lifestyle in his definition of a specialist provider. 

Speaking on the information originally made available to cabinet, Cllr Cawley-Harrison said: “The [cabinet] decision was taken without evidence that insourcing provides value for money, and providing value for money is a core part of the policy framework.

“The cabinet report provided no effort to quantify the costs and benefits of the different options; the cabinet was not provided with information about the comparative costs of a new leisure management contract in the immediate term despite several providers displaying interest.”

He added that “no attempt” was made to interrogate the costs of running the leisure centre in-house or under a new contract, as these financial details hadn’t been provided. 

The Lib Dem group leader said this lack of information during the decision-making process was “highly unusual”.

Cllr Cawley-Harrison also referred to the council’s £16.3m budget gap and the financial risk the insourcing decision presented. He asked if the higher cost could be “justified” and the likelihood that leisure facilities would have to be “sacrificed” as a consequence. 

But following a discussion, councillors on the Labour-majority scrutiny panel voted not to refer the decision back to cabinet. 

Outlining the reasons the committee chair,  Labour councillor Matt White, said they were confident the cabinet “had the information that they needed” when making their decision. 

Cllr White said: “If it didn’t form part of the papers directly it was referred to as background papers.”

He added that the issue with the option not being “value for money” had been “dealt with” and felt the decision overall wasn’t just about “financial benefits”.

This point referred to a response from Haringey’s cabinet member for culture, communities and leisure, Emily Arkell, who said the council as lesiure providers could directly tackle issues plaguing the borough, such as social isolation, loneliness and health inequalities.

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