Neath Port Talbot council to resume leisure services after months of anxious wait

A council has announced that its leisure services will be brought in-house.

Neath Port Talbot Council decided at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday that inland leisure services would once again be run by the local authority.

A decision to outsource the services was made in 2002, which led to the non-profit Celtic Leisure Trust being appointed to manage them in 2003.

There were “a lot of nerves” among staff at the leisure centers this morning ahead of the council meeting.

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Reacting to the news, Neath Sports Center facilities manager Mike Bendyk said: “I would like to thank Neath Port Talbot advisers and cabinet for making the decision.

“It secures the long-term future of all staff in the recreation services. It takes a lot of the stress and anxiety out of them knowing they still have a job.”

Mike, who is also a Unison shop steward, added that he thinks the decision will benefit more than staff members.

He said: “[For] the people of Neath Port Talbot this will greatly benefit them and they will be able to have first class facilities at an affordable price.”

A report in 2020 said the council would seek a new leisure service provider after an assessment of Celtic Leisure’s ‘value for money’.

UNISON Commissioner for Neath Port Talbot, Mike Bendyk

There were delays in the final decision and the advisers had the opportunity to properly consider all available options, including awarding the contract to a private operator; take over the services in-house; and the continuation of the current contract with Celtic Leisure until it expires in 2025.

Celtic Leisure IT manager Darren Morgan said: “The delay has really helped to explore additional avenues. [It is] absolutely amazing. It’s so positive.

“It secures our staff in the long term, it’s good for the community to have a local income [that] remains within the boundaries of Neath Port Talbot.

“Additionally, with the staff and consultancy involved in the development of the centres, we can provide the facilities customers want.”

Caitlin Bendyk, receptionist and swimming instructor at Neath Sport Center and Aberavon Leisure Centre, stressed the importance of the news for users of the service.

Neath Leisure Center is run by Celtic Leisure, who signed a contract with Neath Port Talbot Council in 2015 to run leisure services in the county.
Neath Leisure Center is managed by Celtic Leisure

Caitlin, 18, and daughter of Mike, said: “We’re over the moon. Some of our older members seem really invested. It wasn’t until last night in our classes that they asked us about today and what we all thought about it. .

“They wanted to know what was going on as much as we did. I think now they will be happy to know that we will be [operating] within the council. They will be happy to have some certainty.”

The issue was originally due to be decided on January 26 at a cabinet meeting before being postponed – which the council’s Plaid Cymru party leader, councilor Alun Llewelyn, criticized.

He said he welcomed the board’s decision, which was the unanimous recommendation of the review panel.

Cllr Llewelyn added: “The Labor Cabinet should have seriously considered the in-house option from the start, and Celtic staff and their unions are very grateful to have presented such a powerful and competent case over many months.

Councilor Alun Llewelyn

“Council-run services are working very effectively in our neighboring Plaid-run councils in Carmarthenshire and working at Rhondda Cynon Taf.

“There are huge opportunities to improve leisure services and job security for workers by combining the facilities with the broader promotion of health and well-being that is so important to all of our residents.

“We look forward to an imaginative dialogue with staff, recreation center members and all of our communities about how fitness, recreation and recreation will be enhanced in NPT as a result of this decision.

Union Unison launched a campaign last year calling for leisure services to be run by the council. A petition collected more than 3,800 signatures.

Unison regional organizer Joe Donnelly said: “We look forward to working closely with Neath Port Talbot Council to ensure the success of the leisure services placed in the hands of the public.

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Picture of the new leisure center development in Neath town center

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An overview of the development of the leisure center in Neath

“This decision is the culmination of the hard work and dedication of Unison activists and partners who campaigned tirelessly to see these important services publicly run after decades of private ownership.”

“This should now act as a springboard for local authorities in Wales to take notice and consider the possibility of these services being run publicly by the people who know them best and for the benefit of the communities they serve.”

Council leader Ted Latham said: “There are a number of benefits to bringing these facilities in-house and this move will allow us to continue to help many more people live healthier lives.

“The council will have full control of leisure centers and other facilities, allowing us to determine the approach to opening hours, service delivery, fees and charges to ensure that our leisure offer is focused on reducing inequalities and improving the health of residents. It will also benefit existing staff who will have the security of being transferred into council employment.

“Furthermore, the leisure services can be marketed and operated in conjunction with other local tourism and leisure offerings to ensure a joint approach, contributing to our aim of establishing Neath Port Talbot as a place people want to visit.”

Following the cabinet decision, council officers will work with Celtic Leisure to facilitate the in-house leisure service and undertake the necessary consultancy work.

A report will be presented to members outlining the proposed arrangements and will include the outcome of any public consultation.

Cllr Latham added: “We now look forward to bringing our recreation services in-house with the aim of increasing our residents’ participation in sports and physical activity, encouraging people to become more active to improve their health. and their well-being.”

The cabinet’s decision is subject to a three-day appeal period.

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