TONIGHT, up to 100 people attended the public meeting in Andersonstown Leisure Centre.
A wide range of centre users listened and had their say on the motion by Belfast City Councillors to privatise Belfast’s Leisure Centres.
In 2011, the council voted to pass Belfast leisure facilities onto a ‘not for profit Trust’. This has become known as the Non Profit Distributing Organisation NPDO model.
Gerry Carroll of People Before Profit said NPDO’s were an attack on people’s jobs and leisure facilities that allowed unelected, unaccountable faceless people to make decisions about our leisure. He urged people to organise and for further meetings to take place in every Belfast leisure centre.
Using Magherafelt as an example, he said leisure facilities were passed into the hands of a similar Trust – with the loss of thirty jobs.
Carroll claimed the NPDO appointed would have a Chief Executive earning a £100k salary of rate payers money.
This type of Trust is currently operating in London, under the name Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL). This is the senior management structure. Something Belfast can expect if the motion is voted through.
The Managing Director of GLL is actually earning £155k as explained by him in this blog reporting striking staff unhappy with library closures.
An audience member attending on behalf of the staff of Belfast’s leisure centres has visited GLL. She warned of the loss of up to 400 jobs.
Saying, that out of the 6,000 GLL employees – only 2,000 have permanent contracts since the take over.
The other 4,000 staff have been put on zero hours contracts. She advised the audience to tell the politicians to support “an in house model” to retain Belfast leisure centres – so they stay within the councils control.
Not shy of an opinion or two, here’s what the people of Andytown had to say:
We cannot trust the politicians. We are the ones who have paid all the money into what goes on here. Useless politicians are feathering their own nests. I am sick and fed up of politicians who are not here for us, they’re only here for themselves. I mean every one of them – right across the board. We are the people of Andersonstown, not them.
We were told eight years ago that we were getting a brand new leisure centre, I was told I would be back in my job within eighteen months. I’m still waiting.
Former employee of Maysfield Leisure Centre
This is a hidden health service, it keeps people out of hospital. If they want to sell off the assets, let them sell Ladydixon Park, Botanic Gardens or the Lagan tow path.
We’ve seen 13 libraries closed across the six counties. People should not be accepting willy nilly what Stormont and local councils are saying. When we look at what has happened in England, this is a concern for us. It’s important for these meetings to happen for us to get up and do something about it and that goes for all the leisure centres whether they’re on the Falls Road or Shankill Road.
Padraig Mac Coitir, Political Activist
There was a very big meeting last summer, hundreds of people were asked if they wanted the leisure centre knocked down or privatised. Almost every one in the room said they wanted the leisure centre kept in public control. But we have been ignored. The same went for Casement Park, hundreds of objection letters were ignored. There’s a clear pattern. Politicians are rough shodding over the local people. They have become too comfortable. They assume people in Andersonstown will either vote Sinn Fein or SDLP – but no more. They believe in private run services, they do not believe in public sector. One of our own local councillors Tim Attwood is on that committee and we should be telling him and other local politicians that they have no mandate to do this. This was never in any of their election manifestos. They never knocked on the doors and said “we’re going to privatise the leisure facilities”. Never mind this anti Sinn Fein nonsense – I think we should hold a protest on Saturday and march to the SDLP offices to tell them we have had enough of this (loudest applause).
People Before Profit representative
It was arranged to meet at Andersonstown Leisure Centre at 1pm and walk to the SDLP constituency office.
People continued to have their say
On the way in I noticed a squad of runners coming in, you can hear from the noise upstairs that there’s hundreds of people using this facility. We need a way to make these people realise this facility could be lost. This is a family based facility and we need to keep it.
It’s not only family based, but school based and used by all the local schools in the area. The head teachers need to be brought into this argument and made aware. Children are supposed to be keeping fit. I pay £250 a year membership and nobody ever said to me when I signed up that it’s going to be closing. The councillors need to remember that we are the people who elect them.
I work for the council and have done for a number of years. The Deloitte report says that Andersonstown is being rebuilt. We need to picket the SDLP. Sinn Fein has been fighting tooth and nail to keep Belfast leisure centre’s public.
Belfast City Council Employee
When the privateers get a hold of this place, we won’t be able to afford to send our children here. We should put pressure on the political parties in the city council who are making decisions on our behalf but they aren’t making them on the basis of our behalf. We need to be able to access affordable leisure facilities. We should target all the political parties. We need to tell our councillors what way to vote. We are not the sheep, we are the shepherds.
The meeting about the future of the leisure centre last year was attended by the chief Executive of Belfast City Council. He admitted that Andersonstown was the best, in terms of revenue. I’d like to know what their problem is with regards to money.
Mid 40s woman
There should be investment in health. If anything, the leisure centres should be subsidised. The fees should be abolished.
There is no mandate to close down leisure centres. We need to confront the councillors, irrespective of party and get them to commit to opposing the privatisation of leisure centres.
Mid 50s male
We need to get a large petition signed across the whole of Belfast
We need the fear factor. These posters need to show the people of West Belfast that the leisure centres are closing. We don’t want the politicians rail roading us. I’m happy to hand out leaflets.
I go to Rathmore and this is the only place we can use for Life Saving Skills
Each community needs to establish its own committees to meet and take this forward. These meetings need to take place in each area of Belfast. The committees should be free of politicians.
Politicians aren’t here because they don’t want to be. It’s very clear that this is a success. If they wanted to support us, they would be here. The youth in West Belfast don’t vote because they are switched off. But people from South Belfast use this leisure centre too. It’s not just about West Belfast.
Mid 50s male
There are not enough of these facilities. We are losing people to suicide and drugs. People should be using this place more and the health service should be utilising it.
Belfast City Council worker
I am involved in the Visteon site campaign. Neither Matt Garrett or Tim Attwood needed an invite to that public meeting which was called by the local people. They went to it. They shouldn’t have needed an invitation to come tonight. If they are interested in getting the local peoples votes and doing something for the local community, they should have been at this meeting tonight. There is a private gym being redeveloped on Finaghy Road North, so obviously a private developer sees there’s a niche market in West Belfast for a gym facility.
Nobody from Sinn Fein or the SDLP identified themselves at the public meeting but here’s what was said about it during the week.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph SDLP group leader on Belfast City Council, Tim Attwood, gave a cautious welcome to the plan. He said the new model would “address the huge health inequalities currently existing in Belfast”.
Sinn Fein’s stance on leisure privitisation
About the public meeting
Referring to Whiterock Leisure Centre in particular