Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water…

Here we go again. North Wilts District Council have given us yet another demonstration of their ineptitude when it comes to providing leisure services. Having informed us that at least four of the centres were to be taken over by another contractor, they have now bungled the hand-over so badly that we are faced with the immediate closure of all six centres.

At least, that’s the rumour. Naturally, there is no clarity about the situation. I have heard rumours that DC Leisure have pulled out altogether, for ‘unspecified reasons’, but I don’t know if that is true, and we are trying to find out. It may be that DC can’t take over immediately, probably for legal reasons and issues of liability. It is also rumoured that NWDC are ‘working hard to find a solution.’ Does anyone have any information on the risks of contracting aviuan ‘flu from headless chickens?

NWDC’s web site says that ‘NWLL was seeking an increase in the amount that the Executive had agreed to underwrite to allow them to continue to meet their liabilities and operate.’ NWDC turned down that request, forcing NWLL into liquidation. I don’t blame NWDC for turning off the tap, especially as they would have been breaking the law (apparently) had they not done so. (See NWDC website - click here, but this is a page that keeps changing). However, I do blame them for not anticipating the difficulties that would arise from effectively cancelling NWLL’s contract and awarding it to DC Leisure.

Since running North Wiltshire’s leisure centres is NWLL’s sole business, it should have been fairly obvious that, when that business was taken away, NWLL would have no motivation for carrying on. Liquidation was always on the cards. NWDC and NWLL should also have agreed the costs of NWLL running the centres until the end of March, and, ideally, should have asked DC to take over earlier than that.

So, by 10pm on Monday, all the centres could be closed. It had better be all of them, because if they can find a way of keeping any of them open, they should be able to do so for all of them. However, if they choose to keep open only the centres that were to remain after March 31st, that should include the Lime Kiln. The more cynical amongst us might speculate that the current situation has engineered so that NWDC can close the centres they have wanted to close all along.

What do we do? We wait. There is nothing we can do until we find out what the situation with DC Leisure is, and whether the centres are actually closing on Monday. I don’t think even a mass protest at this stage would make much difference. If there is no one to run the centres, that is the reality we must face. In other circumstances, NWDC might ask the staff to keep them open, taking it on faith that they would be paid by whoever took over, or by NWDC. But that may not be legally possible, and if you were the staff, would you trust NDWC?

If NWDC close our sports centres on Monday, I would take that as their greatest failure to date. I know they will blame NWLL, but the buck stops with the elected members and officers of NWDC, who have allowed the situation to come to such a pass.

The situation can hardly get much worse than all six centres closing, so we have nothing to lose by taking stronger action. Certain elected officials may think they have had a bad press from SOS, and that we are giving them a hard time; they ain’t seen nothing yet.   If they fail us again, the gloves are off.

Brian Mantel