Council scraps group set up to scrutinise leisure services

Robert Roffulo

A LEADING trade union has hit out at a council decision to scrap a body responsible for scrutiny of its leisure services. Belfast City Council is to wind down its Active Belfast Limited Board (ABL), which was set up following the outsourcing of its municipal leisure services in 2014.  The […]

A LEADING trade union has hit out at a council decision to scrap a body responsible for scrutiny of its leisure services.

Belfast City Council is to wind down its Active Belfast Limited Board (ABL), which was set up following the outsourcing of its municipal leisure services in 2014. 

The body includes representatives from the Council, Unite the Union, and the private entity responsible for managing local leisure centres, Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL).

Unite has long-criticised outsourcing of leisure service to GLL, which does not formally recognise the union. It said the decision to scrap ABL – ratified by DUP and Sinn Féin members on the board – “excludes the voice of trade unions”.

The decision comes following a vote of Belfast City Council’s SP&R committee in November 2020 to initiate a review of the “tri-partite” ABL arrangement. 

The report from a private consultancy brought forward a recommendation to wind up ABL. Councillors voted to approve the move in April 2022. Oversight of leisure management will now be the sole responsibility of the council.

Unite Regional Officer Kieran Ellison said the outsourcing of leisure services had been a “disaster for staff”.

“Some of the parties on Belfast City Council would claim to be opposed to outsourcing yet voted to keep Greenwich Leisure Limited running municipal leisure facilities,” he said.

“The trade unions representing the workers were offered a seat at the ABL table as a substitute for a recognition agreement. This was meant to offer some input but now we see even this meagre protection being scrapped. Where are the protections for workers? How will their voice be heard?

“If Belfast City Council want to scrap ABL and do away with social partnership altogether, then they at least need to ensure that the workforce are afforded full trade union recognition rights.

“At least that way trade union reps will have solid grounds to represent our members’ interests and our health and safety reps will have the powers to intervene where there are genuine safety concerns. If Belfast City Council think that shutting down this partnership structure will do away with the voice of workers or our challenge to poor management practices – then they are very much wrong.”

A report commissioned by the Council said the intention for ABL was “to have a much wider influence on community and health outcomes”, but had done “little more than fulfil a contract compliance and performance monitoring role for the Council.” The report stated that ABL “adds little value to leisure” and has “limited powers”.

A Belfast City Council spokesperson said: “Elected members have accepted the recommendations of a review of the governance arrangements between the council, GLL and the Active Belfast Limited board. 

“A special meeting of the Active Belfast Limited board will now take place on Monday 6 June to begin the process of winding up the company.  

“Council remains committed working with GLL, its employees and their representatives to ensure the continued provision of leisure services to all our ratepayers across Belfast.”


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