Erewash Borough Council is to move ahead with the privatisation of its sport and leisure services, despite public opposition.
Councillors met on Thursday, March 8, to discuss the proposal and voted to press on with putting the services out to tender.
Council leader Carol Hart said: “At the heart of this process is our commitment to make sure that the leisure facilities and services are protected and open to everyone. If a tender contract is agreed, then we firmly believe that bringing in the right expertise will ensure that our residents are provided with a successful leisure service that is both efficient and good value.
“We have to find a way forward, our sport and leisure services are currently costing around £2million a year after income is taken into account – something which we are finding increasingly difficult to support in what are financially challenging times for local authorities.”
Councillors have approved a tender document which sets out the key principles expected of any potential bidder to deliver a best value service for tax payers.
The council says it would retain ownership of the buildings and still have considerable control over leisure centre opening hours, prices, concessions, activity programmes and has also built in protection for local clubs and organisations that use the facilities on a regular basis.
Officers say they are drawing on an independent review of possible options for the delivery of leisure services and a market test carried out last year revealed potential significant savings on management costs.
A final decision on awarding a contract for sport and leisure services will be taken by councillors at a future council meeting.
The opposition Labour group has criticised the plan as a misguided, short-term approach to make the council’s necessary budget savings which is being pushed through with little input from residents and service users.
Grassroots Labour members in Long Eaton started a petition which gathered nearly 750 signatures in a few hours outside West Park Leisure Centre and in the town centre.
Spokesman Jason Humphries said: “Signatures were also gathered in Ilkeston and online, and dwarf the number the Tories claim to have expressed interest in their proposals.
“Not a single respondent at the Long Eaton sessions was aware of the council’s so-called public consultation.”