Staff plea to Neath Port Talbot Council: Don’t rush to outsource our leisure services

UNISON’s Joe Donnelly. Photo credit: Natasha Hirst

Neath Port Talbot’s leisure centre staff have called upon councillors to reject the proposal to outsource leisure services.

Employees at the local authority’s sports centres, swimming pool and theatre, have been running an energetic grassroots campaign through their union to persuade the council to run services directly and not contract them to the private sector again.

In anticipation of the scheduled cabinet meeting next week where a decision will be made, UNISON has organised a webinar for councillors to hear how service quality would improve if Neath Port Talbot operated leisure directly because local people would have a democratic say in how things are run.

The trade union also argues removing a private company from running services would allow more money to be invested directly in leisure centres.

UNISON wants local residents to participate in the webinar too, scheduled for Wednesday 27 October at 12pm. Those joining will hear UNISON’s alternative vision for local services supported by a presentation by an independent expert from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE).

A UNISON commissioned report from APSE, strongly recommends the council pauses the procurement process and reconsiders all options to allow the issues to be properly analysed by elected councillors.

UNISON’s tireless campaign has also included an online petition signed by more than 3,000 people and assembling the support of local MPs, Christina Rees and Stephen Kinnock and Senedd Members, David Rees and Jeremy Miles for leisure services to be operated by the council.

UNISON says there is a trend in local government to bring services back under direct local authority control. Many councils across the UK have acknowledged operating leisure centres themselves provides a guarantee of higher quality service than when they are run by the private or non-profit sector.

Joe Donnelly, UNISON Cymru Wales regional organiser said,

“Leisure workers want the council to hear from them why continuing the experiment of outsourced services is not in local people’s interests.

“We’re calling on the council to resist a decision to outsource another leisure contract that doesn’t deliver the services the community deserves.

“UNISON wants to work with the council to fully evaluate the comparative costs and benefits of all options through proper processes advocated in our report and avoid a hasty decision to enter into a contact with a private company.

“There’s an opportunity for Neath Port Talbot to transform leisure services as the impact of the pandemic becomes increasingly apparent. Insourcing these crucial services gives greater public control and would create the best possible leisure facilities to help people’s mental and physical health.

“Welsh Government’s preferred option is for local services to be publicly-owned and publicly-funded. UNISON wants to work with the council and Welsh government to ensure every penny given to leisure is money invested for the good of Neath Port Talbot people and not removed as private profit.”

Notes to editors 

  • The ‘Bring Neath Port Talbot’s Leisure and Cultural Services back in-house’ webinar will be on Wednesday 27 October at 12pm and all councillors are invited and local residents are also encouraged to participate. The webinar will hear from a local leisure centre worker and an independent expert from the Association for Public Service Excellence, as well as UNISON representatives. You can register here
  • Neath Port Talbot UNISON branch calls on Neath Port Talbot Council to bring leisure services back in-house, after outsourcing it to Celtic Leisure for 20 years.
  • The current contract with Celtic Leisure, was scheduled to end on 31 September 2021 and the council started looking for another provider for the next 25 years, instead of running leisure services itself.
  • UNISON says taxpayers are funding the development of an exciting leisure centre in Neath town centre and the new facilities for Pontardawe, Aberavon and the Gwyn Hall and it wouldn’t be right for the buildings to then be outsourced to the private sector to claim all the profits
  • UNISON commissioned a report from independent experts, APSE. It concluded the council reconsider all options and pause the procurement process to allow the issues identified to be fully analysed by elected councillors.
  • UNISON is the largest trade union in NPTCBC and Celtic Leisure


Alastair Gittins, UNISON Cymru Wales press officer, 07816 53 83 97