Landmark move to run leisure services publicly could be blueprint for authorities across Wales

Leisure staff in Neath Port Talbot

Public service workers are celebrating a momentous decision to bring leisure services back into public hands in a move which union leaders want to see replicated across Wales.

UNISON, which is the largest trade union representing staff at Neath Port Talbot Council, last year launched a campaign calling for these services to be run by the local authority which received the support of thousands of people who signed a petition to do just that.

Yesterday (February 1), Neath Port Talbot Councillors voted unanimously to move leisure services back into public ownership after more than 20 years of being run by Celtic Leisure.

UNISON is now calling on authorities across Wales to do the same and move away from handing contracts to private companies to run these services.

The news also comes as work on a major leisure development including a swimming pool, gym and library in the centre of Neath is well under way and due for completion later this year.

Neath Sports Centre facilities manager Mike Bendyk (pictured above with colleagues) is also a UNISON steward and said allowing leisure services to be delivered by the council is fantastic news for all staff currently employed by Celtic Leisure.

Mike Bendyk said: “This decision is great news, not only for the public but for all the staff working in leisure facilities in Neath Port Talbot and will mean a brighter future and job security for all those employees.”

“It will help secure their long-term future, protect their pensions and their terms and conditions and make it a really positive environment for them to work in.”

UNISON regional organiser Joe Donnelly also welcomed the move to have publicly run leisure services in Neath Port Talbot and said the union now wants to see this used as a blueprint for other local authorities across Wales.

Joe Donnelly regional organiser said: “We are looking forward to working closely with the council in Neath Port Talbot to ensure the success of leisure services being placed in public hands.

“This decision is the culmination of the hard work and dedication by UNSION activists and partners who have campaigned tirelessly to see these important services run publicly after decades of private ownership.”

“This should now act as a springboard for local authorities across Wales to take notice and consider the potential of having these services run publicly by the people who know them best and for the benefit of the communities they serve.”

UNISON Neath Port Talbot branch chair Mark Fisher said: “This fantastic and successful campaign has been over two years in the making and I am proud to play a small part to bring leisure and cultural services back home where they belong in direct control of the Council.”

UNISON has also received the backing of Members of Parliament and Members of the Senedd representing Neath Port Talbot keen to see leisure services run publicly.

Aberavon MP Stephen Kinnock said: “I warmly welcome this news that our local leisure services will be brought back ‘in house’ and operated by Neath Port Talbot Council.

“This decision will not only ensure that our community is able to enjoy the best possible sports and leisure facilities as we emerge from lockdown, it will also deliver the best possible value for money for the taxpayer, whilst ensuring the future stability and sustainability of our vital local leisure services.

“As a proud member of UNISON trade union I would also like to congratulate the UNISON Neath Port Talbot branch, whose strong and steadfast campaign has done so much to secure this outcome.”

Neath MP Christina Rees said today’s decision was excellent news and added: “I have been proud to support the campaign from the start and want to thank UNISON and all those involved.

“This is an historic day for Neath Port Talbot, its citizens and most importantly the staff and members of Celtic Leisure. I am delighted with the outcome of the campaign and look forward to seeing our wonderful facilities and services go from strength to strength.”

Aberavon MS David Rees said: “I would like to congratulate UNISON for its campaign and producing an excellent case to the council to bring these public services back under the direct control of the local authority.

“Staff within those Leisure services can now have greater confidence for a stronger future.

“We can now look forward to seeing our leisure services responding to the needs of local people.”

Neath MS Jeremy Miles said: “Over the last year, I have supported calls from staff and the trade unions, for leisure services which are publicly owned and publicly funded.

“Doing this in a way which is sustainable for the future, offers a range of great leisure services to the public and delivers good terms and conditions for the committed workforce and is an important step in how we react to the challenges of COVID-19.

“This decision will ensure that key services are there for us all, publicly delivered for the future.”