Companies bid for leisure contracts

TWO firms have been asked submit bids to run sports centres and swimming pools in the Suffolk Coastal area to save council taxpayers money.Facilities to be handed over to a private operator include Felixstowe Leisure Centre, Woodbridge's Deben Pools, Brackenbury Sports Centre at Old Felixstowe, and Leiston Leisure Centre.

TWO firms have been asked submit bids to run sports centres and swimming pools in the Suffolk Coastal area to save council taxpayers money.

Facilities to be handed over to a private operator include Felixstowe Leisure Centre, Woodbridge's Deben Pools, Brackenbury Sports Centre at Old Felixstowe, and Leiston Leisure Centre.

But leisure chiefs say the issue is far from cut and dried – and unless the private firms comes up with the required deal, the centres could yet be given to local trusts to run, or carry on being operated by the council.

The chosen bidders remain a mystery – with senior councillors saying details of the companies involved are confidential at this stage.

Three firms originally provided outline bids and these were whittled down to two, which have been asked to provide fully developed and costed bids.

The firms are described as having "a wide range of experience and knowledge" in the operation of pools and sports centres.

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"Following an appraisal of the bids submitted, the company submitting the best bid in terms of meeting the council's criteria would be considered the preferred bidder, and would be invited to enter into final negotiations to reach a contractual agreement with the council," said the council.

"However, should neither company submit bids that met the council's criteria, cabinet would be asked to consider the setting up of a local trust to manage the facilities or to endorse the maintenance of the status quo."

The council is paying consultants Deloitte and Touche £115,000 to give expert advice and help with the selection and negotiation process.

The aim is to make savings of around £200,000 on the current maintenance and operation of the centres. The firms would also have access to private sector cash to invest in improvements.

It has been expected for some time that Suffolk Coastal would seek private management for the facilities, but some people doubted that the private sector would be interested.

Felixstowe's Spa Pavilion theatre has already been given to a private company to run, and it appears to have been a success.

But doubters are concerned at how a private firm would make a swimming pool profitable or a leisure centre, which provide healthy exercise for families on low incomes, without pushing prices up.

The council currently subsidises the cost of swimming so that there is every opportunity for people to use the pools.

WEBLINK: www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk

n What do you think – would you be confident that prices would remain low if a private firm ran swimming pools and sports centres? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail EveningStarLetters@eveningstar.co.uk

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