Conservatives accuse LibDems of “covering their backsides” over leisure contract

Cllr Graeme Coombes
Cllr Graeme Coombes, portfolio holder for finance, risk and welfare, Image: Bedford Conservative Group

Borough councillors have been accused of “covering their backsides” during a debate on the council’s new leisure centre contract.

Last night (November 13), Bedford Borough Council’s Executive agreed to award the contract to Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL).

Councillor Graeme Coombes (Conservative, Wixams & Wilstead) made the claims following questions and statements from the former portfolio holder for leisure and culture, Doug McMurdo (Independent, Sharnbrook) and councillor Michael Headley (Lib Dems, Putnoe).

Councillor McMurdo said: “It just strikes me as quite odd that none of the Executive, I’m told, actually have any details on the bid.”

“Mr Mayor, are you satisfied that when you take the agenda item at seven [sic] that you’ve got all the information that you need to make the decision and that decision is note the intention to award the two-year leisure management contract?

“Do you have all the facts?” he asked.

Bedford mayor, Tom Wootton, said the answers to councillor McMurdo’s questions will be answered in the contractor’s presentation.

Councillor McMurdo also asked the current portfolio holder for leisure and culture, councillor Sarah Gallagher (Conservative, Shortstown) if she was
“satisfied and assured” that this is the best option.

Councillor Gallagher said: “Yes, I am happy that proper procedures were taken place.”

Councillor Headley said the 2023 prices stated in the report were “not the same” as the charges currently being charged by Fusion, which he said were lower.

“The figures that are in the report before yourselves tonight are 10 per cent or more, up to 30 per cent different from what’s currently being charged from what I can see,” he said.

“So you could be out by 10 or 20 per cent on the figures that you’re using because the income isn’t as great as you think it is.

“I’m very concerned, very concerned, and there is very little transparency, very little information, and the little information we’ve got is wrong,” he said.

Sarah Hall, chief officer regulatory services and culture, said: “The fees and charges that were attached to the specifications and appendix are the fees and charges that have been agreed with the current provider.

“The provider can charge a different fee up to that amount, but they are the fees that have been agreed and I believe they were agreed in June of this year.”

Councillor Coombes said: “It seems to me that the Council McMurdo and councillor Headly have come here sort of spoiling for a fight over what I know not, other than they are trying to sort of cover their backside for what has been an appalling few years in terms of our leisure provision.

“But the key test for me Mr Mayor will not be the bleating of certain councillors, it will be the Bedford public.

“And we know that the Bedford public have had concerns about the way our leisure facilities have been run.

“Over which, it seems, the previous. portfolio holder did very little.

“The key litmus test for me is that the Bedford public feel that services are improving, facilities are improving, and that leisure in Bedford borough is something that they enjoy and want to use, and are happy with and proud of,” he said.

by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter