A petition from a Kempston resident calling for an end to the Council’s contract with Fusion Lifestyle was debated at Full Council this week.
Steve Clark, who has been a member of Kempston Pool since it opened in 1978, spoke of a general lack of cleanliness and hygiene, poor maintenance of facilities and lockers not having locks since Fusion took control of the Borough’s leisure facilities.
The standard of Fusion Lifestyle’s management of Bedford’s leisure centres has been called into question throughout the covid-19 (coronavirus) lockdown.
They were slow to reopen facilities when lockdown guidelines were relaxed and sought taxpayer support.
In his speech to the council meeting, Mr Clark said: “Fusion Lifestyle have not met the standards that the Borough did. It is a travesty that they continue to have the contract. 96% of their Trustpilot reviews are bad.”
The petition is discussed from 22:27 on the video:
In response, Conservative Council Group leader, Cllr Graeme Coombes, sympathised with the petitioners and described Fusion’s management of the leisure contract as a “running sore since almost the ink was dry on the page.”
Action plan to improve services
Leisure portfolio holder, Cllr Doug McMurdo, said that Mr Clark’s comments resonated with many conversations he’d had in 2019 which led to a ‘corrective action plan’ demanding that Fusion improve their services.
And while the first quarter of 2020 did show signs of improvement, the impending lockdown meant that all facilities had to immediately close.
Cllr Coombes also said he believed that Fusion had “exploited the COVID lockdown” by setting conditions for opening facilities that they were contractually obliged to run.
Whilst he cautioned that the Borough Council could not easily cancel the contract without following proper due process and having an alternative plan of action, to prevent additional cost to the taxpayer, Cllr Coombes concluded: “I agree that the Council should be looking to remove itself from this contract with Fusion as soon as it is practical to do so.
“But the first priority must be to get Fusion to re-open our leisure centres as soon as lockdown conditions are lifted.
“Fusion need to go”
He said that the Conservatives had suggested the Council should look at setting up an arms-length body as a leisure facilities operator that is able to enjoy the same tax status as Fusion.
He said: “Ultimately Fusion need to go.
“There is, frustratingly, a process that needs to be gone through if we are not to incur costs to Borough taxpayers and leave ourselves at risk of facilities remaining closed when they should be open.
“We’re not happy with the Fusion situation as it stands, but we recognise that getting shot of Fusion isn’t something that can happen overnight.”
A Borough Council spokesperson said “As resolved by Full Council last week, the Council will continue to manage our leisure contract in partnership with Fusion Lifestyle, ensuring they reopen facilities as soon as it is safe to do so in line with COVID-19 guidelines.
“Like leisure providers across the country, Fusion Lifestyle has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with sites required to close for extended periods of time.
“This is to help slow the spread of the virus and keep our communities safe, in line with Government guidance and national governing bodies.
“However, there is a service to be delivered and the Council will continue to work on behalf of local residents to ensure our local leisure facilities open and we expect this to begin next week with Mowsbury Golf Course and limited use of Bedford International Athletic Stadium.”