Gloucester City Council announces new interim leisure facilities provider
By Mark Owen and David Wood | 1st November 2023
Freedom Leisure will be the new interim provider of leisure facilities in Gloucester.
Freedom Leisure is one of the UK's leading charitable and not-for-profit leisure trusts that manages over 100 leisure and cultural facilities across England and Wales.
The move comes after Aspire Sports and Cultural Trust's shock decision to go into liquidation in September, leading to the temporary closure of the GL1 leisure centre and Oxstalls Sports Park and the loss of 150 jobs.
Following a procurement exercise, the council has appointed Freedom Leisure to manage the city's leisure facilities and continue the process that has already begun of a phased reopening.
All former employees of Aspire are guaranteed an interview and are being invited to a recruitment day at Oxstalls Sports Park on Monday, November 6, as are those who freelanced at the leisure facilities. To attend, prospective recruits should register on Freedom Leisure's website www.freedom-leisure.co.uk/gloucester
Since the Aspire Sports Trust announced it could no longer continue to operate, the council and University of Gloucestershire have begun a phased process of reopening the facilities with the pitches at Oxstalls now in regular use, and the Park Run and Gloucestershire Lawn Tennis Association having also returned.
GL1 has welcomed back Gloucester City Swimming Club and the University has fully reopened the Oxstalls Sports Arena for community use.
Freedom Leisure, which also manages Forest of Dean District Council and Cotswold District Council's Leisure and Culture Facilities, will reopen more of the site's amenities over the next few weeks and will announce more details as soon as they are available.
The not-for-profit leisure trust, which will run the facilities until a permanent operator is appointed, will also be contacting local sporting clubs to discuss their requirements with them.
Councillor Andy Lewis, cabinet member for culture and leisure at Gloucester City Council, said: "We are delighted to have Freedom Leisure as our new interim provider and have been impressed with their enthusiasm and dedication to getting this right for everybody.
"They're very experienced and can bring a wealth of knowledge to our leisure centres so I'm convinced that customers will benefit from that, and we are very much looking forward to working with them.
"We know this has been a tough time for the employees and freelancers who worked there, and those who rely on the centre, but we're confident that Freedom Leisure will make this transition seamless and get things up and running as soon as they can. I hope that all those who want to will take up the offer to interview for roles with Freedom Leisure on November 6."
Freedom Leisure CEO Ivan Horsfall Turner said: "We are delighted to have been awarded the interim contract to run GL1 and Oxstalls Sports Park on behalf of Gloucester City Council. Our vision is to 'improve lives through leisure' and we very much look forward to working with our new colleagues at these vitally important local amenities."
Former employees or freelancers should visit www.freedom-leisure.co.uk/gloucester to register their interest in the recruitment day. There will be three interview sessions; 11am, 1pm and 6pm. These sessions will take place at Oxstalls Sports Park.
For more information, contact Freedom Leisure by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Although this is great news for the people of Gloucester, Punchline-Gloucester.com still has some unanswered questions surrounding the finances of the Aspire Trust and it shouldn't be allowed to be kicked into the long grass:
- Did any trustees challenge the awarding of a 9.3% salary increase to the chief executive?
- If so, what was the chair's response?
- Did the chair of the audit committee raise any questions about the appropriateness of 9.3% salary increases, both in general - way higher than the independent Pay Review Board recommendations for public bodies - and especially for senior management, in a year when the trust was budgeting a deficit?
- What was the impact of the additional half a million pound per annum salary commitments on pension liabilities (i.e. what did the liability increase by and how did the funding level change?)
- What did the bank say about the additional pension liabilities and how did it affect their concerns about the pension bond?
- When trustees decided to go into liquidation, were they told that the nature of the pension bond was that any employee over 55 would be able to trigger their pension immediately, that the pension now taken at 55 was based on the final salary just increased by 9.3%?
- Which senior managers were over 55 and what would their taxpayer funded pensions (immediately) be?
- Had the trust continued for another year (as agreed with the council), would the pensions have been triggered before normal retirement age (currently 66)?
- If going into liquidation meant earlier access to the final salary pension, without any further contribution, was there not a conflict of interest for the CEO?
- What discussion took place between trustees about how this should be resolved?
- What made trustees decide that they needed to go into liquidation in the week they did rather than calling for an emergency meeting with the council before making such a decision?
- Read our previous story REVEALED: Mismanagement contributed to leisure services fiasco
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