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Assurances given as new Leisure Strategy is approved

A new multi-faceted approach to get more people, more active, more often over the next five years has been approved by Fenland District Council.

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Members of the authority's ruling Cabinet ratified the Leisure Strategy for 2017-2021 at its meeting on Thursday, June 15.

A report before councillors said an updated blueprint for leisure was necessary to address health inequalities in Fenland, tackle challenges faced by a rising elderly population and to take into account new regional and national approaches to sport and physical activity that have developed since the last strategy was devised in 2012/2013.

Fenland District Council is also in the process of trying to find a new partner to manage its four leisure centres, and a new strategy will ensure that any potential operator has clear guidance regarding the council's priorities.

Councillor Michelle Tanfield, the council's portfolio holder for leisure, told Cabinet members that the new approach would highlight the council's "ambitions and aspirations" for the leisure centre service and ensure a focus is maintained on providing a quality service which is accessible to all.

Councillors agreed to enter into a formal procurement process to appoint a new operator in March. The search is likely to last 12 months, but even if it's successful, the council is committed to retaining ownership of the centres. And any change in their management will depend on a suitable operator coming forward.

"This project is not about 'selling off the leisure centres," assured Cllr Tanfield. "The centres will always remain FDC property. This is about realising financial efficiencies and economies of scale that the council cannot access, making sure that we can continue to provide a great experience in the leisure centres for the community in Fenland in a sustainable way for many years to come."

She added: "All staff, particularly those working in the leisure centres, will be kept fully informed about the progress of this project."

The four centres are the George Campbell in March, the Hudson Centre in Wisbech, the Manor Centre in Whittlesey and Chatteris Leisure.

The decision to seek an external operator to run them was one of the major decisions following the council's Comprehensive Spending Review that was launched in late 2015.

In October 2016 Cabinet asked officers to prepare a full business case based on "going to the market" for a leisure operator.

At the March Council meeting councillors gave the go-ahead for that process to start.

Article added: June 19, 2017