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Coronavirus: Islington Council bailing out GLL to save leisure centre provider

PUBLISHED: 10:09 12 May 2020 | UPDATED: 12:27 12 May 2020

Highbury Leisure Centre_Exterior: (Left to right) Tyron Fuller, Partnership Manager, GLL; Cllr Janet Burgess, Islington Council’s executive member for health and social care; Mark Leslie, General Manager, Highbury Leisure Centre. Picture: GLL

Highbury Leisure Centre_Exterior: (Left to right) Tyron Fuller, Partnership Manager, GLL; Cllr Janet Burgess, Islington Council’s executive member for health and social care; Mark Leslie, General Manager, Highbury Leisure Centre. Picture: GLL

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Islington Council will bailout its leisure centre provider so it doesn’t “fail” due to the Covid-19 crisis.

GLL is the biggest leisure centre provider in the country and runs eight Islington facilities, which have all been closed since March 20 due to the coronavirus lockdown.

It has asked the council for support, and the town hall is set to defer rent collection of £1.274million and pay an amount - which has not been made public due to commercial reasons - towards GLL’s costs to maintain its Islington assets from March 20 until the end of June.

The council will also pay GLL £195,000 up front rather than at the end of June as specified in its contract.

Islington Council’s health and social care lead, Cllr Janet Burgess, said: “GLL provide leisure services for several other councils, and we are joining with those councils to assist GLL through this difficult period so that they can continue to provide this essential service to our community.”

GLL, a charitable social enterprise, has indicated it will need further support to rebuild its business once the lockdown is over due to social distancing measures.

Islington Council has nine years left on its 15-year deal with GLL that runs to March 2029, and says the contract “yields a significant revenue contribution”.

GLL has furloughed most of its 200 Islington workers, whereby it claims 80% of their wages from the government, capped at £2,500 a month

It has committed to topping up the remaining 20% of their wages until the end of April, after which it has asked the council to step in and make up the difference.

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The council says it cannot afford to do this.

The town hall notes it is “in the long-term interests of the council to support GLL to get through this period as there would be even more significant long-term financial impacts to the council if they do not and we have to bring the service in-house.”

Former Islington Council Leader and leading Liberal Democrat Terry Stacy said: “Leisure providers up and down the country are in crisis, and Better Leisure/GLL are at the centre of that storm, saying that has it just been the Covid-19 crisis that has triggered this drastic action or are there issues the council need to tell us?

“I am pleased that the council is coming to their aid, other councils across the country are facing the same problem, our leisure provision is essential to the health and wellbeing of Islington. I doubt big time if they have a future in the borough now. I hope seriously the council are looking to bring the provision back in house, and hopefully protect the investment in the provision that is part of the agreement with Better Leisure/GLL in the leisure estate, for example Highbury Pool still doesn’t have a roof.”

Islington’s sole Green opposition councillor Caroline Russell said: “It is extraordinary that the executive are not taking responsibility for this decision to spend nearly one and half million pounds rescuing GLL. Why wasn’t this item included in the recent executive meeting when it must have been clear for weeks that a request for help was coming?

“This raises so many questions, that should be discussed in public.

“Why is the council bailing out GLL but leaving it up to GLL to decide whether to top up the 20 per cent of pay for furloughed staff. Any offer of rent relief or advance of management fees should be conditional on topping up the furloughed staff’s pay and ensuring sessional staff on zero hours contracts are looked after too.“

A GLL spokesperson said: “We refute any allegation suggesting we ‘might go into administration’.

“GLL remains financially robust, but, whilst we have no customer income during lockdown we do need financial support from our council partners in addition to the Government’s Job Retention Scheme (Furlough) support. This will help us to protect local jobs and safeguard public services, which will be in greater demand when we re-open.

“Any support we do receive from the Council will eventually be repaid.”


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