Problems at Glass Mill Leisure Centre, run by Fusion, are getting worse. Lewisham Lib Dems have been raising this issue for some time with the council. So what’s the background?
Fusion was awarded a fifteen year contract in 2011 by Lewisham to run various leisure centres in the borough, including Glass Mill leisure centre run by Fusion from its opening in June 2013. Fifteen years is longer than many contracts of this type – for instance Barnet agreed a ten-year contract with GLL (trading as Better) in 2017. If financial assumptions made at the start of a contract turn out to be incorrect, then the errors can be multiplied over such a long contract.
Fusion’s assumptions for Glass Mill in particular have proved to be wrong. Full price membership of Fusion in Lewisham has fallen from 4,545 in March 2015 to 3,559 in March 2018 – a drop of nearly a quarter. Lewisham say that much of this decline centres on Glass Mill due to increased competition nearby.
In April officers at Lewisham council reported to the Healthier Communities committee and said that “short term commercial risk for this decline lays with Fusion who will have made an allowance for such an eventuality in their tender. Longer term this is also a Lewisham Council risk as the portfolio of leisure centres becomes less commercially attractive at any future round of tendering.” You can read the report to the committee here.
The Glass Mill centre was branded one of the worst in the country in 2014, one year after opening. Since then, satisfaction levels recorded through feedback forms have dropped at Fusion sites. Lewisham officers say that scores in Lewisham are lower than for other Fusion contracts.
On social media, complaints about Glass Mill have centred on broken equipment (eg few lockers have locks that work while others are jammed or out of use), lack of cleanliness and the condition of toilets (eg for months there have been signs up about the smell from the men’s toilets without any sign of work to deal with this).
The latest complaints are focused on swimming lessons with hundreds signing an online petition about cancelled lessons and a change in terms and conditions that prevent people from getting their money back from cancelled lessons. Those behind the petition are also angry about Fusion’s unwillingness to meet with them or provide information about what is happening.
Officers at Lewisham say that they are dissatisfied with Fusion’s performance. The council believes that this is because Fusion are stopping spending because of the losses on their contract. In March 2019, they held a “Strategic Contract” meeting with Fusion and there is now an action plan to improve short-term performance and long-term sustainability, which will be monitored.
However, concerns about poor service continue and the viability of the contract is questionable. Lewisham’s Director of Culture and Community Development told councillors in April that:
- Fusion are “losing a significant amount of money” and Fusion’s response of cutting spending “has led to performance dropping”
- Responsibility for the problems is shared between structural problems with the contract and poor performance by Fusion
- Lewisham say they cannot afford to end the contract, despite Fusion’s poor performance, and would not be able to find an alternative provider for similar cost (which suggests Fusion’s bid for the contract was seriously under-priced)
- If Fusion were to hand back the contract, Lewisham do not have the capacity to run leisure centres themselves and would have to go to emergency procurement (which suggests that Lewisham did not have contingency plans in place when agreeing a contract which was under-priced in 2011)
You can see notes from April council meeting here.
Lewisham’s Healthier Communities scrutiny committee met in secret on 14th May to discuss the contract with press and public excluded.
With all this, there is a danger of Glass Mill and other Fusion leisure centres entering a spiral of decline. Fusion can’t afford to run the service they promised so cut spending. The service on offer then declines and Lewisham fine Fusion for not meeting service standards. Fusion cut spending further in response and the service declines. Lewisham fine Fusion again…
Lewisham Lib Dems are therefore demanding action from Lewisham council now, rather than waiting for Fusion to hand back the contract at some point or for their fortunes to somehow turn around. We are calling for Lewisham council to:
- Publish the contract with Fusion and what was agreed as contingency plan in 2011 if Fusion were unable to deliver the contract
- Publish the action plan agreed with Fusion in March 2019 and publish a tracker of performance which is available to users of Glass Mill and other leisure centres
- Recognise that they cannot just wait till Fusion hand back the contract or somehow start to make a profit, and set out a strategic plan for Lewisham’s provision of leisure services
- Agree with Fusion on a new penalty regime that does not lead to financial penalties and cuts in services, for instance free swimming lessons for schools in Lewisham rather than financial penalties
Lewisham Lib Dems say:
“Lewisham residents deserve better when it comes to leisure centres. At the moment there’s a real risk that Glass Mill – and eventually other leisure centres – enter a terminal spiral of decline.
“Lewisham council needs to be transparent about what’s happening with Glass Mill, rather than meeting in secret. We’re calling on Lewisham to publish the contract and the new action plan so users of Glass Mill and other leisure centres can see for themselves what Fusion are supposed to be providing.”