Trade union Unite has criticised Lewisham Council’s decision to award Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) a leisure contract.

Lewisham cut ties with Fusion Lifestyle after nine years following “significant financial challenges” caused by the pandemic and contracted GLL in its place.  

The borough’s leisure facilities have been managed on behalf of the council by two contractors, 1Life for the Downham Health and Leisure Centre – which will not be affected – and Fusion Lifestyle for the rest.  

GLL is a social enterprise created by Greenwich Council that operates under the brand ‘Better’ and runs leisure centres in more than a dozen London boroughs.

It will now be managing the Lewisham leisure facilities previously run by Fusion.   

A plan for a phased reopening of the leisure centres, starting in autumn, will be shared mid-September.  

The decision to award the contract to GLL, which is also facing financial difficulties, was made under urgency procedures on August 12 behind closed doors. The details came to light on August 24.  

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All but Downham Health and Leisure Centre will now be run by GLL

The move to drop Fusion has been welcomed by some, who hope the management will improve. 

But Unite said contracting GLL was “incredible” as it “refuses to recognise trade unions” – though this is disputed by the council.  

A Unite spokesperson said: “Once again, Lewisham has chosen to award a contract to a company which refuses to recognise trade unions.  

“GLL has been communicating with its staff warning of dire financial circumstances.  

“Staff have now been asked to ‘volunteer’ for unpaid leave until April next year, such are the dire financial circumstances of the company. This is taking place alongside redundancies.” 

A spokesperson for GLL said the organisation had offered all employees the opportunity to take six months unpaid leave and be guaranteed a position at the same salary on their return.

The Unite spokesperson said in the last manifesto, councillors committed to fighting against zero-hour contracts, which GLL “uses extensively” under a different name – “as required” contracts. 

Unite, which is urging councils to in-source leisure facilities, has asked Lewisham to be “open and honest” about the new contract.  

Its regional officer, Onay Kasab, said: “The handling of the leisure contract is the true test of the council’s commitment to its manifesto pledges.  

“The council made a commitment to bringing services in–house.  

“Yet in its response to Unite, the council now claims it does not have the capacity to do so. 

“In the meantime, while councillors sit in secret session deciding the future of our members, those same members face continuing anxiety, stress and worry about the future. Words in manifestos can look great – but actions speak louder than words.” 

Lewisham Council prides itself on strong employee relations and positive relations with unions

A council spokesperson said GLL has agreed to pay all employees in Lewisham the London Living Wage.  

“[Financial uncertainty and challenges] have seen many operators consider radical options in order to seek to protect the ongoing viability of organisations and maintain leisure services for the public. 

“Lewisham Council prides itself on strong employee relations and positive relations with unions.  

“GLL is the largest provider of municipal leisure facilities in the UK with a proud history of not-for-profit public service stretching back 26 years.  

“GLL has built its reserve (free cash working capital) to a level that would allow it to withstand unforeseen events.  

“This has enabled GLL to maintain good liquidity during these challenging times. 

 “GLL’s working model offers permanent, part time and casual positions.  

“The leisure industry has a high number of freelance workers including fitness instructors and lifeguards who only work during school holidays.  

“We will ensure that this flexible workforce is not used to disguise employment practices that are not to the benefit of employees,” she said.