Sunderland Council offering £120million deal for private firm to run city’s leisure centres and swimming pools

Sunderland Aquatic Centre.

Sunderland Aquatic Centre.

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LEISURE services across Sunderland are up for sale.

Sunderland City Council has put its entire sport and leisure portfolio on offer.

The authority has asked for parties interested in running everything from the city’s Aquatic Centre to local leisure centres and swimming pools.

The winner of the indefinite contract, estimated to be worth between £50million and £120million in its first 10 years, will be expected to form a joint venture company with the city council.

The successful bidder is expected to work with the council to bring facilities up to date and ensure people use them.

The joint venture company may also be offered surplus land around existing sport and leisure facilities, including at Silksworth, for potential development, according to the tender document.

Council leader Paul Watson told the Echo: “Fundamentally, what we are doing is looking for a partner for a joint venture to bring in an element of commercialism and expertise that we don’t have.”

“This will bring advantages to the council and around the city, as there is often a better offer in the private sector across the city.

“A 50-50 joint venture would bring services up to date and bring in expertise. We are expecting it will be somebody with the same ethos as the local authority.

“We are still lagging behind the market but we have facilities that the private sector don’t have. We will ensure as best we can that we are able to utilise these facilities.”

As the arrangements are not yet finalised, Coun Watson said it is unclear whether services would be more expensive than they are now.

“I’m sure there will be some subsidy available to people who need it,” he said, but added: “We have to make sure every part of the council is cost effective.”

Tory opposition leader Robert Oliver said he is in favour of the plans.

He said: “My only concern is it should be good value for the taxpayer in terms of any commercial partner, in what they get out of it and what they can charge the users.”

As previously reported, the council needs to slash £110million from its budgets over the next three years.

“I think given the financial pressures we face, it is the right thing to do to try and get a commercial entity in to take on the running of the services,” Coun Oliver added.

“Some of the facilities have not been kept up to date and not had the investment they should have had, and not had the use they should have had.”

An information event for interested paries will be held at the Aquatic Centre at 11am on November 27.

The deadline for bids is December 11, and selected candidates will be notified on January 6.