THE company behind the controversial bid to outsource local leisure services says its management could save the council more £3m over the next four years.

As protests continue into a proposal that the council privatise leisure services in the greater Newtownards area, the company behind the plan has made its first public statement on the proposal.

The Northern Community Leisure Trust, which already runs leisure facilities in Bangor and Holywood, through its agent Serco, also ruled out redundancies, ‘significant price increases or changes to programming’.

Staff and users of leisure centres throughout the Ards peninsula, Newtownards and Comber have protested at the possible takeover by the Leisure Trust of all leisure services in the greater Ards area.

These include the Ards Blair Mayne Leisure Centre, Comber Leisure Centre, Portaferry Sports Centre and the Londonderry Park complex.

There have been vocal protests outside Ards and North Down Council offices in recent weeks, including in Bangor as councillors met to decide how to progress the proposal. At that meeting the politicians agreed to delay the decision for up to eight months.

The statement from the Northern Community Leisure Trust came from Leisure Contract Manager, Chris Kelly, who said the firm wanted to respond to the ongoing debate on the proposal.

We strongly believe that by bringing all leisure services in the borough under one overarching arrangement operated by the Northern Community Leisure Trust (NCLT), we will be able to deliver substantial savings to Ards and North Down Borough Council and therefore to the ratepayers,” said Mr Kelly.

“NCLT recently submitted an outline proposal to the Council, which if agreed would bring forecast savings to the Council of more than £3m over the next four years,” he added. “These savings will be achieved via growth in revenues combined with the utilisation of operational technologies in line with other facilities in the leisure sector.

“We want to provide assurance that our proposal does not include any redundancies, significant price increases or changes to programming,” said Mr Kelly.

“NCLT is very proud of the success of its current service delivery and the relationship we have formed with Ards and North Down Borough Council and would welcome the opportunity to be part of any conversations regarding the future of leisure services in the borough.”

Leisure services within the council are managed in an unusual way which harks back to before the councils were amalgamated in 2015. At that time North Down Borough Council outsourced all its leisure services to NCTL but nearby Ards Borough Council still provided leisure services in house.

When the councils merged leisure services remained being delivered under two systems. The proposal from NCTL would outsource all leisure services.