The Reading Borough Council (RBC) policy committee on 20 January was meant to be an Oscar night for an unnamed winner of the Award to Design, Build and Maintain Reading’s Boroughwide Leisure Centres, who would only ever be referred to as bidder A. The frustration of the procurement process was too much and the compère, RBC leader Jason Brock, decided to reveal the successful bidder’s name. But wait, hadn’t RBC chief executive officer (CEO) Peter Sloman already done that?
Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) has been awarded a contract to construct a new swimming pool and other sports facilities at Rivermead, a new pool at Palmer Park and improve facilities at Meadway and South Reading Leisure Centre. They will also be responsible for operating and maintaining these four leisure centres for 25 years.
RBC didn’t make full details of the bids public, but the committee report set out the relative importance (weightings) given to each of the criteria for assessing the bid. The winning bidder scored 86.67% and the unnamed bidder B scored 82.9%.
The report states:
The evaluation team considered that bidder A provided a better overall proposal which met the specification requirements including:
- design for both Rivermead and Palmer Park,
- less capital spend requirements,
- living wage foundation commitment,
- BREEAM excellent building standards for both Rivermead and Palmer Park,
- a more sustainable design meeting energy and carbon ambitions,
- a better learn to swim offer,
- quicker build programme for all sites, especially for Rivermead,
- greater articulation of carbon reduction plans,
- well established partnership between bidder A and its experienced and well-regarded building contractor.
A history of closures in Reading
The saga of the closure of the Arthur Hill Baths, not to mention the Central Swimming Pool, continues to cause rancour in the council chamber.
Lead councillor for health, wellbeing and sport Councillor Graeme Hoskin said:
We didn’t close Arthur Hill to be spiteful to the people of east Reading. We closed Arthur Hill because it couldn’t be affordable…
On the night though, it had been Reading’s indoor bowlers who were feeling most aggrieved. Rivermead currently has an indoor bowling court that will not be replaced in the new building. That leaves Whiteknights Indoor Bowls Club as the only facility in Reading.
Councillors approved the recommendation to award the contract of a six lane pool at Palmer Park to bidder A. Liberal Democrat, councillor Ricky Duveen, and Green Party councillor Rob White both voted against.
A politics lesson
Earlier in proceedings, Professor Brock gave us his customary lesson on politics. This followed Councillor Hoskin’s comments that Labour councillors had difficulty coming to terms with out-sourcing facilities:
I think I probably speak for a lot of the Labour councillors in this room where it doesn’t come easy for us to pursue a process of partnering with an out-sourcer. We have an instinctive desire to provide in-house facilities, but the reality is we can’t let our ideology stand in the way of delivering those desperately needed facilities for the people of Reading.
Councillor Brock said:
Of course our preference, always expressed has been in-house […but…] we find it necessary to procure a partner.
I think socialism or social democracy, and I am not convinced that there is an iron curtain between the two, is not about a set of institutional arrangements but its meaning is to be found in the outcomes it delivers to people. Outcomes according to our values…
The Greenwich cat let out of the leisure bag
CEO Peter Sloman wanted to say a few words about finance and risk in the contract. He explained that the successful bidder was a social enterprise with charitable status; this meant they would not have to pay the business rates on the leisure centres that RBC would otherwise have to pay.
He then went on to say that the proposal transferred building overspend risks, as well as income targets, to the provider, and:
…that risk is transferred to Greenwich Leisure.
The last word was left to Councillor Jason Brock who told us, just after the vote at 8pm:
… it would be normal practice to keep the name of the winning bidder confidential until after the end of the procurement standstill period which would be midnight tonight. Notwithstanding that, I consider it to be appropriate, in light of the decision to award a 25 year contract, to announce that bidder A is GLL.
He promised a full press release in the morning with a statement from GLL.
RBC say that the new pool at Palmer Park will open in Spring 2022 and the new Rivermead centre will open in Summer 2022.