How a leisure charity ‘ripped off’ taxpayers with ‘rotting’ sites compared to Chernobyl

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Outside the Fusion Lifestyle swimming pool in Tottenham, north London, locals protested dirty and sometimes dangerous facilities.

The Tottenham Parents Facebook group wanted to send “a clear message” on Saturday that they are “fed up with the mismanagement and neglect of our local swimming pool”.

Their outrage is not isolated as people across the country complain about Fusion’s mismanagement.

Fusion describes itself as an experienced recreation center provider that has passed on “generations of local residents” fond memories of learning to swim. He says he is “sincerely” interested in the health and well-being of his clients. Local reports, however, detail issues ranging from gas leaks to unsafe appliances and dirty fixtures.

As centers closed amid Covid, senior management were accused of misleading taxpayers while laying off swathes of staff and giving themselves big pay rises. This has left communities struggling to rebuild their working lives after the pandemic.

An “on the job” leisure operator

Fusion has over 60 locations across Britain, including gyms and outdoor pools, and provides swimming lessons to millions of people every year.

The registered charity was hit hard as restrictions curtailed activities – but managed to stay afloat claiming a total of £28million in taxpayer relief in 2020 and 2021. This was made up of grants the government’s National Leisure Recovery Fund, individual local council payments and furlough scheme payments. He also negotiated a taxpayer-backed loan from NatWest worth £13million.

It was designed to ensure that Fusion can come out of lockdown on a stable footing. Still, openings were delayed after managers made major job cuts.

Staffing levels have been reduced by around 60% to 1,331 in 2021, from around 3,500 before the pandemic, according to the latest accounts from Fusion.

Local councilors say staff cuts prevented the organization from opening sites when restrictions were eased, while residents say they still cannot reach anyone on the phone to deal with questions and the complaints.

Perhaps more worryingly, Fusion itself admitted that its centers were filthy due to a lack of staff.

A Fusion spokesperson said: “We recognize that there have been issues with cleaning standards, due to staff resource issues. We are constantly recruiting to meet our cleaning needs and improve these standards. »

Tony Cox, a Conservative councilor in Southend, said some centers in his area had taken almost a year to reopen, pointing to staff cuts. “When the restrictions ended, they didn’t open their leisure center straight away, which caused problems. It took a good three or four months,” he says.

“Then they only opened one and didn’t open the two satellite centers. It took almost a year before they all reopened. We weren’t happy at all. »

Graeme Coombes, a Conservative councilor in Bedford, said reopening facilities was “like pulling teeth”.

“We paid Fusion for services that weren’t open,” he says. “They got a lot of taxpayer money, but they were slow to open the facilities. And when they did, it was like pulling teeth. They opened one facility at a time over a long period of time.

Fusion says it has “strategically” reopened the centers based on the number of visitors expected at each site.

Even since reopening, Jayne Sharratt, a local resident of Tunbridge Wells, says it’s almost impossible to talk to staff: “They don’t really answer the phone so you have to go and see them in person, which is not not always easy”. .”

Fusion customers are often told to use the charity’s website or app to make reservations, but this has also caused problems.

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