Angry reaction to privatising forest parks plan

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

COUNCIL'S plan to privatise caravanning and camping facilities has been met with criticism.

The joint trade union side of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council - comprising NIPSA, GMB, SIPTU and UNITE - said last week they were "extremely concerned by the joint plan by the council and the Forestry Service to privatise the future management and development of the public forest parks at Castlewellan, Tollymore, Kilbroney, Slieve Gullion and Donard".

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is seeking external consultants to prepare the business case to seek "competent providers for the management of the parks and their recreational services". This tender is at an initial cost of 20,000 to the public purse.

The joint trade union is questioning this decision asking if it is "really the best use of public funding already under significant pressure?"

However the council says it has initiated this study so council "will have a greater role in delivering recreation in forest parks across the district".

NIPSA official and joint trade union side secretary Kim Graham said they "found out about this plan to privatise these successful council-run leisure facilities, regularly enjoyed by tourists and citizens alike, through a newspaper article rather than through appropriate consultation by the council's senior management team".

“We believe that this appalling failure to consult was deliberate to fetter the voice of the unions and the members we represent.

“We have repeatedly made clear to the council our reasoned objections to the privatisation of public services. Experiences to date have demonstrated clearly that private companies, whose main purpose is to make a profit, exploit public services to the detriment of the workers and citizens who use these public services.

“We cannot and will not stay silent on the future provision of key public facilities.

“The unions have called for the council to reconsider its plans for the future delivery and development of these much loved and successful public camping, caravanning and leisure facilities by writing to each councillor raising significant concerns and queries and also by seeking an urgent meeting with the chief executive of the council to request that a cost benefit analysis be conducted on an in-house model to keep these much loved forest parks within the public sector so that the public can continue to fully enjoy affordable and accessible leisure facilities."

A Newry, Mourne and Down District Council spokesman said they will know the outcome of this study in the immediate future.

“Newry, Mourne and Down District Council works in partnership with DAERA (Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs) to deliver a range of successful projects across the district such as Slieve Gullion play facilities, mountain biking and play opportunities in Castlewellan and mountain biking provision in Rostrevor.

“Going forward, the council will have a greater role in delivering recreation in forest parks across the district and a key aspect of this expanded role will be the provision of caravan and camping at a number of sites.

“The council has initiated a study, in line with our partnership framework with DAERA, to assess the service in terms of delivery and value to the customer as the end user. Results from this study will be provided to the council and DAERA for review in due course."



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