Leisure could see a whole new ball game

Outgoing NL Leisure chief executive Blane Dodds with new council leader Jim Logue.

Outgoing NL Leisure chief executive Blane Dodds with new council leader Jim Logue.

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The trust that runs sports facilities in North Lanarkshire could be facing more changes after the departure of its chief executive.

Blane Dodds announced last week he is to leave NL Leisure after 10 years for a “fresh challenge”, just a month after a £1 million cut in its budget was confirmed.

There is speculation that Mr Dodds, who earned a six-figure sum, won’t be replaced and that NL Leisure will merge with Culture NL which manages libraries and entertainment venues, and also has a chief executive.

Mr Dodds was praised for his running of NL Leisure, with income at a record level and customer numbers doubling since North Lanarkshire Council handed over control of facilities to the charitable trust.

However, a restructure last year angered some employees whose pay was cut, while staff have been warned they face a pay freeze this year.

NL Leisure’s annual management fee from the council has been cut by £1 million yet the trust must find money to meet a commitment to pay leisure centre attendants the living wage.

Councillor Jim Logue, outgoing NLL board chairman and newly-elected council leader, refused to be drawn on a successor for Mr Dodds.

He said: “The board will now consider how we put in place leadership that will continue to drive forward our ambitions for the organisation and will announce interim management arrangements shortly.”

On the question of a merger with Culture NL, Councillor Logue admitted: “That has been spoken about before and it might appear again, but it would be foolish to rush into decisions.”

Councillor Logue has set up a council committee that will examine the workings of all of the so-called arm’s length organisations such as NL Leisure and Culture NL.

He added: “These all have their own general managers and finance officers. We have to ask in these financially challenging times if there is potentially duplication and if there can be rationalisation.”

The setting up of the new committee will please critics of NL Leisure whose board reports to the council only twice a year.

NL Leisure did not respond to a request for comment on efficiency savings which were due to be discussed at last week’s board meeting.