By Dominic Feain and Eve Jeffery
Problems continue to plague the operation of the Byron Regional Sport and Cultural Complex following yesterday’s vote by councillors to terminate negotiations with the Police and Community Youth Club (PCYC) and put the facility out to selective tender.
Council had been seeking a participation agreement and lease of the multipurpose facility with the PCYC but negotiations broke down following a ‘total disconnect’ between both parties.
General manager Ken Gainger said he was ‘singularly unimpressed’ by the PCYC’s approach to discussions.
‘They weren’t prepared to negotiate or consider any changes to the agreement. We were trying come part of the way with them and we just basically got the door slammed in our face,’ Mr Gainger said.
‘In fact they basically told us they were not a centre manager. If we wanted a centre manager we should go and talk to the YMCA or someone else.
‘Another key quote they gave us was around the fact that they “provide programs for young people and tolerate community use of the centre”. They tolerate it! It’s a community centre. It’s our centre and they are going to “tolerate” the community use of it.
‘There is a total disconnect in what Council is seeking to gain from this centre. We’d like to see managers in there that can really make the most of this centre.’
Cr Chris Cubis asked staff what the problem was with the PCYC negotiations and why a mixed-use agreement couldn’t be reached.
He said he realised negotiations extended back well before the current council, but didn’t understand what went wrong and why Council had to start the process all over again, particularly given the previous tender process was unsuccessful, which was what motivated the direct negotiations with the PCYC.
‘I guess what I am asking is what is the problem with the PCYC and what is the plan to move forward?’ he said.
Staff replied that there wasn’t actually a problem with the PCYC, but that the PCYC management style was, in staff’s opinion, not in line with the way that the facility was designed and intended to be run.
Mr Gainger said that other factors warranted consideration.
‘Basically, the PCYC are the providers of PCYC programs’, he said.
‘So they come in and take over your centre and it becomes a PCYC centre. So they are not interested in doing it part time or on a shared basis. We had lengthy conversations with their management about the terms.’
Mr Gainger said in the end it came down to the PCYC wanting a 10-plus-10-year agreement.
‘For a brand new centre that was yet untested in the marketplace with enormous potential, to lock it up for 20 years is, in my view, a really poor move by Council. I think there is enormous potential at the centre,’ he said.
‘The way the PCYC operates their centre: it’s primarily a service or a program that they provide for young people. It’s somewhat exclusive in the way they provide that. There are restrictions on the centre; for example, people who use the centre have to become members of the PCYC; they are subject to security screening and checks; there are a whole bunch of things in there which means it becomes exclusive use and not and inclusive use.
‘I think Council’s business plan, when I read through it, was all about trying to encourage a whole range of people for sporting and cultural pursuits to use the facility on a regular basis.’
Hit the nail
Cr Basil Cameron thanked the general manager and said he had ‘hit the nail on the head’.
‘Unfortunately the previous council didn’t go in to this with a view to how we can we try to provide a great range of services to our community, and how can we maximise revenues,’ Cr Cameron said.
‘How can we make the absolute best of this facility that the community has paid for? Quite frankly they went in with the view to minimise the liability.’
Cr Cameron stressed he didn’t want to see Council repeat past mistakes and moved it be revisited once the draft had been prepared.
PCYC chief executive Chris Gardiner expressed disappointment and frustration with the decision of senior staff to walk away from ‘near completed negotiations at the 11th hour’.
‘We started discussions with Council when it was first designing its facility a few years ago,’ Mr Gardiner told Echonetdaily.
‘It was designed with our input because Council said it wanted it to be flexible for operation as a PCYC.
‘Council then changed its mind and went to tender. Then it changed its mind again and asked for late inclusion in the statewide EOI process to win a PCYC for its community.’
Mr Gardiner said the PCYC accepted the Byron submission and negotiated for over a year in good faith.
‘Given how far progressed we were in those discussions, we appointed an outstanding manager and started community engagement. Staff were in fact referring groups to our manager,’ Mr Gardiner said.
‘The decision under new senior management to reverse the submission and return to a tender is disappointing. It raises the question of ‘sovereign risk’ in dealing with this council.
‘Byron will lose the manager funding and the two extra youth-focused police officers that came with the PCYC, along with the link for its kids to the 75-year-old organisation.’