A petition has been started in response to the "horrifying" prospect of the city council's favoured company taking over Oxford's leisure services.

Councillors will decide on Thursday whether to begin a 10-year contract with Serco leisure after the authority deemed the multinational company to be the best-suited contender for the job.

The decision to not renew a contract with the current leisure provider, Fusion, came after residents had dubbed the company "chaotic".

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But now the city council has apparently swapped the contract for an organisation with an "absolutely terrible reputation".

South Oxford local Jamie Clarke, a self-described "super user of the leisure centres" started a petition on Friday last week, calling for councillors to prevent Serco from running the services.

Oxford Mail: Jamie Clarke, pictured with his family, competing in the South Oxford family triathlon which uses the council's Hinksey pool for swimming.Jamie Clarke, pictured with his family, competing in the South Oxford family triathlon which uses the council's Hinksey pool for swimming. (Image: Jamie Clarke.)

He said: "I'm not happy with Fusion but was really shocked about Serco.

"The council have managed to box themselves in, removing democracy from having any input.

"But we live in a democracy and we voted for these people.

"We would like the council to pause the takeover and re-examine the due diligence."

Mr Clarke referenced the company's "bad track record on immigration and prisons" and Oxford's status as a 'city of sanctuary'.

Serco is a British multinational defence, health, space, justice, migration, customer services, and transport company.

City councillors discussed the recommendation to approve the self-described "leading national operator of leisure centres" at a scrutiny committee meeting on Tuesday.

But concerns were expressed about the transparency of the agreement process with one source saying the city council was "snookered" into accepting a contract with Serco given the alternatives.

Speaker Jamie Slagel alleged the company had previously "defrauded government" and "ran dangerous swimming lessons in Basingstoke".

Despite the claims, Serco Leisure had come out on top in the council procurement process which considered nine potential bidders.

Director of "We Own It", Cat Hobbs, who spent her childhood in Oxford, said: "This is a huge mistake.

Oxford Mail: Cat Hobbs outside Hinksey outdoor pool.Cat Hobbs outside Hinksey outdoor pool. (Image: Cat Hobbs.)

"Please look at this company's track record.

"Why would the amazing city of Oxford pick a company that is a subsidiary of Serco proper which has been in trouble on so many different fronts?

"I've always felt proud that Oxford does so much insourcing and the idea of moving away from that is very disappointing."

A Serco Leisure spokesman said: “Serco Leisure was named the ukactive Outstanding Organisation of the Year for 2021 and we have operated the prestigious Bisham Abbey and Lilleshall National Sports Centres on behalf of Sport England since 2011.

"We are the current operators of the iconic Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement.

“Each of our centres is assessed annually by the leisure industry benchmarking scheme, Quest NBS.

"Over 90% of our facilities are rated as Quest: Very Good or higher, while both Bisham Abbey and Lilleshall have achieved Quest’s highest accreditation – Stretch: Outstanding - every assessment cycle since 2016.

"This achievement keeps them in the top 1% of best managed leisure facilities in the UK."