Lifesavers battle rival councils for beach patrol business

By Julian Bajkowski

Surf lifesavers have breathed life back into a cornerstone contract in New South Wales after Speedo-clad rescuers Australian Lifeguard Services successfully revived its contract with Sydney’s Pittwater Council to patrol nine beaches.

The commercial services arm of Surf Life Saving NSW says 40 lifesavers will be employed under the new deal which it claims will save the local government $400,000 a year over attempting to deliver the services internally.

The win for the beachside icons comes as the group increasingly competes against local governments looking to provide their own rescue beach patrol and services in councils like Waverly that include Bondi Beach.

“Pittwater Council continues to recognise the value presented to ratepayers through the seamless integration of paid Lifeguards with local volunteer lifesaving services, which includes sharing of valuable resources to avoid duplication and the extension of support operations beyond service hours,” Surf Life Saving NSW said in a statement.

While surf lifesaving was once the domain of well-bronzed volunteers, councils are increasingly contesting beach patrol deals amid shrinking budgets.

“It is clear in the current environment the contracting of services is on every local council agenda, evidenced by a neighbouring (Warringah) Council submitting a tender, Wyong Council going to tender for Lifeguard services and other Councils contacting the ALS discreetly to ascertain the significance of financial savings, efficiencies and the value to the local community”, Surf Life Saving NSW Operations Manager, Matt Rodwell said.

“With future asset and infrastructure maintenance at the core of all council budgets, councils are seeking budget relief in out-sourcing some traditional services – the contracting of Lifeguard services presents as a fiscally viable alternative given the ALS’ ability to generate efficiencies for Council whilst maintaining an industry best-practice service delivery.”

The trend that has prompted Surf Lifesavers to defend their sandy turf has a more serious side.

Tourism and destination marketing authorities are understood to be keen to retain the well-recognised recue talent on the states beaches not only as insurance against overseas visitors drowning but also as a way to entice more tourists to Australia.

One potential issue is that if beach patrols are curtailed during the summers long daylight hours, the risk of serious accidents or drowning increases and could dampen appetite to visit Australia as a destination after the tourism industry was hit by a slum in arrivals thanks to a high Aussie dollar.

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