The Future of Public Leisure Consultation Report

Published on: October 30th 2020

We recently held four online consultations with members and independent experts to provide insight around the purpose and vision of leisure in the future, and the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector. The key points are summarised below, with a link to the full report here.

  1. Purpose and vision
    • Services that many leisure providers offer deliver important health and social outcomes that go beyond the recreational value of leisure.
    • Leisure possesses the opportunity to contribute to the delivery of wider public policy outcomes and closing the inequalities gap. 
    • There is a degree of dissonance with regard to the purpose, vision and value of leisure by leisure providers, the public and stakeholders.
    • Leisure trusts offer an important vehicle for local authorities to deliver their leisure and cultural services, surplus revenue  generated is reinvested to deliver charitable aims by cross subsiding programmes, access and facilities.
  1. Challenges
    • Competitive contract tendering in the public sector, coupled with austerity has led to leisure provider accountability being focussed on reducing operational costs which is driving the prioritisation of commercial returns over delivering social value.
    • Leisure is non statutory, arguably associating lower value and status relative to other statutory services which in turn results in proportionally more budget reductions.
    • Grouping public leisure as part of a wider homogeneous fitness sector devalues public leisure and underplays the challenges it faces.
    • Leisure services vary considerably, but the common perception of leisure is that of a facility operations service over a service that delivers interventions for community benefit.
    • The nation’s leisures assets are aging and appropriate levels of capital investment are required in order to optimse efficiency and effectiveness. 
    • Leisure is not always seen as a credible provider for wider public policy outcomes and attracting support from stakeholders, including the NHS, is viewed as challenging.  
    • The need to reduce costs is driving down relative pay rates and eroding terms and conditions of employment, this is adversely impacting upon the recruitment and retention of high quality people.
    • There has been a reduction in specific leisure service expertise held by Council clients, sometimes causing contract management to be unnecessarily challenging and problematic.
    • Public leisure does not have a dedicated accountable agency to represent and advocate its purpose and value to the government.
  1. Opportunities
    • Make explicit and raise awareness of the role of public leisure to contribute to physical and mental health and wellbeing in order to help increase healthy life expectancy and contribute to closing the inequalities gap.
    • Coalesce national partners around a vision and purpose for leisure and create a national group / body that can represent and advocate the purpose and value of public leisure to the government and contribute to the effective coordination of scarce public sector resources.
    • Develop a manifesto for change and / or a national vision and strategy for leisure, identifying opportunities to better impact on wider public policy outcomes, including health and wellbeing, and to provide a framework through which to attract investment. 
    • Develop a national delivery framework with local flexibility to ensure services are complementary to meet local need, and to maximise the value of collaboration with a wider network of local service provision.
    • Develop and universally implement national standards for all aspects of leisure service delivery (including professional workforce standards) to improve effectiveness and credibility with stakeholders.
    • Deliver a public awareness campaign to raise awareness that leisure is safe and essential and delivers wider value for community benefit.
    • Lobby for leisure to become a statutory or essential duty to protect a level of provision that might be at risk for community benefit, for example swimming pools, and to encourage commissioners to invest in leisure assets to contribute to a wider range of public policy outcomes.
    • Lobby for investment in ageing facilities and support the strategic consolidation of estates (when appropriate) to create self sustaining, non subsidy / grant reliant operational models upon which cross subsidised services can be introduced and developed