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Chair’s Opinion

Iain Varah, Chair & Mark Allman, Vice- Chair of CLOA reflect on the future role of local authority sports and leisure services and the principle issues facing local government.

The Leisure and Culture industry are dominated by the next series of the Government spending review.  Never has the pressure been so great and many Councils, although recognising the broad ranging suite of benefits that Leisure and Culture brings, will be taking decisions that their local electorate may demonstrate and campaign against because they have little choice.

The argument of statutory v non-statutory provision is becoming irrelevant, it will be what basket of services Councils can afford to provide to meet their communities needs.  As Councils move away from being providers to enablers and facilitators, local communities will need to be more resilient and learn to further help themselves.  This is likely to mean that universal services are most under threat.

The Sport, Physical Activity and Health agenda is much better positioned than Parks, Libraries and Cultural Services.

However, the future role of Local Authority sport services is likely to change dramatically over the next few years; with the ever decreasing funding available, more commercial and entrepreneurial methods will need to be developed and remaining inefficient buildings (often in high areas of deprivation) will be under more pressure to close, if they haven’t already.  Reinvesting in fit for purpose facilities (especially swimming pools) will be made all the harder by councils requiring savings to meet their budget pressures.  Overlay the very real health benefits of driving up participation locally, the changing participation and consumption patterns for more traditional sports, the fluctuations to school sport funding and the opportunities for greater collaborative working with health based services and it is evident that there are some very real challenges for council sports and leisure services.

Strong local leadership will be essential and councils will need to continue providing strategic direction for sport and physical activity development at a local level. They are best placed to do this.  A scenario that could develop is that the Client role may disappear and providers may increasingly become accountable to Strategic Commissioners and Cabinet members directly. The Health and wellbeing agenda will be key and provide opportunities to sustain, develop and integrate services by working with Adult Social Care and Public Health. There are some really exciting examples of service integration already being delivered in this area.

The role of senior strategic leaders in Culture and Leisure is likely to be further diluted as management restructures lead to further generic general management. CLOA’s role is to make the case at the highest level with government and the key agencies such as LGA, Sport England and ACE; we are a key voice with decision makers across the sector and particularly within local authorities.  We have a track record of engaging with key issues and are currently finalising guidance to help improve our members understanding about the structures, frameworks and outcomes relating to public health.   Over the coming months we will continue to champion the need for senior Leisure and Cultural Managers in every local Authority and assist, support and advise all Managers who fulfil the role regardless of their professional roots.

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