/ Chair's Opinion / Securing the future of public sport and leisure services

Securing the future of public sport and leisure services

We are pleased to share ‘Securing the future of public sport and leisure services’.  This summary report is the culmination of a research project to explore the future of public sport and leisure services, following the seismic changes to the sector as a result of the health pandemic.  It evaluates the current state of public sport and leisure services and sets out recommendations to ensure the survival and development of the sector.

The work has been led by the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) in partnership with the Local Government Association (LGA) and the Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association (CLOA).

Councils are currently the biggest investor in sport, leisure, parks and green spaces, spending £1.1 billion per year in England. They are unique in what they offer for communities, providing lifelong opportunities for all to be active while supporting national objectives and stepping in where the private sector cannot afford to operate.  Regular physical activity reduces the risk of serious illness and disease. With obesity rates forecast to cost £9.7 billion per year by 2050, the delivery of low cost and free facilities and social prescribing opportunities from councils is key in responding to this crisis, addressing health inequalities, and reducing the burden on the NHS and public health services.

However, the pandemic has hit sports and leisure provision hard, compounding existing challenges facing the sector, including an ageing leisure estate and lack of strategic coordination between health and leisure at a national level. The report recommends that the new Office for Health Improvement and Disparities take on a key role in ensuring the contribution of public leisure services to the nation’s wellbeing is communicated to health partners and included in strategies to promote good health, reduce obesity, promote physical activity and prevent illness.

Public sport and leisure facilities also play an essential role in giving children the best start in life. 72 per cent of schools rely on public swimming pools to teach children vital life skills; however, many need costly refurbishment. With councils under pressure to fund statutory services such as adult social care, sport and leisure services are at risk of further cuts.

The report calls for £1billion in capital investment into the leisure estate to bring it up to modern design and environmental standards. Nearly two thirds of the leisure estate is ageing and past its replacement date. With public sport and leisure facilities currently accounting for up to 40 per cent of a council’s carbon emission output, ageing facilities are hampering both national and local efforts to meet net zero targets and must be addressed as part of efforts to tackle the climate emergency. 

Chair of CLOA Debbie Kaye said:

This report, a result of CLOA’s collaboration with APSE and the LGA, comes at a crucial time for local authorities. Many are facing major financial challenges whilst continuing to manage response to the ongoing pandemic and leading local recovery. The pandemic has hit public sport and leisure services hard, and at a time when we would want our pools and gyms to be playing a full and vital role supporting in their community’s recovery from Covid, the reality is that many services are at risk. Factor in the challenges of reducing carbon emissions, ageing stock, and declining swimming literacy, then it is clear that a perfect storm is brewing.”

Recognising the cross-cutting nature of many of the issues, the report calls for national leadership from the new Office of Health Improvement & Disparities, set up by Government to improve and level up the health of the nation. Our vision is that every locality should have a thriving, high quality and distinctive cultural and leisure offer.  CLOA is committed to supporting its members – local public sector leaders – and working collaboratively with key stakeholders to help find solutions.“

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