Headlines: June 15th, 2006

Better planning is needed if public leisure provision is to meet changing demand, says a report published today. The study by the Audit Commission in association with Sport England finds that the quality and accessibility of public sports and recreation facilities may not match people’s health and fitness expectations and may not offer the best value for money.The Commission calls for more assessment of local sporting needs and greater use of partnership working to deliver services that are better-planned and value for money. In “Public Sports and Recreation Services” it also points to the need for greater coherence of funding streams and initiatives from central government departments.

The report shows that strategic planning of provision is underdeveloped and there is a lack of what it calls “robust assessment of the mix of current public and private provision, community needs and future demand”. The report finds that often councils focus on maintaining historic in-house provision and rarely form strategic partnerships with other councils, private providers or other partners such as health and education services to improve and develop facilities.

Examples of good practice in the management of sports and recreation provision are drawn from case studies in 10 local authority areas. They demonstrate that a number of management options can succeed if they are implemented effectively. The report says the keys to success are clarity of purpose, strong leadership and strong partnership working with councils reviewing the balance between local need and provision with their community and prospective partners.

No single option delivers the best value for money, or consistently results in more investment or higher levels of participation, the report finds but it says many councils are missing out on significant savings by failing to use market testing when they consider the different management options. This also results in authorities failing to adapt their leisure provision to meet future needs.

The Commission says the case studies in the report show gains can be made by forming strategic cross-sector partnerships with health and education bodies and the voluntary sector and it cites the increasing investment in school sports that can be used to provide facilities to benefit the community. The Commission will consider the extent to which councils have appraised the options for delivering sports and recreation services when reviewing and reporting on value for money through the annual use of resources assessment.

The local authorities that are the focus of the report’s case studies are Guildford Borough Council, Penwith, East Hampshire and Harborough district councils, Liverpool City, Torbay and North Tyneside Councils and the London Boroughs of Bexley, Greenwich and Lambeth.