Sport England has published the long-awaited Leisure Services Delivery Guidance which was developed and authored by SLC over the last two years.

The guidance has been developed in consultation with a number of sector partners including; local authorities, LGA, CLOA, CLUK, The Activity Alliance, leisure operating partners, leisure consultants, and legal advisers.

The guidance is produced (primarily) to support the local authority sector to deliver effective and efficient leisure, sport and physical activity service delivery functions which make a major contribution towards local strategic outcomes. It seeks to facilitate increased community engagement with physical activity, ultimately reducing inactivity in local communities through the provision of sustainable services.

The guidance is a step change from the original Sport England Leisure Procurement Toolkit. It provides best practice advice on commissioning services whether delivered in-house, via a local trust through a Local Authority Trading Company in addition to undertaking competitive procurement. In response to sector consultation, it now provides broader support to achieve effective delivery across a range of service delivery approaches.

The guidance is focused on implementation and should follow a period of strategic planning which will optimise the impact of your investment in physical activity, sport and wellbeing and contribute towards wider local strategic outcomes.

The key differential features of the guidance compared to the previous Procurement Toolkit are as follows:

  • This guidance is management model neutral and encourages the sector to adopt a common approach to performance management, linked to the new Moving Communities Platform.
  • The guidance works seamlessly with Sport England’s Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance (SOPG) which is recommended to be used prior to any work on leisure services delivery.
  • It provides guidance on how to carry out a management options appraisal.
  • The guidance has been designed to enable councils to undertake more work themselves using best practice advice and easy to follow steps from recent successful implementation of respective management model options including external procurements, local NPDO trusts, establishing local authority trading companies and bringing services in-house.
  • The guidance seeks to demystify the complex nature of partnering, insourcing and procurements to ensure that any external support required adds significant value.

David Rushton, Director and lead author of the guidance said, “When we were initially appointed by Sport England to update the Procurement Toolkit it became clear that this guidance was of no help to those authorities that do not commission services through a competitive procurement. We then worked with Sport England and the sector to develop fully comprehensive guidance on commissioning regardless of the management approach. Just because an authority delivers its services in-house or through a local directly appointed trust this does not mean that a modern services specification designed to ensure the operator contributes towards local outcomes is not needed. It is essential that the authority is clear on its desired outcomes and that its operator has clear terms of reference for contributing towards those outcomes. We anticipate substantially more engagement from sector with new guidance”.

Duncan Wood-Allum, Managing Director of SLC said, “SLC entered the leisure procurement market in 2015 with one aim – to disrupt it and prevent ‘the race to the bottom.’ Many legacy contracts are delivering few outcomes as a result of tired specifications and contracts adding little value and not addressing inequalities. They don’t work for councils or their leisure operating partners and have not been supporting improvement. Covid has further exposed the weaknesses of these poorly designed contracts.

SLC has shared all of its related intellectual property with the sector the support reversing this trend and through the LSDG, we believe this will accelerate the change SLC has already initiated in raising standards of leisure service delivery through our contracts and partnerships.

We will continue to innovate in this area including exploring the potential use of split Facilities Management contracts and split back-office provision to drive out greater efficiencies and improve effectiveness. The pressure on public sector leisure will continue and new solutions will be required to sustain valued services supporting communities in building back stronger”

The Leisure Services Delivery Guidance can be downloaded through this link.