There’s a scene from Saving Private Ryan, where Tom Hanks, having fought his way up a section of Omaha beach in a hail of bullets, comes across a young private sheltering behind an obstacle. The private asks him ‘what the hell do we do now, Sir?’.  Another soldier shouts ‘What’s the rallying point?’

‘Anywhere but here!’ Hanks replies, followed by ‘Move your men off the beach! Go!’

As we enter a new world living with Covid – local authorities are facing a similar but thankfully, less deadly situation.

  • People are not behaving the way they did and using services the way they used to.
  • Typical cash cow services such as health and fitness are failing to recover to pre Covid levels and as such putting previously solid business models under real strain.
  • Operational costs are increasing through workforce shortages.
  • Utility costs are increasing way beyond any level seen before.
  • Older leisure assets are recovering slower than more modern facilities.
  • Health inequalities are widening as the backlog of elective surgery increases and the demand for mental health interventions escalates.
  • Historical contracts and management arrangements have been under huge strain and in many cases appear not to be fit for purpose.

It is blindingly obvious that these services cannot stay as they are. They are going to have to move – but where to?

SLC is increasingly being invited to support local authorities facing some or all of the above challenges at the very earliest stage of ‘anywhere but here’. The scale of the issues requires some careful consideration as to how to assess the current state, future options and identify what the local authority could consider doing next.

However, time is of the essence and in many cases each day of inaction can be costly.

We’re working closely with elected members and senior officers using the Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance which SLC supported Sport England in developing as a roadmap and diagnostic tool to help work out the best way to move forward.

Factoring in political considerations is important, but equally this presents an opportunity to take elected members on a journey to fully understand the wider issues, risks and opportunities facing them. We are focused on helping them take a considered view of future approaches to transform their services whilst addressing inequalities in a sustainable way.

We tend to find that financial pressures are the dominant drivers for change. We are seeing this through local authorities focusing on the management arrangements they currently have, rather than looking at the service and facility mix itself within the wider context of Place.

Setting a clear course for transformation is fundamental to the success of any long-term programme and this is where SLC focuses its support.

We tend to seek to steer our clients away from worrying too early about the ‘how’ and more towards the ‘why’ you are delivering services, for ‘who’ and ‘what’ services will you deliver, enable or cease to achieve your strategic outcomes. We also advise on timing of programmes – the ‘when’ and the interdependencies of strategic planning, investment and finally, management models – the ‘how’ which should be considered after you are clear about your vision and strategic approach.

We have learned a lot from recent diagnostic work in establishing transformation programmes for core cities, unitaries, London boroughs, district and borough councils:

  • Understand the politics
  • Spend time listening to different perspectives from across the organisation and with wider stakeholders
  • Don’t be afraid of challenging sacred cows – but do it sensitively
  • Provide good examples of what works elsewhere
  • Present a range of options for consideration for local leadership to consider
  • Set out next steps, timescales, activity and resource it realistically.

This has given us a unique insight on how we can support local authorities in moving from ‘anywhere but here’ and pivoting leisure services towards wellbeing and greater alignment with health, levelling up and placemaking.

There are no quick fixes and there is a degree of uncertainty and risk that comes with this transition. Is this not the time to position future services where they are needed most to support levelling up and addressing stubborn inequalities?

One thing’s for certain, as Tom said, ‘If you stay here, you’re dead….’.


Duncan Wood-Allum – Managing Director / 01444 459927