We are a campaigning consultancy with a strong track record of taking consistent positions on issues that matter to us and the sector. For the last 11 years we have championed tackling obesity as part of a whole system approach, best practice leisure management partnering as well as Active Communities interventions. Through our work in supporting Sport England in developing national guidance – the Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance and soon to be published Leisure Services Delivery Guidance, much of this has now been embedded into best practice.
Time to dump the junk in our leisure facilities?
Think ‘leisure centre’ and ‘food’ and the smell of a deep-fat fryer is likely to spring to mind. Kids’ party food – chips, burgers, chicken nuggets – all available to hungry young mouths after ‘letting off steam’ in council-owned leisure facilities.
The sector’s future funding will ultimately be dictated by its ability to become a credible preventative partner in reducing costs to wider services, such as health and adult and social care.
SLC is proactively working with local authorities that share our ambition to offer only healthy food and beverages in public leisure facilities. In 2017, SLC supported North Kesteven DC in securing a three-year Whole Systems Approach to an Obesity pilot project with Leeds Beckett University and Public Health England. The leisure management contract we developed for the Council had healthy eating clauses embedded as standard.
We understand the commercial imperative better than most, but if we are promoting and selling unhealthy food and drink under the premise of ‘health and wellbeing’ a line has been crossed.
With the government sugar tax, the message is clear: high-calorie drinks need to be the exception, not the norm. Access to them needs to be limited and compelling healthy alternatives should be provided by leisure operators to promote a 360-degree approach to health and wellbeing.
We have been successful in embedding a greater emphasis on healthy eating in supporting the development of Sport England’s Leisure Services Delivery Guidance, the replacement for the Leisure Procurement Toolkit.
Sounds a little like nanny? Yes; and we make no apology. Failure to address this is costing the nation a fortune and will bankrupt the NHS; on an individual level, it is costing lives.
Best Practice Procurement
Code of conduct for leisure operators
When a Leisure Operator hands over a project to a new incumbent, the client and new operator often get more than they bargained for.
Poor contracts encourage poor behaviours.
Poor drafting of historical leisure management contracts is starting to impact on public services across the country when there is a change in the operator due to a retendering exercise.
Operators are taking advantage of lack of termination clauses to:
- Withhold basic data from future bidders including income and expenditure, utility costs, member numbers and critically, customer data
- They argue this is ‘commercially confidential’ and ‘commercially sensitive’ but this data should remain the property of the client – not the operator.
So what is the impact?
Many operators are now not cooperating with the client on basic data sharing prior to a retendering exercise. This may result in uncompetitive bids or putting off other bidders.
Some operators are charging clients or the new incumbents tens of thousands of £’s to bulk transfer Direct Debit originator numbers.
In some cases, this causes inconvenience to customers as they must re-submit their details to the new operator to continue with their membership or swimming lesson course.
Some operators seem oblivious to the impact their behaviour has on their reputation and industry as a whole, letting the disappointment of losing a contract affect their client and former customers.
What SLC is doing
- Working to raise awareness of this issue and seeking to develop a Code of Conduct for all Leisure Operators to voluntarily sign up to
- Embedding best practice through supporting the development of the new Sport England Leisure Services Delivery Guidance
- Building clauses into our clients’ new contracts to prevent these behaviours, in order to reduce costs being built into future management fees and disrupting customers during a handover period
- Ensuring attention is paid to the ownership and transfer of data, to prevent exiting operators holding their clients or new operators to ransom.
Thinking beyond the walls of leisure facilities
Sport, physical activity and leisure is far more than traditional leisure facility provision, but there still seems to be an emphasis on this as ‘the solution’ despite increased financial pressure on local government.
At SLC we encourage councils and their operating partners to recognise that community benefits and advantages are to be found outside as well as inside the walls of a leisure facility. We know what a difference it can make to an isolated community, to be able to engage in sport and physical activity, and we recognise that this cannot always be achieved through traditional approaches. For this reason, we advocate that outreach work, along with sport and physical activity development, is used to develop community cohesion, support social engagement, improve mental and physical wellbeing and improve individual personal development.
As lead authors of the Sport England Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance (SOPG), published in July 2019, we have embedded this into the best practice framework supporting Councils in their strategic planning.
Within the current landscape we believe that there are numerous opportunities for mainstream providers to proactively engage beyond our leisure facilities. We will use our knowledge, experience and expertise to ensure that wherever possible this is encouraged and embedded within the partnerships we help develop, supported by the SOPG.
We remain committed to drawing upon the latest strategies from government and Sport England. We will continue to question traditional working practices and solutions that for too long have maintained the status quo of targeting the ‘easy to reach’ rather than those with the greatest needs – recently highlighted by Tim Hollingsworth, Chief Executive of Sport England.
Why? Because we recognise the long-term mental and physical benefits of engaging in sport and physical activity and we believe we all have a role to play in ensuring that anybody who wants to take part in sport or physical activity is given a sustainable opportunity to do so.