Specialist leisure operators offer a win-win situation reports Ashleigh Mackenzie…
Hurtling towards the 30th anniversary of the introduction of Compulsive Competitive Tendering, the tightening of financial purse strings has made the outsourcing of leisure operations an irresistible temptation for the majority of local authorities in the UK.
In the past ten years, 70% of council-owned pools have transferred their leisure pool stock management to a growing breed of specialist management companies.
But far from the negative publicity associated with so many out-of-house contracts, for swimming, this marriage of convenience is winning widespread support.
“With councils facing greater financial pressures, outsourcing of leisure services has increased in more recent years and we expect that trend to continue,” says David Bibby, managing director at Everyone Active,
“As a result of leisure contracting, the benefits that come to local authorities are huge,” he adds.
As larger companies with multiple sites and larger infrastructures, leisure management providers such as Everyone Active have greater economies of scale and are able to offer competitive pricing for customers whilst providing high quality services, equipment and facilities.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the success of leisure outsourcing can be attributed to the cost savings that are derived from it. This is achieved through the reduction in expenditure for councils for significant costs such as transfer of workforce and associated service charges, utilities and buildings and asset costs, as well as a reduction in overhead costs such as national non-domestic rates – achieved through contractors with a charitable model.
Councils are also under pressure to invest more in facilities with the increase in competition from private clubs and multiple budget chains.
Many facilities were built back in the 70’s meaning that many councils have ageing stock that is currently in need of refurbishment. Contractors are able to provide funding for these projects, leading to rejuvenated, modern facilities.
Andy Haworth of 1Life comments: “Outsourcing drives levels of savings that ‘in house’ operations simply have not been able to produce.
“It is also often combined with capital investment, which improves customer satisfaction and also produces further revenue improvements such as increased footfall into leisure centres.”
Formerly known as Harpers Fitness, 1Life was rebranded earlier this year and now manages over 50 leisure and arts facilities for local councils across the country.
One of 1Life’s most successful leisure contracts is with North Kesteven District Council, which has seen visitor numbers at its centres increase from 750,000 to over a million per year, since the contract began in 2003.
Sleaford Leisure Centre was also refurbished by 1Life and is now experiencing record usage figures with over 500 children on the swim school books and 127,000 visits in its first nine months of operation since the refurbishment.
In addition to increasing footfall, 1Life have introduced initiatives that have made a positive impact on the local communities in the area. The Vitality Programme was launched in 2009 with the aim of increasing exercise participation in the older populations and has had over 100,000 participants from within the community.
Andy says: “Our contract with North Kesteven Council also includes the operation of the National Centre for Craft & Design, which is a less traditional venue for a leisure operator, but we have seen visitor figures increase almost threefold, which is a great achievement for us, and an even greater achievement for the community.”
Andy continues: “The need for councils to continue to reduce costs and the requirement to deliver high quality services means that outsourcing of discretionary services such as leisure will continue for years to come and will expand.
“Contractors will strive for continuous improvement, resulting in better services, better facilities and greater customer satisfaction.”
Everyone Active’s David Bibby agrees: “It is important that councils have a clear picture of their objectives to be achieved as a result of outsourcing.
“This enables contractors to develop and deliver services to meet the local requirements of each partnering authority.
“Councils need to allow reasonable timescales for the tender process, therefore creating the opportunity for meaningful dialogue so that contractors can tailor their solutions in to best match the Councils’ requirement.”
Everyone Active currently manages 94 sports and leisure facilities in partnership with 33 Local Authorities nationwide. In 2011 the company was awarded the contract for the largest leisure management procurement contract to date, a tri-borough procurement for leisure services with the London Boroughs of Ealing, Brent and Harrow.
Over £4m has been invested in facility refurbishments including a major redevelopment at Harrow Leisure Centre and Vale Farm Sports Centre. This has resulted in 20% increases in attendances and major revenue savings to the council of over £20m during the contract term.
David says: “Contractors are focused on delivering against council objectives while ensuring high levels of customer satisfaction.
He finishes: “With ever-increasing leisure time pursuits and increasing customer expectations, contractors are working even harder to deliver on the service expectations of the communities which they serve.”
What is good for the goose, may well be just as good for the gander. So, with the change in healthcare provision, local authorities have responsibility for improving health and wellbeing in their communities and as such are looking for a wider scoping service from contractors.
Everyone Active has recognised the synergies and opportunities that are presented through health commissioning and have added a new division – Everyone Health – developed to tender and deliver services in this new area.