Sport, parks and leisure - LGA and ukactive call for fundamental reform of UK public leisure services...
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07 Jul 2021

LGA and ukactive call for fundamental reform of UK public leisure services
BY Tom Walker

ukactive and LGA said the long-term reform should address procurement, standards, data and integration with health agencies

ukactive and LGA said the long-term reform should address procurement, standards, data and integration with health agencies
photo: Shutterstock/Halfpoint

There is a "clear case" to evolve the purpose and role played by the UK's public leisure facilities.

In a joint statement issued this morning (7 July), ukactive and the Local Government Association (LGA), outline the need for both short-term and long-term actions, in order to secure the future of publicly owned health clubs, swimming pools and leisure centres.

"In the short-term, it is essential we work together to stabilise the sector to provide a strong foundation for the delivery of necessary reform and the evolution of services available to the public," the two bodies said in the statement.

"This means bridging the funding gap that exists across public leisure, to ensure that local authorities and providers can operate confidently and serve their local communities throughout this period of recovery.

"As a result, we need to see the government commit to a second phase of the National Leisure Recovery Fund as a matter of urgency.

"In the longer-term, there is a clear case to evolve the purpose and future role of public leisure, implementing reforms that enable sustainability, prioritise value over cost, and that help to support the government’s ambition to level-up and tackle rising health inequalities.

"We have a great opportunity to create a modernised, more resilient service that is outcome-focused and adequately meets the requirements of those most in need – delivering healthier, more active communities.

"At the heart of this reform, we must address some fundamental issues, including procurement, standards, data and integration with health agencies."

The statement was published during the LGA Virtual Annual Conference, which is taking place online between 6 and 8 July.

In it, the industry bodies also say that the focus for public leisure operators should be on the sector playing a "central role" in the government's plans to "build back better" from the pandemic.

In April, the government set out its plans to deliver a national recovery from the pandemic and to create a "stronger, healthier, and more prosperous society", while levelling up opportunities.

The two bodies said: "We support the government's ambitions collectively and the sport and physical activity sector – especially gyms, pools and leisure centres – should be central to this ambition, with fitness activities representing the largest driver of physical activity in England pre-COVID-19, behind walking.

"But we need to see this ambition being delivered through the actions and interventions that our government makes.

"The sport and physical activity sector has faced significant financial and operational challenges as a result of the pandemic, causing unprecedented damage to essential facilities and services which serve a diverse range of communities across the UK."

The statement follows a wide-scale consultation over the past year, which saw ukactive and the LGA – alongside other industry partners, such as Community Leisure UK, Association for Public Sector Excellence (ASPE) and Sport England – undertake enquiries and data collection in order to gauge the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector as it emerges from the pandemic.

Over the coming months, the organisations will work together to set out a roadmap of measures to aid the recovery of the sector.



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