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Ensuring a sporting chance for services

Local authority sport and recreation services need to demonstrate their important contribution to wider health, well-being, social outcomes, says a new report from the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE).

APSE's latest research Local authority sport and recreation services in England: What next? shows that sport and recreation has been undervalued in many local authorities. It highlights the urgent need to take a proactive approach and make an evidence-based business case for future provision of sport and recreation services in a tough financial climate.

APSE's chief executive, Paul O'Brien, said: 'The London Olympics rightly celebrated magnificent sporting achievements, but funding for everyday sport and recreation for the UK's general population is receding. Sport and recreation was regarded as a 'Cinderella service' long before budget cuts hit. These services have vital role in ensuring health and well-being, social cohesion and local economic resilience. Sport and recreation services that take a pro-active approach in defining services around the emerging health agenda, seeking new opportunities and ensuring they are fulfilling the authority's core values will be best prepared for current and future financial challenges.'


The discussion document was written by Dr Neil King of Edge Hill University's Department of Sport and Physical Activity. It looks at: the impact of budget reductions for local authority sport and recreation services; their responses to cuts; and options for the future. 

The research analysed more than 100 survey responses along with in-depth interviews with council sport and recreation managers. Having examined different approaches to delivering sport and leisure services, Dr King says a more robust response is needed to the serious challenges they face. He says: 'The traditional 'welfare-orientated' model is possibly unsustainable and the 'market-orientated' model can compromise equity, quality and accountability. While a number of councils wish to merge services, this is proving  complex in practice. The most viable way forward is by combining APSE's 'ensuring council' approach with a 'pre-emptive' model showing a clear business case for investment in sport and recreation.'

The principles of the 'ensuring council'* reflect the stewardship role of local government and recognise that local government has to have the capacity, knowledge, skills and ability to intervene effectively on behalf of local communities. The pre-emptive approach requires; a long-term perspective, political support, innovative, leadership, a business case based on strong evidence and maximising use of assets. Examples of pre-emptive activities include: promoting low cost health-related programmes such as swimming to GPs; aligning services to the new ‘outcomes framework’ for education; tailoring services to fill gaps where youth services have been cut; and emphasising links with community safety.

The research found:

The status of sport and leisure has weakened in two thirds of councils over the past decade.

Sport and recreation services were already struggling financially prior to the Comprehensive Spending Review and funding cuts have worsened the situation.

Local authority sport and leisure departments have been downsized and become fragmented. Only a third of interviewees thought the 'voice of sport' was adequately represented in their authority.

Sport and recreation services are disproportionately affected in different councils.

Factors impacting upon resilience of local authorities' sport and recreation services include; political priorities, modes of service delivery, and ability to make a business case for investment.


Note for editors

*The ensuring model is discussed in APSE’s report 'The Ensuring Council; governance neighbourhoods and service delivery'. The model draws upon the concept of an ‘ensuring state’, put forward by Lord Anthony Giddens in his recent book on the politics of climate change. Lord Giddens argues that an ensuring state has the capacity to achieve political and economic convergence across policy sub-systems to tackle global phenomena. An ‘ensuring council’ is one that is able to balance macro imperatives against micro dynamics that exist in local neighbourhoods.

APSE is a not-for-profit organisation working with over 300 local authorities throughout the UK

For further information or to request an interview
Contact Mo Baines, principal advisor at APSE on, tel: 0161 772 1810. Email: mbaines@apse.org.uk

Promoting excellence in public services

APSE (Association for Public Service Excellence) is a not for profit unincorporated association working with over 300 councils throughout the UK. Promoting excellence in public services, APSE is the foremost specialist in local authority frontline services, hosting a network for frontline service providers in areas such as waste and refuse collection, parks and environmental services, cemeteries and crematorium, environmental health, leisure, school meals, cleaning, housing and building maintenance.




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