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Health & Leisure Review

Statement, 12 December 2018, by Councillor James Binns, portfolio holder for Health and Wellbeing

The aim of the partnering approach agreed at the Cabinet meeting (5 December 2018) is to ensure that we continue to have an excellent leisure service for our community and customers, protected for future generations, as the Council is not in a position financially to continue to provide the services that customers require.

As the paper has now been approved, this is the beginning of the process, not the end.  A formal procurement exercise will now begin and this will give us the opportunity to have detailed conversations with leisure providers so that we can understand how a partnership would achieve our aims; social and community wellbeing, a quality service, affordability, reduced cost to the taxpayer and investment for the future.

If, however, no partner comes forward that satisfies our criteria then we will look at setting up an arms-length NFDC trading company. This will remove some of the financial and bureaucratic burdens that currently constrain the service.   

This Council, its Councillors and the Cabinet, passionately believe in our excellent Health and Leisure Centres, but in order to protect and enhance them we must consider alternative operating models. I am certain that this is a decision that will achieve those two primary objectives.

I also recognise the valuable input that our stakeholders will need to have in the process moving forward and we are committed to ongoing dialogue with the trade unions, staff, and partner schools and colleges to ensure the best outcomes are achieved.  In June/July, once we have our requirements (in a contract specification) we will share this with our customers by setting up customer forums.

Finally I would like to thank the cross-party Task and Finish Group, which was made up of Conservative and Liberal Democrat members, for their extensive work on this matter and for the unanimous decision that they reached after much research and discussion. The Group will continue to support me through the procurement process.

Leisure Review report to Cabinet, 5 December 2018 (agenda item 10, page 145)

Statement, 11 September 2018

We are continuing our review of how we run our health and leisure centres (started in March 2018) in order to provide a high quality, sustainable leisure service, which covers its own costs without needing to be subsidised by the council. 

To date we have considered a range of options - continuing to manage the service in-house, setting up an NFDC trading company, partnering, and an asset transfer. 

The criteria we evaluated these possible options against included impact on directly employed staff; the financial impacts (income generation and subsidy reduction); and the potential to contribute to our vision and outcomes for the service.

This stage of the evaluation is now complete and we believe that, from the possible options we have looked at, finding a partner to deliver our leisure services will be the best way forward; but we need to carry out further research into the market to establish if this option is feasible and beneficial.

The partnering* option would involve the outsourcing of the management of the facilities. 

Our aim is to enhance what we currently offer, and secure the longer-term investment in the leisure service, while managing costs and addressing the need to make savings. 

The Member Task and Finish group will present findings into the potential market interest in November 2018 for consideration by the Community and Leisure review panel of ten councillors from across the district. If partnering appears to fulfil our aims, a full procurement process will commence which typically takes 12 months.  

If, after completing our research, we conclude that partnering is not an appropriate option, or it looks like we may not find a suitable partner, there are a number of other possible options open to us that have been identified in the course of this review and these will continue to be investigated alongside the market testing as part of our comparison work.  

In parallel with looking at how we deliver the service, we have been running a review of the management structure of the service, which will be completed in October 2018.

In summary:

•    We have been working for a number of months on understanding the best way to provide the leisure service.
•    Our work so far suggests that looking at the market for a partner to manage the centres has the most advantages
•    Nothing has been decided yet and we need to now research this option fully for consideration in November 2018. 

Cllr James Binns, NFDC Portfolio Holder for Leisure, said, "Our focus through this project is and shall remain, to secure the future of our excellent leisure services.  Having centres that continue to be fit-for-purpose is what is driving this work, as we know the valuable contribution they make to the wellbeing of our customers.  We are open-minded about what that approach may look like and I am excited about the positive benefits this review will bring.  

"Our centres are what they are in no small part due to the committed staff we have working in them and throughout this review a key piece of work will be a consideration of how any changes to how we operate will affect our people."  

Cllr Steve Clarke, who chairs the Leisure Task and Finish Group, said, "The move to explore the market for what could be possible for the centres signals the next stage in this review project.  We have looked carefully at what is possible with an open mind.  The group are satisfied with the work undertaken and are happy to make a recommendation that the preferred option is partnering.  But we need to do some further work to establish whether there is market interest and I would like to reiterate that at this stage no decisions have been made."

*This could be delivered by the private sector or through an existing Leisure Trust. The key features include:
•    The council becomes the client and determines the service specification
•    The operator undertakes the management of the facilities, collects income and is responsible for most costs
•    Staff are employed by the operator
•    Fixed term contract, typically 10-15 years
•    Management fee payable/receivable


Updated: 18 Mar 2019
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