Local authority cuts: Never let a good crisis go to waste, says leisure expert
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Local authority cuts: Never let a good crisis go to waste, says leisure expert

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The tough choices faced by cash-strapped local authorities present a major opportunity to transform the way leisure is delivered to all sections of society.

That’s according to Sarah Watts, chief executive of facility development specialist Alliance Leisure, who says leisure providers and local authorities should “never let a good crisis go to waste.”

Further cuts to local authority budgets in chancellor George Osborne’s recent Spending Review, were met with broad dismay by the local authority chiefs, who reiterated warnings of a major black hole in council budgets which will impact the provision of public services such as leisure.

Graeme McDonald, director of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers (Solace), said: “Without more fundamental change to how local services are paid for and provided, the support individuals and communities receive will be drastically curtailed.”

But despite the significant challenges to sustaining leisure offerings in the face of strained budgets, Alliance’s Watts believes there’s “a real opportunity to seize the moment” and overhaul the current status quo.

“In the municipal leisure sector we have been guilty of accepting a polarised view as to what sports centres should be, often resulting in high levels of revenue subsidy,” said Watts.

“Coupled with an historic lack of ongoing investment in ageing infrastructure, the result is a toxic mix of expensive and unsustainable facilities which don’t resonate with the physical, social and health needs of the communities they serve.”

The Alliance Leisure CEO said whether a facility is operated by the local authority, a trust, or a contractor, providing a wide range of relevant services will be key to safeguarding a site’s future. The forthcoming implementation of the Universal Credit will present significant financial challenges to those in society who are most vulnerable, added Watts, meaning that the need to offer activities that attract all members of society to participate in physical activity has never been greater.

“To coin a phrase, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ Let us now consider how we can innovatively transform leisure assets to provide relevant activity opportunities to all sections of society in an affordable and sustainable way,” said Watts.

“If we don’t, the probable consequence could well be a dramatic reduction in local authority leisure provision.”

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