It is now almost 50 years since the great boom in sports and leisure centre construction in the 1970s. This was prompted in part by local government reorganisation in 1974. (There is an excellent history at the Sports and Legacy Leisure project here www.sportsleisurelegacy.co.uk )
Despite some of the earliest centres such as those at Harlow and Basingstoke being run by local sports trusts, In those days there was an almost automatic assumption that the facilities would be owned and directly operated by local authorities.
Nowadays the situation is very different with a variety of different organisational structures in place to operate leisure centres. These range through direct management, commercial companies, not for profit organisations, community interest companies and charitable trusts. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and there is no simple “best” model. The most suitable operating system and operating company will depend on local circumstances, politics and demographics. This is usually found through formal and informal market testing
We have worked with many local authorities to select the best operating sysem and company. These authorities have ranged from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in densely populated London to the rural council of North Hertfordshire DC, from the London Boroughs of Merton and Harrow to town and parish councils such as Shinfield PC in Berkshire and Armthorpe in South Yorkshire.
We have also advised organisations such as schools and colleges on the appointment of their leisure operator including advice on the financial arrangements, building maintenance responsibilities and sports development.
Jim Lynch has written widely on market testing including E&FN Spon’s “Competitive Tendering – Management and Reality” (ISBN 0419 2244 08). He also advised the Swedish Association of Local Government on the possible introduction of competitive tendering for leisure.