Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Business In Sport and Leisure Limited


  Business In Sport and Leisure is delighted to submit evidence to the Culture Media and Sport Committee as the primary representative of private sector companies involved in the provision of community sport in the UK.

  We would welcome the opportunity to give oral evidence to the Select Committee.


    —  Private sector investment in health and fitness centres is growing with nearly 2,000 clubs with membership of over 500 people. Local authorities need to take the lead to encourage greater partnerships with these providers and identify sites in the new Local Development Frameworks. There is a need for specific guidance from ODPM to achieve this.

    —  Private sector companies operate 332 local authority sport and leisure centres in the UK, with investment up to £30 million a year, but the Government is providing an average subsidy of £290,000 per annum to a medium sized centre set up by a local authority as a Trust and in some cases preventing private sector companies from bidding for these contracts.

    —  BISL welcomes the introduction of "Active Places Power" from Sport England, but deplores the fact that this tool to help plan community sports facilities will not be available to the private sector.

    —  BISL believes that funding for National Governing Bodies of sport should come from the Exchequer and not from the vagaries of the National Lottery to ensure they have the resources to invest in the grass root development of their sport.

    —  The recently published DCMS Five Year Plan makes no specific mention of potential role for the private sector sport and leisure sector despite being well aware that growth and investment in sports facilities must come from private sector resources.


  1.  Business In Sport and Leisure (BISL) is an umbrella organisation which represents over 100 private sector companies in the sport and leisure industry. Its members include most of the major owners and operators of private health and fitness centres and those leisure contractors that operate local authority owned sport and recreation facilities in the UK and many consultants who specialise in this field. BISL also has some of the major National Governing Bodies of sport as members including the Amateur Swimming Association (ASA), the Football Association (FA), the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the Rugby Football Union (RFU). Members of BISL who are listed on the London Stock Exchange have a combined market capitalisation in excess of £40 billion.

  2.  The benefits to the community of sustained participation in sport and active recreation are now almost universally acknowledged both across government and amongst the wider community.

  3.  Sport for young people should be and very often is by its very nature a highly enjoyable pastime, but also one that encourages and helps many sections of the community towards a healthy and rewarding lifestyle. Within school it undoubtedly encourages many of those who would otherwise be less engaged to attend and in many cases can contribute to improved academic as well as physical attainment. In the wider community, taking part in sport and active recreation can contribute to community safety as well as economic and environmental improvement.


  4.  DCMS has clearly identified that Sport England will provide the strategic direction for community sport at a national and regional level, but Sport England would readily acknowledge that in its leaner form it cannot hope to ensure the delivery of wider opportunities for the community to take part in sport and recreation, without established partnerships across the public, private and voluntary sector.

  5.  The absence of any real mention of the existing and potential role for the private sector sport and leisure industry in the DCMS Five Year Plan is particularly disappointing.

  6.  The effective delivery of community sport and recreation at a local level is directly or indirectly dependent upon the commitment, quality and resources available in the local authority; a factor reflected in the recent welcome proposal from the Audit Commission to include a culture indicator in the form of a measure of sports participation in the Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) in 2005. BISL has already indicated its support for this proposal and has welcomed the contribution made by Sport England to this work through the valued secondment of a senior local government officer and the work directly driven by Sport England to provide the tools to improve the performance of local government through Towards an Excellent Service (TAES).

  7.  At a regional level the launch by Sport England of "Active Places Power" is a further valuable contribution to assist local government to improve in planning for the provision of more accessible, viable and appropriate opportunities for community sport and recreation to take place. BISL welcomes this initiative, but is very disappointed that access to such a useful planning tool is present denied to the commercial leisure sector.

  8.  It is understood that the stumbling block relates to charging the private sector to use the system as the Ordnance Survey require a percentage of the charge as the map data is provided free under the Pan Government Agreement. The proposed solution from OS is apparently too complicated and costly to implement and this may need Ministerial intervention to resolve the matter.


  9.  The need for both the inclusion of a sport's participation indicator in the CPA and the work of TAES is a reflection of the problems in community sport that result from the very different levels of commitment, expertise and resources allocated to sport and recreation by local authorities in England. The evidence, albeit anecdotal, because there still remains a serious dearth of empirical evidence; (a matter for which those charged with strategic guidance and monitoring need to respond more urgently), is that in those well performing authorities with commitment and political will, the expertise and the resources to take part in sport and recreation are providing for the local community. There is a clear understanding of the social and economic benefits of sport and recreation.

  10.  Elsewhere the gap is widening, as facilities close or are in such need of refurbishment that they no longer are efficient or attractive to the customer. This is often also in places where sport development initiatives are short lived when the external funding, often provided by the Lottery that was the catalyst is removed. These are often those local authorities where the leisure/sport and recreation portfolio is difficult to identify and define both in cabinet and within the officer structure.

  11.  The DCMS and Sport England have recognised the important role that local government will play in the delivery of community sport, and have also recognised the role of the voluntary sector in delivering to the community. The voluntary sector, whether in the form of the National Governing Bodies and their formal structure of sports clubs, or in the many voluntary organisations that include the delivery of sport amongst other services to their membership, remain for many people at the heart of their sporting experience. The opportunity to plan over a longer period (four years) for NGBs is a huge step in the right direction, but there still needs to be a more stable financial regime based on a funding stream from the Exchequer rather than the Lottery.

  12.  The level of change in community sports participation envisaged in "Game Plan" is enormous and however rigorous the strategic planning, is unlikely to be delivered by the public sector alone.

  13.  There has undoubtedly already been significant investment in school sport infrastructure and more continues to come on line through "Building Schools for the Future". A much greater co-ordination of leisure and education building programmes is required to ensure community access and that voluntary community sports clubs have access to this emerging public resource.


  14.  Private Sector Funding for Community Sport is invested through two distinct sectors. There are almost 2,000 private health clubs with membership in excess of 500 in the UK. Average attendance is between on and one and a half times a week. Nearly 45% of members pay less than £50 a month.

  15.  In some towns and cities there can be four or five private sector health and fitness clubs (with swimming pools) within a catchment and yet often there is no effort expended by the local authority to engage with operators of very similar facilities to those they own.

  16.  It is often claimed that private sector facilities are not affordable to those on low incomes, but there are examples of private facilities being built adjacent to schools, with school use or next to "pay and play" facilities in partnerships with local authorities that could be extended elsewhere. If the cost of buying a month's subscription to sky television is £50 this is directly comparable with the 45% of members of health and fitness clubs paying less than £45 a month. Since most local authority leisure centres now also offer membership schemes, the difference in cost between public and private facilities is becoming more and more blurred.

  17.  Very few local authorities provide sites for private sector health, fitness and tennis centres in their Local Development Frameworks. This prevents the private sector from maximising its investment as often their proposals are treated as "departures from the local plan" and subsequently called in by ODPM. It is essential local authorities are they are encouraged to identify sites through practical planning guidance. Why is it that facilities for health and fitness have to respond to a "needs test"? Surely all sports facilities are needed if they are well used.


  18.  The second sector covers companies who contribute to community leisure through the management of over 300 local authority owned leisure centres with a direct capital investment of over £30 million in 2002-03.

  19.  Independent research undertaken by Sheffield University, using Sport England's benchmarking service, shows that private sector operators perform better on key performance indicators for financial performance and equally well on key performance indicators for social inclusion, compared to in-house operators or trusts.

  20.  The contribution by the commercial sector is being delivered however, on a very uneven playing field that delivers a subsidy from national government to locally operated trusts through UBR, VAT and Corporation Tax that for a medium sized centre is estimated to be of the order of £290,000 per anum. The growth in the number of local authority established trusts for sport and leisure facilities which now total in excess of 150 trusts represents a significant cost to Central Government.

  21.  The financial imbalance is undoubtedly a constraint to the development of the commercial leisure management sector, but the playing field is further unbalanced where an authority, driven by the fiscal incentive to establishes a trust, decides that the contract will not be offered for external tender.

  22.  There are several implications for the development of community sport. A consolidation within the commercial operator sector and even a potential contraction with the potential reduction and loss of commercial capital investment and savings at a time when the scale of investment to sustain and regenerate the facility base is enormous.

  23.  Those authorities willing and able to deliver directly will continue to do so, those actively seeking partners for delivery and management in the private sector will continue to seek them and deliver ,but many authorities will do neither and consequently the gap between the delivery of community sport in different parts of the country will widen not shrink.


  24.  In conclusion BISL welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this Inquiry and would be pleased to provide further oral evidence if requested. BISL believes that the role now clearly identified by DCMS for Sport England as the strategic leader for the delivery of community sport in England is entirely appropriate, but would urge Government to recognise that by its own admission neither DCMS nor Sport England can deliver the community sport requirement of Game Plan without partnerships in the public private and voluntary sector.

  25.  DCMS and wider Government along with Sport England has acknowledged the essential roles of both the local authority and again recently the voluntary sector, but neither have adequately come to terms with the enormous contribution that the commercial sector already makes on an uneven playing field, nor the greater contribution it could make to a step change in community sport on a level playing field.

4 April 2005

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