Chapter 8: The challenge and impact of two major developments

8.1 Joint Provision and Dual Use

8.1.1      Clarity of definitions

Dual Use (DU) and Joint Provision (JP) have been significant factors in the extension of community access to sports facilities from the late 1960s to the 1990s and are deserving of special coverage. From the very outset of the conception and development of community indoor sports centres the role of schools has been significant, making a major contribution to accessible public sports facilities. Definitions are important in order to understand the provision and community use of sports facilities on school sites, especially sports halls. The first early principles were recorded in the Sports Council/CCPR report ‘Planning for Sport’ (1968). The definitions provided by the House of Lords Select Committee Report ‘Sport and Leisure’ in 1973 were also adopted in 1976 by ‘Towards a Wider Use’ – an ‘Inter Association (ACC; ADC; AMA; NALC) Working Party Report on Dual or Multiple Use of Facilities for Recreational Use by the Community’. Those definitions from 1976, which still largely underpin the scene today, are: –

“Dual Use refers to the shared use of facilities by members of the public for whom the facilities were not primarily intended. Although schools and colleges are most commonly mentioned in this connection, dual use covers facilities belonging to the armed forces, statutory undertakers, industries, and private clubs as well. There may be two or more categories of user; ‘multiple use’ can be the appropriate description.

Dual Provision or Joint Provision: is a more recent concept and involves the co-operation of two or more authorities in the joint planning and provision of facilities. Generally, it is an education authority and a local authority who combine in a dual provision scheme to provide facilities which will be used by a school and the public, and which will be better than either authority could afford individually.” [Joint Provision thereafter prevailed as the title].

The education sector, embracing schools and further and higher education, has played a leading role in community sports centre provision since the 1970s. This chapter explores the growth and development of joint provision and dual use of sports centres and halls on school sites from the earliest schemes, up to the changing picture at the start of the 21st Century. Whilst the terms ‘dual use’ and ‘joint provision’ have been common for hundreds of projects over several decades, much has changed since around 2000. In the 21st century, Joint Provision schemes, as defined, are largely disappearing, with the exception of some remaining Joint Provision Management Agreements. With their new, independent ‘Local Management of Schools (LMS)’ and ‘Academy’ status, schools have largely become more directly responsible for their sports facilities, in conjunction, or not, with a local authority. At the same time, the public use of school facilities (Dual Use), existing or newly provided by education authorities, has increased enormously.

8.1.2      The basis of sports centres for schools

PE facility progress to the 1960s

The basic philosophy of community use of schools had been rooted in the Education Act of 1944. We highlighted in Chapter 1 that the important role of education authorities (LEAs) in the provision of opportunity for community sport had been identified in the Wolfenden Report in 1960. As also highlighted in Chapter 2 (2.16), the provision and dual use of some early school and university sports halls took place prior to the birth of the indoor community sports centre.

The use of the Education sector’s outdoor pitches had been a community benefit going back decades, before indoor centres. For many years up to the mid-1960s, the use of school assembly halls for the community, usually under the aegis of adult education and the youth service through evenings classes and activities, was commonplace. Ministry of Defence (MOD) sports facilities, especially playing fields, had also been long used by clubs and groups and this use was governed by formal regulations. We even saw in Chapter 2, the use of a redundant

Keighley Joint Sports Hall 1970s

school building for Leeds Athletic Institute from 1963. Universities have also played their part – from the Goodwin Sports Centre opening at Sheffield University in 1960 to Liverpool, Hull, Keele and Lancaster Universities in the 1960s and 1970s. The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed not only the advent of new purpose-built facilities for recreation, but also the restructuring of local government administration in 1974. Alongside this was a better recognition that hundreds of education facilities, especially those developing early school sports halls throughout the country, were, in essence, embryonic community leisure and recreation centres (see Chapters 2 & 4 for reference to early school sports halls and initial dual use).

The role of school-based indoor sports facilities was first given special importance in 1964. In the wake of the Wolfenden Report, the Joint Circular ‘Provision of Facilities for Sport’ [DES 11/64; MHLG 49/64 and Scottish Education Department Circular No. 550 ‘Facilities for Recreation’] had emphasised the desirability of dual use (education and public) and joint provision of facilities by two or more partner authorities. It drew attention to the possibilities of obtaining better value for money by combining educational funds with other local authority or voluntary sources to provide sports facilities for use by both pupils and the general public.

In 1966, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government Circular 31/66 ‘Public Expenditure: Miscellaneous Schemes’ drew attention again to the savings which could be achieved by joint provision and the need for consultation with the new regional sports councils on new projects.  ‘The Chance to Share 1970′, Circular 2/70, gave more control to local authorities over their expenditure, including almost all sport and recreation schemes. Local authorities could then go ahead in providing facilities, provided they stayed within their overall block allocation of capital investment.

The early circulars, the House of Lords Report (1973), the 1975 White Paper, ‘Sport and Recreation’, and Towards a Wider Use (A Report of an Inter-Association Working Party on Joint Provision and Dual or Multiple Use of Facilities for Recreational Use by the Community, 1976), all created a critical mass of support for the concept. ‘Towards a Wider Use’ was a particularly important Report. This brief extract from the Report provides the original background –

“The joint planning concept began to develop in this country about ten years ago, when it was clear that the economic advantages in themselves could be substantial and make sense in terms of local authority budgets. The authorities active in this field recognised that large schools appearing on building programmes could contribute positively towards the provision of leisure opportunities, if school facilities were modified by the addition of financial resources other than those for school building, to allow the provision of recreation and social facilities not normally found in a school brief”.

Schools considering community use, it went on, “need to accept that the philosophy of the statutory education sector differs considerably from that of facility management in a competitive environment”.

View 6 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

8.1.3      The justifications, benefits and disadvantages

As extolled by the various circulars and reports, the wisdom of using school sites and shared finances between LEAs and the various district councils made eminent sense. The case for Dual Use and Joint Provision was argued on either or both of two principles:

  1. That before and in any investment of public funds it was incumbent on all parties to ensure the optimum use of resources (including land, money and existing facilities). This was a pragmatic justification that appealed across political differences, supported (pre-Lottery) by the almost continual reference to the constraints on public expenditure.
  2. That land and facilities in public ownership should be used to optimum public benefit. This had an extra ideological edge.

Both principles were used to challenge proprietorial, exclusive control of educational premises by education departments, individual schools and (often but perhaps unfairly) school caretakers.

The key advantages of the shared approach have often been summarised as: –

  • Maximum use of the facilities;
  • The central community locations of schools;
  • Lower costs for both schools and community.

The main disadvantages have been noted as: –

  • Greater wear and tear on facilities and equipment
  • No daytime community use or limited access
  • More complex administration for local authorities and school.

Apart from community recreation benefits, it was also expected that pupils would benefit and the ‘gap’ between school and adulthood that Wolfenden identified could be tackled. A five centres study by Prescott-Clarke and Grimshaw in 1977 showed that school leavers are encouraged to continue participation in activities by the wider range of programmes at schools with community leisure centres.  However, it was also surprising how few school leavers participated at the centres after leaving school, at some centres as little as 10%. ‘Half Our Future’ was a Report of the Central Advisory Council for Education (England) in 1963, on the education of pupils aged 13 to 16 of average and less than average ability. It carried an ironic quote –

“A boy who had just left school was asked by his former headmaster what he thought of the new buildings, he replied – ”It could be all glass and marble, sir, it’s still a bloody school’.

Through the 1970s and 1980s, the joint provision/dual use concept was a close second behind sports centres generally in the amount of attention generated in public sport. There were innumerable seminars, publications and research initiatives on joint provision and its benefits. Indeed, the nail was truly hammered home over that period. One ex-Sports Council officer has been moved to say, “I am staggered that by 1987 the DES felt the need for more research!”.

In considering Joint Provision in the period from the 1970s towards the 21st Century, we have drawn on key publications from the Sports Council National Collection, the Nottinghamshire and Cheshire County Council Archives, and other records and implementation experiences, to track the progress of joint provision and dual use over the years.

The Joint Provision justifications and the issues, lessons and problems are well highlighted by references from some examples from the key publications: –

  • The House of Lords Report – Sport and Leisure (1973), in the context of the time, highlighted the advantages of such schemes. It clearly summarised them as: –
    • i) economy; ii) satisfaction of public demand for recreation facilities; iii) creation of community spirit centred at a school; iv) improved facilities for school children; v) opportunities for school leavers to more easily carry on with sport; vi) a chance to advance play leadership.
    • It also stated that “The field of Dual Use produces the greatest degree of hypocrisy. There is a formal recognition, publicly and widely stated, of a need for Dual Use of many facilities for physical recreation, but in practice the self-protective element successfully inhibits the implementation of the publicly declared policy.”
  • Dual and Multiuse Provision for Leisure (1975); JT Haworth, University of Manchester, Seminar Proceedings: – “The siting access and scale of projects were also deemed to be important considerations. It was noted that not all schools are ideally sited…. Some believed that just tacking rooms onto a school was not a good investment…….the type of management of a centre is an important consideration in the formulation of the brief”.
  • ‘Integrated Facilities’ – Report of a Council of Europe Seminar by The Sports Council (1979): Paper – ‘Planning and Designing Integrated (joint provision) Facilities’: Main Assumptions –
    • Economic advantages can be substantial
    • More extensive, better quality facilities can be provided
    • Prevents expensive capital plant being under used
    • Can be a stronger nucleus of community development
    • Design stage is more difficult with conflicting requirements
    • Construction programme has less flexibility with two clients and possible cost rises
    • Possible maintenance implications from greater wear and tear.
  • Sharing Does Work Sports Council Study 21: Coopers & Lybrand (1981)  This was a comprehensive and significant study, commissioned in 1979, because despite a decade and a half of Ministerial exhortation and circulars there was still a minority of local authorities which either had not implemented a policy or showed only nominal acquiescence to it.  It was published in 1981. It examined the economic and social benefits of direct and joint sports provision. At the start of the study only one of the centres to be reviewed was conceived as a joint provision project. However, several others became joint provision during their planning stage. There remained a substantial minority of councils that had not established any appropriate joint provision or dual use policies or schemes. The findings overwhelmingly supported the ‘value for money’ and general community and economic benefits of jointly provided sports centres. The argument for dual use of existing premises is equally strong”.
  • JP Research + Strategy

    The Department of Education and Science (DES): Final Report on The Dual Use of School Sports Facilities (1987)  The study concluded that there was, “substantial support for the concept of dual use and that there is potential for further expansion”. Key points included:

    • There was a wide range of possible models
    • It could be introduced relatively cheaply
    • It often attracted non-education finance
    • There were positive educational and social benefits

    Amongst other publications were a variety of guides [e.g. Your School Your Club – NI–  Sport Northern Ireland 2014] on joint provision and dual use from and for a range of interested parties. (See the list of Joint Provision publication references).

    View 3 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

8.1.4      The context of the changing Local Government scene and Education sector

Schools had largely been controlled by local education authorities from the Balfour Education Act in 1902 until the Local Management of Schools (LMS) in 1988. An important backcloth to the role of schools, colleges and universities in sports provision in the last six decades has been the specific decisions for national education made by political parties, often seemingly on a switchback! This has been especially true in respect of Government Education Acts and Official Circulars in England – and largely mirrored in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is helpful to highlight the changing education scene from the 1970s to the present day as far as Dual Use and Joint Provision is concerned. These strategic Education changes have influenced the development and use of school sports facilities by the community, directly or indirectly, and have provided a context for sport on school sites. The 1964 to 2015 Education select listing records the most relevant Education documents of the period (listing is by kind permission of Derek Gillard

In brief summary, the key education changes with their main effects on schools and, potentially, dual use and joint provision, have been: –

  1. 1972: Raising of the school leaving age; Enlarged schools needed more building space. School PE programmes for 15/16-year-olds benefited from new opportunities from JP sports halls and other facilities.
  2. 1974: The Houghton Report (much increased teacher salaries); This significantly improved previous lower salaries and helped to retain PE teachers, some of whom were being attracted away from schools and into recreation management.
  3. 1960s-1970s: The gradual advent of comprehensive education; Larger school rolls and the resultant new school building programmes provided more opportunities for sports halls and JP under DES specification guidelines.
  4. 1988: Local management of schools (LMS) and foundation schools This changed attitudes and practices, particularly towards the extension of dual use, not least because extra income was possible for a newly independent school.
  5. 1992 Changes in further education and universities; The scaling up of establishments led eventually to improved sports facilities at further education colleges and universities and thereby increased public use.
  6. New initiatives, especially some PFI schemes (from 1992); Specialist Colleges (2000); and ‘Building Schools for the Future’ (2004) and Extended Schools (2005 on) also helped towards improved school sports facilities.
  7. City academies (2000). With academy schools, education authorities were able to divest themselves of JP management agreements and responsibilities.
  8. The amalgamation of academies into groupings and into multi-academy trusts (MATs); in the 21st Century this changed education and school management structures generally, and for sports facilities particularly, and also started to bring in some ‘agencies’ to manage some activities and facilities for schools and the community.

We have described the main education sector developments. Influential too have been the seemingly constant changes to the structures and organisation of local government (see Local Government Re-organisations: 1964-2020 and Shadsworth LC, a Joint Provision case study). This directly affected the local authorities likely to be party to joint provision schemes. A move towards releasing schools from strict LA control, and giving parents more choice, started to progress in the 1980s. Performance and partnerships became the emphasis in the 1990s, with schools largely released from local authority control under LMS. These more recent changes have had a profound effect on the opportunity, indeed the need, for facilities to be jointly provided.

Today, new definitions are emerging of ‘Dual Use’ and ‘Joint Use’. In ‘Dual Use,’ many schools now independently control and manage all sports use for the school and for the community use they permit; whereas ‘Joint Use’ sees direct liaison between a school now responsible for operating its sports facilities and a local council or councils (which may have been involved in creating the facilities – perhaps even a council previously party to funding in a Joint Management Agreement). Thus, there are now many joint use arrangements involving various parties rather than new joint provision schemes per se. There are also varying types of management and funding for community use of school facilities, with differences between the four home countries. This is all rooted in the various changes that have taken place. A varied pattern now exists for the community use of school sports facilities. This developing scene for school facilities in the 21st century is reflected later in the Chapter (see 8.1.5/8.1.9/8.10/8.11) and also in Chapter 10 (‘21st Century Centres’).

8.1.5      Growth and evolution  

Dual use and joint provision became a major contribution to accessible public sports facilities: –

  • from informal dual use of the first school sports halls pre 1964, built for school use but inevitably used by some adults (mainly by clubs and through education evening classes);
  • to the first recorded, managed dual use centre at Breeze Hill School, Oldham in 1966, and other ongoing dual use arrangements; and the Wyndham School project in Egremont, Cumberland;

View 3 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

  • to the first sports centres jointly provided from 1969 starting with Bingham in Nottinghamshire;
  • to the extensive schemes of Nottinghamshire and Cheshire County Councils in the 1970s;
  • to Joint Provision schemes that formed part of the surge in overall centre provision thereafter;
  • to facilities financed in conjunction with the National Lottery from 1995.

The first true jointly provided centres were developed from 1968 to 1972 (notably the Nottinghamshire and Cheshire county schemes, and some other early county/local council examples). Records show the first joint provision centres by 1971 were Bingham, Worksop, Carlton Forum, The Grove Centre and Rushcliffe (all in Nottinghamshire), and Bicester & Ploughley, Haverhill and two centres in Milton Keynes.


There have been a very small number of jointly provided small sport halls at primary schools (see Northiam – 8.1.12) or schemes involving other agencies (see 8.1.8 D). The vast majority on school sites have been joint partnerships between an education authority and a local council that takes the lead responsibility for community recreation provision.

In the present day, virtually all secondary schools have a sports hall and ancillary facilities, and the majority are accessed publicly, whether previously jointly provided or not. There are now numerous examples of what we might call ‘single responsibility’ arrangements for provision and/or management, within the much-changed structures across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

  • The numerical dimensions

In the early 1970s the total provision of indoor facilities for physical education and recreation in all schools (inclusive of joint provision centres at that time) accounted for almost half of all indoor sports spaces developed by public finance. Reflecting this, researcher and academic Tony Veal said that in 1971/2 total capital expenditure on sport and physical recreation in Britain was £48M, of which £21M was spent by educational institutions. This balance was to alter as local councils directly provided sports centres in an assortment of locations through the decade. It also indicated that many local authorities were turning to joint provision, despite some of the planning and operational difficulties involved.

At the end of the 1970s of the 366 public owned sports centres opened 113 were reported by the Sports Council as being joint provision centres. The Sports Council also recorded that the largest number of jointly provided centres could be found outside urban areas. This is consistent with the emphasis evident in less populated regions, especially in English regions such as the South West and Eastern regions, and those rural areas of Wales and Scotland. The Sports Council called for an ambitious further 815 sports halls by 1981. By 1984, with additional school sports halls, the additional number had reached 700. In 1995 an OPCS Survey of 1,000 schools for the Sports Council (‘Community Use of School Sports Facilities’) identified that 42% of secondary schools had sports halls and 30% had facilities specially designed for community use. In terms of all sports facilities in that year, 95% had let them at some stage in evenings and weekends (especially outdoor facilities). However, for those with sports halls, the halls accounted for 94% of lettings.

Accurate data on, and analysis of, the number of sports centres developed over a period of 60 years is inevitably limited. It is impossible to say with any certainty how many sports centres in total were jointly provided nationally. The only reliable data source we have been able to find relates to North West England for the period between 1972 and 1979, where some 52 joint provision centres were opened out of a total in the region for the period of 87 new centres (60%) [see North West list].

View 5 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

Looking at provision on school sites more generally, Sport England’s ‘Active Places’ shows that in June 2020 there were about 3,900 main sports halls on some 3,730 school/college/academy sites in England. It further shows that the public had access, in some form, to about 3,220 of these halls on 3,050 sites (82%). [See full details of this analysis]. Chapter 7 has also shown that in the period 1994 to 2019 the National Lottery supported the provision of 256 new indoor centres, of which 131 (51%) were on school/college/academy sites.

8.1.6      Ethos and Partnership Success

Providing adequately for joint school and community use of indoor sports facilities on school sites starts with the quality of 1) the ownership partnership and 2) the governance, facility design and management (see 8.1.7). The better these prove to be, the greater the success. Community use is a well-established way of opening up sports facilities on school sites for the wider community. The success or failure of joint provision and dual use schemes bears a direct relationship to the trust, confidence and regard that partners have for each other’s points of views. There have been many occasions in the planning of a jointly provided facility where it is all too easy for one or the other party to give up the scheme in the face of apparently insurmountable difficulties. Some forward-thinking examples, with integrated  sports and community centres and other services, were often held up by poor cooperation between authorities, departments, agencies, head teachers, managers, and support staff.

Holiday activities

‘Towards a Wider Use’ said the successful implementation of joint schemes depended on good will, patience, open-mindedness, and empathetic management. Thus, leading the way from a generally reactive caretaker style of management to a more pro-active recreation-led management approach. One of the difficulties of the dual use concept was that it was quite easy for education departments and schools to argue that dual use was already established policy and practice. Many schools did accommodate pre-booked group activity, but this is not quite the same principle as more general public access arrangements.

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8.1.7  Sound Governance, Design and Operational Management

  • Governance

As early as 1976 ‘Towards A Wider Use’ had stated “Many of the problems experienced and feared, in both joint provision schemes and dual use of existing facilities, can be overcome if conscious efforts are made to tackle specific problems through adequate inter-departmental and inter-authority communications involving consultation with appropriate community organisations, and if, above all, there is an underlying goodwill to make a particular project or policy succeed”.

Overall, difficulties in operating joint provision centres, whilst not uncommon, have been a small proportion of all operations. The principal difficulties that can arise in managing joint provision centres are usually either:

  1. Strategic problems, where difficulties arise between the two councils. The culture of County Councils and their education departments and partner council recreation departments can differ, and priorities may be dissimilar. Financial issues can arise, especially where legal agreements lack sufficient clarity and
  2. ‘local’ problems, where these arise between the management operator and the school itself. These often revolve around the non-use of school booking time or unsatisfactory control and management of public and school users overlapping on premises.

The most common modus operandi for the governance and management of centres jointly provided by two authorities has been for a management committee comprising elected members and officers of both councils, with both headmaster and manager representation. The Dual Use & Joint Provision Survey undertaken by P D Wright, and published in ARM News in 1977, gave some governance indicators. 75% of responding Joint Provision centres said that there was a management committee, with most favouring district council representation. The survey also highlighted the sort of management and operational challenges and issues that often arose, at least initially.

To avoid operational problems, Jimmy Munn, when initiating Joint Provision in Monmouthshire, emphasised the importance of the Management Committee and a clear management agreement between the partner authorities. Such agreements should include: – allocations of use; rules and charges; maintenance and equipment; staffing; accounting; insurance, length of agreement, and dispute resolution.

Such arrangements were an important part of the Nottinghamshire ‘pathfinder’ schemes with Joint Management Committees established with responsibility for community use throughout the year, during and beyond the school day. The Head Teacher’s role in each case was principally concerned with the school programme, while being an ex-officio member of the Joint Committee. The headteachers worked closely with the Centre Manager responsible to the Joint Committee, which had the important function of promoting the widest possible range of valid opportunity for all age groups.

  • Facility Design

From the mid-1970s, increasing emphasis began to be directed towards the design and management of jointly provided centres. The number of jointly funded schemes began to grow, and an increasing range of recreational opportunities began to be possible for a wider age-range and specialist interests.

Jointly provided sports centres were often understated compared with the glamour of some of the larger and more spectacular local authority centres of the post 1974-5 period. A typical joint provision centre was built on a secondary school site and usually had a sports hall of 4, 5 or 6 badminton courts, sometimes a small swimming pool, and some ancillary facilities such as squash courts, dance studio, and changing, social and licensed/refreshment areas. An outdoor, floodlit dri-pla area was also common for both school and community use.

View 8 pictures below, left to right – typical JP centre facilities.

Design was initially a challenge to balance the need for all facilities to be suitable for community use, over and above the specification for schools, and to balance that with available funding. The increased size of pupil rolls for

Designing Schools in 21st Century

comprehensive schools helped as this meant that larger indoor spaces, including sports spaces, could be funded by education under DES rules. Chapter 4 (4.1.4) referred to early designs for school and university sports halls. In the late 1970s design lessons were beginning to be learnt. The Cheshire Joint Use Centre Managers Group met in March 1974 and produced a comprehensive set of recommended design improvements across all aspects of the facilities. There were clearly many lessons to be learnt.

It is also important to note that many of the design aspects identified were consistent with the experience of centres provided directly by district councils during the 1970s. Much progress has been made over the years and there is now a wealth of design and operational guidance available to any new  schemes, especially through the comprehensive information now available from Sport England and the other Sports Councils of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. For a long period, Joint Provision centres looked like extended school blocks at best, whereas now the designs are much more ‘swish’ looking, in keeping with general and school design trends.

  • Operational Management – dual use or duel use?

Once the necessary design requirements for community use over and above school use are met, there are two fundamental sets of practicalities that also underpin the successful operation of joint provision. Firstly, the management arrangements for community use, which provide the guidelines for day to day running (including staffing, maintenance, programming, booking, promotion and the like). In the early days, the mindset of headteachers, managers and even caretakers were especially relevant. Secondly, the cost sharing arrangements and viability as seen by the joint partners. Most problems that do arise revolve around these kinds of issue.

Whilst there are some core similarities, a broad range of operational models have been used for community use of sports facilities on school sites (see Operational Models for Schools 2018 – Sport England). These range from schools managing them directly through their PE staff with other staff support, to an arrangement with an outside agency. However, the most common operational management arrangement in traditional joint provision schemes has been for the more local ‘district’ council, which has existing recreation management responsibilities and experience of managing community use, to take responsibility for the operation. However, this model has been disappearing with the arrival of academies and multi-academy trusts in the 21st century.

The operation of Joint Provision sports centres presented a different dimension to school management. PE teachers and managers (usually employed by different councils) often defended their own turf. Centres operated well overall, but not always without difficulties. Difficulties included – aligning school use and public management operations (especially with regard to any changing room overlaps); and, more latterly, site and building security to prevent unwanted visitors and intruders, despite the principle of public openness being an ideal. A common difficulty for centres, especially those on school sites where there is daytime use, has been car parking. Whilst familiarity with parking problems over the years has aided planning at new centres, this remains a problem at joint provision centres which are open to the public during school time, especially nowadays with so many senior pupils driving to school. Continuity of cleaning arrangements and standards has also sometimes been a problem between school and public use standards. Standards of management are important. There have been some examples of PE departments taking all responsibility for new sports facilities and creating most unsatisfactory situations, which then led to revised management arrangements.

A former Head of Physical Education in secondary schools, with experience of both operating in dual use and joint provision scenarios, has recently commented on operational arrangements. For dual use, whether an arrangement is with partner authorities or simply lettings by the school, he said that programming matters are very straightforward where public access is confined to evenings and weekends, or clearly agreed for limited, specific school-time hours. In joint provision, he said, where partners seek to balance a more complex mix of school and public use, such integration needs careful timetable planning and ongoing liaison both for sports halls and swimming pools. Practical considerations, he explained, include equipment movement and storage, changing and toilet facilities, general movement around the building and cleaning. Problems have been experienced in each of these matters over the years, even in relation to child protection in isolated cases.

King Alfred’s Prama

One of the supporting planks for sound management in the 1980s and early 1990s was the Sports Council Management Award, which focused on joint provision centres in 1981 (joint Winners King Alfred SC, Highbridge and Rushcliffe LC) and also in 1992 and 1993. Since 1990 and the implementation of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT – see 8.2), tension between schools and the increasing number of commercially

King Alfred’s squash

minded operators and trusts, brought in by councils responsible for the management operation, became an issue in many centres. More recently there has been a growth in the number of groupings of academy schools (multi-academy trusts – MATs), which organise a single contract for the management of school sports facilities at a range of different schools. This can leave an individual headteacher at a distance from operational directors.

  • The capital and revenue costs

Financial arrangements for Joint Provision have usually been based on the two parties contributing towards capital costs, given extra capital is required to serve community use over and above school requirements, and involving both in providing funding in respect of revenue costs. Initially, since revenue costings were particularly difficult to forecast, a 50/50 split was often agreed, although, with experience, these were often revised. In Nottinghamshire, for example, the County Council soon realised that 50/50 was not appropriate in reality and negotiated a reduction in the contribution to 40%. Through the decades, as centres aged and many school rolls increased, the cost of operating, and particularly issues of repair, maintenance and re-investment, became more problematic. Sometimes there had been insufficient clarity on these issues in the first place in the joint use agreement, when revisited some years later.

8.1.8  Village colleges to trust-managed academies – the development of joint provision & community use

  • Cumberland breaks the ice after the Cambridgeshire Village Colleges

The 1960s crop of new schools drew on two precedents. The first precedent was the Cambridgeshire ‘village college’ concept, founded in the early 1930s, which was an early type of role model for dual use and eventually joint provision. They were the brainchild of Henry Morris, the then Chief Education Officer for Cambridgeshire, who had a vision of a school that would serve the whole community, stem migration from the countryside to the towns, and provide a decent education to pupils who had previously only been served by

Sawston Village College Sports Hall

the upper years of Elementary schools. His original plan was that the site of the college would also be home to the village’s other public services. The first, Sawston Village College, opened in 1930. The concept was for combined school, adult education and social facilities, and was built with the positive aim of integrating school and local community. Interestingly the village concept can still be found fully working in Cambridgeshire today, witness Swavesey College (with a new hall doubling sports hall provision in 2015), and Impington and Camborne Colleges, amongst others. The very early schemes were forerunners for some ‘pathfinder’ joint schemes involving school sites, which were developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They seemed novel at the time but became viewed as commonplace.

The second precedent was the youth wings added to many schools from the early 1960s in the wake of the  Albemarle Report as in Chapter 1 (1960). These had modest indoor recreation provision (table tennis etc.) but no large halls. So, there was nothing new in the mid-sixties about the use of schools for adult education and youth purposes.  This type of use was fairly common. We might consider that the Wyndham School in Egremont in 1965, in Cumberland, one of the lowest populated counties at the time, had what might be regarded as the first recorded joint facilities ‘venture’, albeit through late building modifications and operationally managed by the school. During 1965, under the leadership of the County Director of Education, Gordon Bessey, the new Wyndham comprehensive school (1962-1964) was modified substantially in design theme to community specification by an integration of District Council capital into the County Council budget. What was a development comprising facilities to DES specification became, due to the participation of the District Council, a community leisure centre containing a 25-metre swimming pool, with diving facilities; a sports hall, with climbing walls; and a small concert hall with a stage. The integration of a public library (the converted former village school) illustrated the community approach in the design of the new school complex. This ‘modification’ scheme was ahead of the earliest joint provision schemes and proved to be a benchmark for the ground-breaking Nottinghamshire Joint Provision schemes.

  • Joint provision takes off

 The principles of providing for the local community and including recreation facilities, as demonstrated in Cumberland and Cambridgeshire, were then adopted more widely from the late 1960s by many other counties and countries across the UK, initially most notably by: –

Sports Barn Leicester Ibstock Penistone School

A.  Nottinghamshire, which took a lead nationally with initially 5 notable schemes and then numerous others.

B.  Cheshire, where twenty-two joint provision centres were established after the opening of Bramhall Sports Centre in 1972

C.  Leicestershire, with community colleges, early sports barns then indoor sports halls (see Ch. 4 – 4.1.1) and by

D.  Cornwall

E.  Buckinghamshire

F.  Other multi-use community schemes

These early ‘pathfinder’ initiatives on school sites helped set a pattern for the next 25 years.

(i)  Joint Provision in Nottinghamshire – the most significant pathfinder in jointly provided sports centres

Nottinghamshire County Council was the first county to take up the mantle of joint provision in an extensive way. Following Circular 10/65 Nottinghamshire CC worked with the small second-tier authorities to build sports facilities that could be used by the adjoining new schools in the daytime and by the whole community in the evenings and at the weekends. Encouraged by government and Sports Council support, several schemes were rooted in early schools planning going back to 1964-66. Leading this work were well known professionals working in Nottinghamshire in the 1960s, including W.G. Lawson, Director of Education, John Spencer, a County Education Officer, David Barnes, Senior County PE Advisor, Jimmy Munn, PE Advisor, and Deputy Chief Architect, Henry Swain.

The Physical Education facilities of four comprehensive schools in Bingham, Worksop, Balderton and Carlton were modified in partnership with District Councils to create community leisure centres, integrating the upgraded physical education facilities of the four schools with additional community recreation spaces, social and refreshment areas, and squash courts, together with viewing and reception areas.

The process first started with the planning, design and opening of Bingham Sports Centre in 1969 at the town’s Toot Hill School. This was a scheme that emanated from discussions between the County Council and surprisingly Bingham RDC, a small rural council. The centre had swimming pools, a sports hall, 2 gymnasia, squash courts and licensed bar and outdoor facilities. Meanwhile discussions were ongoing with Worksop Borough Council for a sports centre for their town of 35,000, a mile from the town centre. Worksop Sports Centre was a similar scheme to Bingham, without a bar and squash courts but with more outside pitches. It opened in 1969. One difference was that in Worksop there was a high rate of shift work and daytime public use was agreed. Subsequently this was extended to Bingham and other centres.

Carlton Forum was developed at Carlton Cavendish School, jointly by the County Council and Carlton District Council and opened in 1970. It was the third centre and the first to be integrated with the school complex. The Forum had two swimming pools, a sports hall, refreshment area and playing fields. The Grove Sports Centre opened in Newark on the Grove School site in Balderton 1971. The Centre set a precedent with the inclusion of a licensed bar. Of those first four centres, three of them had late inclusions of squash courts – Bingham, The Grove and Carlton Forum. The Carlton change was on the day of signing the contract, which explained their strange place in the design! Worksop could not be persuaded and bitterly regretted it when squash took off.

View 5 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

Rushcliffe Borough Council, in the south of the county, added to the County’s success by opening Rushcliffe Leisure Centre in West Bridgford in 1976, and followed it with Keyworth Pool and East Leake Leisure Centre. Rushcliffe Leisure Centre was unique. Whilst including the usual sports facilities, it also incorporated the first joint provision leisure pool in the country, a youth centre, a teacher centre, school classrooms and offices, as well as adopting the previously existing school concert hall for community use. Other Nottinghamshire Joint Provision centres opened in the 1970s included one at Chilwell Comprehensive. The main school was a smaller version of Bingham, as was the sports hall, but no pool was provided.

View 5 pictures below, left to right, click to enlarge for captions.

The Sutton Sports Centre was delivered by the County, jointly with Ashfield Council, in 1977 at Sutton Centre School which had opened in 1973. Sutton-in-Ashfield (population 40,000), was a mining town in decline. The school was in the town centre, adjacent to the shopping precinct, and shared its building with a sports hall, bowls centre, a theatre and unusually an ice rink (see Chapter 6 – Ice Age).

By the mid-1980s, eighteen joint provision centres across the county had opened in Nottinghamshire, with the county collaborating with each of its seven district and borough councils. The varying socio-economic structures of the communities served by these Nottinghamshire centres, and the dramatic community response to the width of social, cultural, recreation and further education opportunity created throughout the year, influenced not only the school building programmes, but social planning concepts in many parts of Britain. Fully integrated education and recreation, therefore, opened vast new areas for the development of community recreation and community education.

Nottinghamshire – a recreation management birthplace for pioneering managers

Nottinghamshire was also the ‘birthplace’ for many sports and recreation managers and directors. The first manager of the first centre, Bingham in 1969, was Dave Thomas (first Vice-Chairman of ARM and later Director of the National Sports Centre for Wales). Carlton Forum and Worksop were advertised together, so next was [Major] Chris Field as Manager of Carlton Forum (later Director of Leisure for Greenwich Borough). Worksop’s managership went to Alan Slynn (later Manager of Worthing Sports Centre). Then Bryan ‘Griff’ Jones became The Grove Centre’s first manager. Ken Harlow (later Chairman of ARM) was appointed to manage the Sutton Centre. Other appointments included ‘Tiny’ Whitworth (ex-Marines Officer) who followed Chris Field as Manager of Carlton Forum. ‘Tiny’ later became Rushcliffe BC’s Chief Recreation Officer. John Binks was Deputy Manager of the Grove Centre (later Manager of Bury St. Edmunds LC) and Roy Claydon was Assistant Manager at the Grove (then later at Bletchley LC and The Oasis, Swindon). These appointment alongside the foundation of ARM in 1970, were amongst significant milestones in recreation management at that time.

  • A new age – the passage of time – updating and replacement

Today Nottinghamshire has numerous centres owned by the County Council or a District Council and operated in many different ways. The Joint Provision centres of the late 1960s and 1970s have been refurbished or renewed on the same site, or replaced in a different location, and are not now necessarily operating under the previous regimes (the changes – see Ch.10).

(See a full review of Nottinghamshire Joint Provision).

(ii)   Cheshire developed Joint Provision Centres at speed

[From a comprehensive Cheshire research paper by Mike Fitzjohn]

  • Origins in Cheshire

29 new indoor sports centres were provided in Cheshire between 1972 and 1979, an impressive achievement. But what is all the more remarkable is that 22 of these were jointly provided by the County Council, as Local Education Authority, and second tier Urban, Rural, Borough and District Councils.

It was, of course, a period of rapid change generally as reflected elsewhere in this and other chapters. However, what was it that made Cheshire, along with Nottinghamshire, just ‘go out and do it’ while other Authorities were hesitant well into the 1980s and possibly until the Lottery provided new opportunities in 1994? There are probably three reasons: Cheshire was a very wealthy County; it had a very progressive Planning Department; and, the contributions of committed and passionate individual officers, particularly Harry Haworth, who carried elected members with them.

  • Providing the Centres

The general principle in Cheshire in respect of capital apportionment was perhaps that which other partners generally followed elsewhere. The capital balance for Sandbach Leisure Centre, for example, was 30% from the County Council and 70% from the Borough Council. However, some second tier Authorities were keen to join the programme and provide most of the funding even when there was no urgent educational requirement.

  • The Centres

The first of the 22 joint provision centres in Cheshire was Bramhall in 1972. It was to be followed by Christleton; Cheadle Hulme (Woods Lane); Neston; Norton; Poynton; Knutsford; Malpas; Hazel Grove; Broomfields, Warrington; Rudheath, Northwich; Alsager; Sandbach; Frodsham; Shavington; Great Sankey; Coppenhall, Crewe; Holmes Chapel; Middlewich; Great Boughton; Victoria, Crewe ; and Brookvale. Further details of the locations of each and the providing Authorities are in the research paper. Three were transferred to Stockport MBC in 1974, and two have been closed, but 17 remain in operation. All the Cheshire schemes had a sports hall, mostly 33.6m x 24.4m. Ten had 25m swimming pools. Eleven had squash courts, normally 2 courts, but sometimes more. A few had practice halls, gymnasia, drama/music workshops, and outdoor facilities. Most included social facilities such as cafes/vending areas/coffee bars and licensed bars. Details of the facilities at each centre are shown as in the research paper.

  • The Agreement Between the Partners and Managing the Centres

The Local Authorities involved used a template agreement, with minor variations according to circumstances, for the provision and management of the centres. It included the provision of a Joint Management Committee comprising 4 members appointed by the School Governors and 4 by the Borough Council. It further provided for the appointment of a Manager on the recommendation of the Joint Management Committee to the Borough Council. Unsurprisingly, the centres faced all the management issues common to any Leisure Centre, but additional issues specific to joint provision included matters to do with the licensing of bar areas; changing provision where a girls school became co-educational; additional cleaning; and consistency of practices between the Joint Provision centres and direct provision centres (see research paper).

Nottinghamshire and Cheshire were clearly ‘market leaders’ in Joint Provision.

(iii)  Leicestershire schools go ‘community’

Countesthorpe College 1970s

Leicestershire County Council grew a UK reputation in community education. Community education had a common heritage with adult education, which provided in schools and village halls the only publicly accessible physical activity sessions through the evening classes, very common over the decades up to the 1980s. Community Colleges were developed in Leicestershire from 1970. Countesthorpe College (1970) was the first and described as ‘the boldest experiment in state schools’. Its design was striking, and its unconventional shape was ground-breaking, seeking to encompass its functions as a school, community college and youth centre. It was described by some, however, as ‘prison-like’ in design, and was probably not repeated! (pic). Youth centres were a characteristic of these colleges and later, as sports halls arrived, Leicestershire was to experiment with sports barns (see Ch 4 4.1.4). This developed to future full school sports hall schemes and joint provision in the county.

(iv)  Cornwall focuses on dual use

Cornwall provides an interesting county contrast to Nottinghamshire and Cheshire and most other counties of the UK. Dual use, rather joint provision, has largely been the order of the day in the County. Cornwall’s activity was a product of its geography and demographic profile. Most of the school gymnasia and playing fields were hired out to clubs and organisations over the years. Joint provision of community leisure facilities was not undertaken by Cornwall County Council and the 30 small Urban, Rural and Town Councils in the Duchy prior to Local Government Re-organisation in 1974. This was mainly due to the limited financial resources available to each Council. Local Government Re-Organisation created 6 larger District Councils to cover the County and they started to make some positive moves forward, particularly with directly provided centres. Any initiative for joint provision came from the new District Councils.

Development of joint provision facilities was limited, but some progress was made in the 1980’s and 90’s with the following developments: –

Year Development Partners
1985 Helston Sports Centre Kerrier/Cornwall CC
1986 Budehaven Leisure Centre N Cornwall/Cornwall CC
1988 Wadebridge Leisure Centre N Cornwall/Cornwall CC
1990 Lux Park LC – Liskeard Caradon/ Cornwall DC
1992 Camelford Leisure Centre N Cornwall/Cornwall CC
1996 Truro Leisure Centre Carrick/ Cornwall CC

Joint provision in Cornwall was always initiated by the District Councils who provided the capital funding for the building of the new facilities, while the County Council made suitable land available on each school site. Cornwall was designated as a Unitary Authority in 2009 and this saw the demise of the six district councils (see Joint Provision and Dual Use in Cornwall by Roger Luke).

(v) Buckingham

Buckinghamshire’s activity was within a changing organisational and school sports centre scene.


G. Other multi-use schemes

George Torkildsen in ‘Recreation Management, published in 1983, also identified four different ‘multi-use community schemes’ that were based on joint planning and all involved different types of partners: –

  • Manchester’s Abraham Moss Centre. The Leisure Centre was part of a community school run in conjunction with a comprehensive school, College of Further Education and the Youth and Community Service. The site included a library, recreation centre and social and community centres and opened from 1974. A new library opened at the centre in 2014.
  • The Communicare Centre in Killingworth New Town  (1974) was a unique scheme. In the early stages of planning the town, Gazzard, the town designer, prevailed upon local leaders from the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Catholic Churches to form an interdenominational Christian Council. Rather than having several small church buildings on individual plots of land, he argued, the Christian church would be better represented as a single ecumenical body. The Killingworth Development Group partnered with the Killingworth Christian Council to replace all the typical new town social-development services in conjunction with a voluntary organization rooted in the Christian laity. The facilities included a new leisure centre, Killingworth Sports Centre, first managed by ARM member Neil Proctor, opened in 1974. A new replacement centre opened in 2013.
  • The Cresset Peterborough

    The Cresset in Peterborough The Cresset (originally the flame from which light and fire were rekindled) attempted to rekindle community endeavour through partnership. Those originally joined in partnership included the development corporation, the county council, the district council, the National Association of Youth Clubs, YMCAs, boys’ clubs, the Spastics Society, Handicapped Housing Association and the Church. The facilities which revolved around an indoor ‘marketplace’ include halls, squash courts, play areas, toy library for physically and mentally handicapped children and meeting places. In addition, there are offices, housing, community services, a day centre for old people, an ecumenical centre, an arts and crafts centre and motor car and cycle repair yard. The Cresset was officially opened on 22 March 1978 by HM Queen Elizabeth II, and still operates. It turned 40 in 2018!

  • Warrington Spectrum

    The Spectrum Centre in Warrington constructed in 1981, attempted the same kind of partnership between statutory, voluntary and commercial bodies, including the Development Corporation, but the commercial elements loomed much larger. Warrington Development Corporation brought the first IKEA store to the UK. The Spectrum (see Ch 6) eventually closed and the building was re-used.

However, it would be fair to conclude, George said, that none of these partnerships worked entirely in the way they had hoped at the outset.

The Spectrum Centre (below):

8.1.9      Dual Use & Joint provision and the National Lottery

Budmouth SC National Lottery 2003

The National Lottery licence was granted in 1994, and with the advent of the Lottery Sports Fund in 1995, the School Community Sports Initiative [SCSI] (part of the National Junior Sports Programme launched in 1996) meant school sports facilities were especially eligible for grant. An increasing number of schools and other educational establishments recognized the opportunity then open to them. Funding was available for 80% of eligible costs for schools to develop or extend facilities that would have extensive community use. Research into National Lottery statistics (Chapter 7) has highlighted that consequently numerous education-based sports halls and centres have been built or assisted by the Sports Lottery Fund.

The short select list of English funded school projects below reflects the regional spread of the Lottery Fund’s impact: –

East Midlands: Newark and Sherwood – Magnus; Broxtowe – Eastwood; North West Leicestershire – Ivanhoe College; Northampton – Weston Favell Upper

East of England: Broxbourne – John Warner; Cambridge – Hills Road VIth Form; Chesterton Community College; Dacorum – Longdean; John F Kennedy; Stevenage – Barnwell; Marriotts; Watford – Westfield.

London: Barking & Dagenham – Barking Abbey; Hackney – Hackney Community College; Lewisham – Malory; St. Dunstan’s; Tower Hamlets – Bethnal Green High.

North East: County Durham – Wolsingham; Middlesbrough – Ormesby; Newcastle upon Tyne – Hadrian; Northumberland – Prudhoe High.

North West: Allerdale – Keswick; Cheshire East – Heathfield; Lancaster – Lancaster & Morecambe College; Liverpool – Cardinal Heenan; Oldham – Failsworth College.

South East: Arun – Bognor Community College (Bognor Arena); Basingstoke and Deane – Clere; Eastleigh; Hamble; Guildford – Howard of Effingham; Hastings – Helenswood; Mole Valley – Ashcombe; Runnymede – Fullbrook; Shepway – Southlands; Southampton – Redbridge; Wealden – Uplands.

South West: Bournemouth – Bournemouth (Sir David English); Bristol – Withywood; Cornwall – Fowey; Stroud – Archway; Taunton Deane – Castle; West Dorset – Budmouth.

Molesey School Sports Hall

 West Midlands: Birmingham – Moseley; Newcastle-under-Lyme – Blackfriars; North Shropshire – Sir John Talbot’s (Whitchurch); Warwick – Kenilworth (Meadow).Yorkshire & Humberside: Kirklees – Almondbury; Sheffield – Handsworth Grange; Rotherham – Thomas Rotherham College (TR Sports).


8.1.10    1968 to 1999 – UK examples of joint provision and community use of school sports halls and centres

From the early pathfinder Joint Provision schemes, projects started to flourish across the UK. From 1968 to the 1990s the nature, timing, number and disposition of sports halls and sports centres provided on school sites across the four UK countries varied considerably. Research suggests that the main determining factors within each country have been geographical and cultural, alongside the pertaining and changing local government structures at various stages of the period. Some schemes were unusual and followed a tangled web! [e.g. see Haslemere – A case study].

  • Joint Provision Centres blossomed in England

In the wake of the Nottinghamshire and Cheshire schemes a large number of Joint Provision centres were developed in England, provided by education and district authorities. Information on some other English school-based centres is provided in the UK examples.

  • Gwent led Welsh provision

Wales was ‘early to the party’ in the 1970s with DU/JP centres in the ‘districts’ of Torfaen, Islwyn, Monmouth, Dyfed and Blaenau Gwent. The County of Gwent was a partner to the fore in Wales. Its story was also a progression from the 1950s when a youth/adult annexe was incorporated into the new secondary school buildings in Caldicot. Its success led to a policy to provide such facilities at all new secondary schools. The next step, in cooperation with local councils, brought joint provision. This giant stride forward was to lead to 18 jointly provided leisure centres on school sites throughout most of Gwent by 1980.

Prestatyn High School Sports Hall 1970

Other early centres and halls in Wales included: Prestatyn High School, an early school hall (1970); Buckley SC (1972); Ystrad Mynach SC (1974); Connahs Quay SC (1974); Mold SC (1974); Heolddu SC (1976); and the John Bright High School, Llandudno (a PFI schools project).

  • Regional Authorities often in the lead in Scotland

Scotland was behind the English timetable with directly provided centres and the same was true of provision on school sites. Reflecting the Scottish local government scenario, schemes on school sites were provided directly, mainly by regional councils, especially those that had an emphasis on ‘community education’ centres such as the Grampian, Highland, Lothian, and Tayside Regions. These were in fact ‘single provider’ dual use schemes. There were, however, several Scottish joint schemes of note developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. These included: – Wester Hailes (1978); Strathaven SC (1983); Arbroath SC (1985); Edinburgh Academy; and Biggar SC.

  • Northern Ireland District Councils in the lead for direct provision

In Northern Ireland the local government structures, geography and population size meant that centre provision was predominantly made directly by borough and district councils. Thus, there were very few Joint Provision centres developed. The small number of Northern Ireland Joint Provision centres included: Pilots Row Centre (1979); Bawnacre Centre (1984); and Ballysally Youth & Community Centre.

  • Lancaster led the UK universities

Lancaster University Sports Centre

Whilst inevitably school-based facilities provided nearly all dual use schemes, universities have also played their part, as mentioned in Chapter 6 and 8.1.2. There is no doubt that in the 1970s and early 1980s Lancaster University was ‘the market leader’ in community use of facilities amongst universities. As recorded in Chapter 2, under the leadership of its Director of Physical Education, Joe Medhurst, it developed facilities and significant community use and used the income to re-invest in facilities. [In the 21st Century there has been a boom in university sports centres – see Chapter 10].

8.1.11 The Impact and Legacy of Dual Use and Joint Provision

Although numerous centres were jointly provided by the late 1980s and early 1990s, school building fund constraints prevented many county councils pursuing the concept of joint provision as vigorously as they might have wished. Other influences also came to bear. Nonetheless by 1997, when the English Sports Council published ‘Open All Hours – Managing Community Sports Facilities on School Sites’, the Joint Provision concept was in a mature state. ‘Open All Hours’ was a guide mainly targeted at schools and by this time much was known about Joint Provision and Dual Use. The National Lottery provided a great boost to projects. The advent of Local Management of Schools, for example, started a train of events in schools (as we have seen in 8.1.1 & 8.1.3), which over a period were to have a positive effect on the dual use of school sports facilities. With control localised, individual schools started to open up their sports halls, if only for extra income. However, the legacy of the joint provision leisure centre was that, together with their single provision counterparts in district councils, they demonstrated how local authorities could enhance the lives of residents, and that the provision of good quality leisure facilities was as important as any other municipal service.

It has been a long and twisting journey from those early school sports halls, to the pioneering joint provision centres from 1968 and the early 1970s, and on to the wave of joint provision centres up to the 1990s.  A huge number of joint schemes have been achieved and UK joint provision has been widely admired abroad. The traditional type of jointly planned and provided scheme, as described, predominated from the 1970s to the 1990s. However, despite the acceptance of the principles and the developments achieved, little more than one in three LEAs had formally adopted joint provision projects by the 1990s. As set out, since the 1990s there has been a huge amount of change – with more local government and schools reorganisation, and thus how school indoor sports facilities are provided and managed.

8.1.12    School provision continues into the 21st Century as Joint Provision disappears

The late 20th Century saw the provision and management of joint provision centres changing. Firstly, this was with Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT), and then with the arrival of operational management by small and large trusts (see 8.2 & 10.2). This represented another major change to the operation of school ‘sports centres’.  From around 2000 schools became more independent, and a significant number started to operate their sports halls directly for the community, some through trusts or companies they have established. Generally, schools are much more outgoing in their community relations than they were back in the 1970s. The distinction between dual use and joint provision has now become less significant because of the changed nature of providing and managing indoor sports facilities on school sites in the 21st Century. In the second decade of the century we have developed more of a ‘mixed economy’ of school-located sports halls and centres as almost every secondary school now has a sports hall, no matter how provided or used. See Weydon School, Farnham 2020 (Chapter 10 also includes a 21st century update).

The complexity of changes to local government, education, and schools specifically, as outlined, means that, going forward, new joint provision schemes, as we understand them, are unlikely and previous joint management agreements will legally fall away (see Arun Leisure Centre 1978 – to date [2020] ‘A Survivor’. Much of the activity in the 21st Century revolves around schools themselves, especially those that are renewed, or replaced elsewhere, or become academies, and new provision is made.

This all puts an emphasis, strategically, on district authorities readdressing the impact of these changes on strategic provision in their areas. Some of the differences identified between arrangements in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland remain. Nonetheless, as all the changes in education have been taking place, the government has continued to encourage the opening up of school sports facilities all-year round, just as they had from the 1960s onwards (see Chapter 10). Given the persistent and now critical concerns about childhood activity and childhood obesity, perhaps the most pertinent question now is whether local, scaled-down forms of facilities for community use should also have been, and should now be, concentrated on primary schools, for pupil and community benefit (see Northiam Primary School).

Northiam Pretious

8.2 The arrival and impact of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT)

8.2.1      The arrival and impact of Compulsory Competitive Tendering on sports centres

The providers and managers of the first wave of sports and leisure centres were, from the outset, innovative and flexible in the ways in which they structured the management and operation of those centres. Earlier chapters have set out the context of the development from the first trust centres in the 1960s and 1970s and the huge role of local councils in providing and managing centres. The focus in this section of the Chapter is to summarise the introduction and impact of Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) for sports centres and, alongside, record the developing interest of the commercial sector in contracting the management of centres. It is largely based on the experiences and reflections of professionals at the time. It highlights how CCT led onto other Government initiatives and developments that also came to bear on centre operations, especially ‘Best Value’, options appraisals, comprehensive performance assessment and later, significantly, charitable trust management through Not for Profit Distribution Organisations (NPDO).

These changes have shaped the sports and leisure centre scene from the early 1990s and into the 21st century. A great deal has been published about CCT generally and technically, and the other Government initiatives that followed, including ‘Best Value’. Indeed, CCT for sports centres produced more publications and advice than for any other aspect of sports centre management [Two publications by Philip Sayer provide both a valuable overview and the detailed issues on CCT: ‘A Guide to Competitive Tendering’ 1991; and ‘Competitive Tendering: Management and Reality’ 1997 – both published by E F Spon]. The emphasis here is to record the main developments and how the introduction of CCT by a Conservative government, and subsequently Labour Government initiatives, transformed the management and operation of centres and impacted on the leisure management profession.

8.2.2      1979 General Election – significant political changes  

The interface between sport and national and local government has manifested itself significantly in the general support for and growth of local indoor community sports centres over six decades. We have highlighted how direct provision by councils and in-house management were predominant in centres over the first two decades. The watershed of the 1979 General Election was the start of a tsunami of change that swept across local government services. The Conservative Government had won the election under the leadership of the UK’s first woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Her planned policies were to affect many aspects of UK life, and in due course public sector services. Compulsory Competitive Tendering (CCT) for many local authority services was to follow.

The Thatcher government became increasingly anxious about their lack of control over local government expenditure and the cost of public sector provision of a range of in-house statutory and discretionary services. In the 1980s and 1990s the Government introduced a series of measures to reduce the power of local authorities and reform the processes, systems and structures of public sector institutions.

Such interventions were based not only on concerns about cost but also upon the political philosophy of the Conservative governments of both Margaret Thatcher (PM 1979- 1990), and subsequently John Major (PM 1990-1997). They considered that the private sector was more efficient and effective than the public sector when it came to running public services. In the latter part of the 1970s there had been early indications of the Conservative Party’s focus on curbing local government expenditure generally. This approach can be seen in the early introduction of Compulsory Competitive Tendering in such services as waste management and grounds maintenance and the sale through privatisation of public utilities and services such as telephone, water, gas, electricity and the rail network. CCT set in train from 1979 a series of events over the next 40 years that would transform public sector operations. Significant as they were, sports centres were but a small part of government outsourcing policies over the years. This was all part of a wider government tactic to limit the scope of public authority spending and prevent councils from addressing gaps in community facilities by direct provision.

A range of ‘levers’ were used to achieve this including revenue and capital financial controls and legal constraints. The Government introduced controls on local authority capital expenditure, introduced capping of charging for local taxation (“ratecapping”) and progressively set out centralised “standard “ levels of proposed spending through the mechanism called the “Standard Spending Assessment”(SSA) which allowed Central Government to control the levels of funding support based on its own assessment of need rather than locally determined decisions.

Competitive tendering for some services was well underway in the 1980s but It was not long before sports and leisure centres started to enter the Government’s sights. Some well-connected Conservative local council leaders shared the Government’s philosophy and were reading the early signs. Authorities such as Westminster City Council and Arun District Council were ‘early adopters’ of outsourcing strategies.

Sports and leisure centres first entered the fray of outsourcing when a few local authorities, particularly Surrey Heath, Westminster, Hinckley, Kingston-upon-Thames and Rochford had embraced private sector management in advance of the CCT legislation. These Councils did this mainly by facilitating and encouraging their own employees to establish trading companies to operate their sports facilities. These companies were in effect arms-length Management Buy Outs (MBOs) from the parent authority. The employees were attracted by the potential that more freedom from council control would release.

8.2.3 The watershed of CCT and its ongoing implementation
  • CCT becomes law for sports centres

CCT was introduced to the management of sport and leisure in phases during the period Jan 92 – Jan 93 following the Parliamentary Order (Competition in Sports and Leisure Facilities), November 1989. The Ministerial Order imposed on local authorities the requirement to offer the operation of its sports and leisure facilities for tender. Joint provision and dual use centres, which were school based, could be treated as exempt if councils chose to do so. Whilst competitive tendering was compulsory for sports centres, this was not technically ‘privatisation’, as councils retained ownership of the land and buildings, and the right to specify opening hours, charges and programming.

Introduction of the legislation was phased, due to the limited number of likely, suitably qualified, potential bidders at that time. 100% of services in England were to be subject to tender by 1/1/93.

  • The impact of CCT on councils and professionals

Local authorities are only allowed to carry out activities which they were empowered to do by legislation. CCT legislation removed the power of a local authority to directly employ staff on certain work activities (referred to as ‘defined activities’) unless the work had been won through a ‘fair’ competitive tendering process and was carried out in accordance with certain accounting and other regulations (‘fair’ was defined in the legislation).The legislation was extremely controversial amongst local authorities. On the one hand some authorities, which adopted a more ‘social value’ approach to leisure provision, were opposed to the legislation and instructed their staff to do everything legally possible to maintain direct employment by winning the work in competition with external bidders and thus keeping the work ‘in-house’. At the other extreme, some authorities were very keen to see work contracted out for political reasons, either to satisfy the Government or in expectation of competition producing lower costs, and higher standards with greater efficiency. So keen were some of these authorities that, in response to a lack of private contractors wanting to tender for sport and leisure management work, they assisted their own staff to set up companies themselves, for example, Circa Leisure Ltd in Rochford or in the case of the Borough of Greenwich, Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL), an Industrial Provident Society.

Some councils formed the Association of Direct Labour Organisations (ADLO) in 1988 in order to lobby against the introduction of CCT legislation and to help their staff prepare for submitting tenders, preparing contract documentation and conforming to accounting regulations. They feared that poorly prepared contract procedures might lead to in-house bids being uncompetitive.

The legislation required authorities directly providing certain “defined activities” above £100,000 in value (sport and leisure management being one such defined activity) to detail the service in the form of a specification and contract and to open this to the market by seeking expressions of interest from other operators, primarily the private sector, and where such interest was expressed, to competitively tender the service. This move helped to create the growth, and later explosion, of commercial interest in health, fitness and leisure in general. This, albeit initially very slowly, led to a growing competitive market in the provision of sports management services.

The impact of the legislation on staff arrangements was significant. Within local authority leisure departments staffing structures had to be re-defined in terms of ‘client’ and ‘contractor’. Most authorities separated their staff into a Direct Service Organisation (DSO) as contractor, and a ‘client’ department responsible for the legal contracting process. ‘Contractor’ staff were defined as all those undertaking work on centre operations that fell within the terms of the Order. All their costs had to be accounted for as part of the cost of operating the contract and within the financial target. ‘Client’ staff were defined as those others on the leisure side employed by the department whose work activities did not fall within the terms of the Order and did not have to be accounted for within the financial target. Some of these staff may have been employed on supervising the contract and enforcing its conditions. In some authorities this client/contractor split weakened the leisure department to such an extent that it became a target for ‘budget cuts’. Authorities with insufficient ‘client’ officers increased their reliance on contractors and expanded their use of independent leisure management consultants. Directors of Leisure or Chief Leisure Officers were often “twin-hatted” i.e. they were responsible for both the client and contractor arms of their departments. This could lead to personal and professional conflicts of interest and internal resentment.

Many Councils opposed CCT on principle or on political or social grounds and sought to frustrate the Government by favouring DSO bids. Others, however, recognised that CCT could provide an opportunity to improve the flexibility and performance of their in-house services while retaining overall control. These authorities responded to CCT by granting DSO centre managers greater freedoms in areas such as programming, marketing and pricing in preparation for CCT. This allowed managers to use their knowledge of local market conditions and to respond more quickly to changes in user demand and to improve the viability of their centres. This led to more efficient DSOs and thus more competitive in-house bids, many of which were successful in the first round of CCT bidding.

CCT was at first divisive, potentially setting client managers against contracting managers. Centre managers were firmly in the contracting group as they were the delivery arm of the leisure profession within councils. The technical loss of direct operational control led to leisure often being merged into a larger department, having previously been in a free-standing leisure & recreation department. A National Survey for Sport England in 1993 (covering all sports, leisure and amenity contracts and contractors at that time) recorded that there was a decline in specialist leisure departments and where changes had occurred, 63% were as a result of CCT. An additional complication in multi-disciplinary leisure departments arose from the 1988 Act which initially required Arts Management and Library Services to be subject to CCT. However, these provisions were never implemented due to the successful lobbying of the Arts Council and other cultural organisations (the Sports Council was criticised for not taking a similar stand). This sport/arts split inevitably created further divisive managerial complications which added to the pressures upon such integrated leisure departments.


Local authorities’ democratic structures were also impacted by CCT as most Councils which won contracts in-house created new committees or boards to supervise the operation of these DSO services. These DSO boards often covered the full range of contracted work from Waste Services to Leisure and therefore lacked the specialist knowledge of the former Leisure Committees which had previously managed the services. In-house centres were also required to meet often poorly defined social objectives such as providing space and accommodation for activities run by the council’s sports development teams. This situation often created conflict between the “client” leisure committee and the operational Direct Services Board.

These “costs of democracy” were added to the operational costs of the service. DSOs were also generally required to continue to use the Council’s in-house central services such as legal, financial, HR etc. services, making it difficult for DSOs to challenge the value for money which they received from such services . CCT was only proposed for such “white collar” services in 1996 but never implemented due to the Conservative defeat at the 1997 General election. These democratic costs and central support costs increasingly led to a loss of viability for DSO contractors and often led to contracts being lost on retender.

The relative immaturity of the recreation management profession at the time of CCT did not help. Centre operations embraced a diverse amalgam of functions and backgrounds – managerial, technical and various operational skills – this meant recreation management lacked status and power compared to established professions within and outside local government. Thus, the impact of CCT on the leisure profession was huge as it imposed significant constraints and inhibitions on officers in their working relationships. However, it also enabled many to advance within leisure management and benefit from improved employment prospects and in due course heightened status.

  • Legislation aims to reduce costs

All the legislation relating to CCT (not just sport and leisure facilities) was intended, as one of its aims, to use competition as a way of reducing costs – particularly employment costs. It was expected that private contractors would have lower costs than those in the public sector. They were also expected to be more efficient in using market knowledge to increase income and create other efficiencies. However, to some extent, this aim was challenged by ‘The Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006’ known colloquially as TUPE. They are the United Kingdom’s implementation of the original European Union Transfer of Undertakings Directive of 1981. It is an important part of UK labour law, protecting employees whose business is being transferred to another business, ensuring employee pay, pensions, and conditions were not immediately reduced when work was transferred from one operator to another operator, as can happen as a result of a tendering exercise. The regulations did have some effect but were somewhat limited by exceptions and time limitations. [The law has since been amended in 2014 and 2018, and various provisions within the 2006 Regulations have altered].

The early numerical impact

CCT set in train a whole series of changes and developments. Councils were required to achieve a minimum of 35% of sports and leisure management tendered by 1st January 1992, 70% by August and 100% by January 1993. Only one-eighth just tendered 35%, with the others exceeding the minimum quotas. Just over half achieved between 36% and 99% and a third of councils tendered 100%. Even prior to the January 1992 start, one quarter of councils had let 102 contracts, of which 44% were by competitive tender.

In the early stages many local authority in-house management teams, usually established as arms-length Direct Service Organisations (DSO), competed and ‘won’ the tendering competitions. In 1993 the Local Government Training Board (LGTB) identified that in the first rounds of tendering of 343 contracts surveyed, involving 247 authorities, half had been won in-house without competition and in-house DSOs had won 84%, with a strong regional bias towards successful in-house bids in Scotland, Wales and the north of England. At an early stage in 1993, the few private contracts were with: – City Centre Leisure (7 contracts); Serco Leisure (6); Contemporary Leisure (5); Circa Leisure (5); and Civic Leisure (5).

One observation, at that time, was that leisure centres do not repay capital investment and are difficult to run at a profitable trading level. This was to change somewhat into the 21st century. The Secretary of State for The Environment, Nicholas Ridley, a firm proponent of the Thatcherite policies, was frustrated by the slow progress of externalisation, as he saw it, to “more efficient” providers. As a result, the DoE issued regular amendments, orders and regulations aimed at closing what he saw as “loopholes” which allowed Local authorities to retain services by specifying quality and social criteria into CCT contracts.

8.2.4      The establishment of new management companies and their progress in CCT tendering
  • The private companies start to arrive

8.2.3 referred to the first tentative steps by a few local councils and new, small private companies, prior to CCT legislation. Once the legislation was in place the progression from 1989 was slow, complicated and fraught with the characteristics that can be expected of a new commercial sphere – high aspiration, risk, inexperience, incompetence, common sense, clever use of the Companies Act, pleasant and less pleasant players (and yes, at times, questionable professional and/or legal behaviour by a few organisations and naivety on the part of some local councils).

The first private company to be established to run sports centres was Crossland Leisure (Holdings) Ltd, which started the ball rolling in 1983 with its first contract with Surrey Heath Council for the new Arena Centre in Camberley. Crossland Leisure had been established by two former local authority sports centre managers. It anticipated CCT by offering to run sports centres for a guaranteed maximum deficit with a share of any extra income gained. This became known as the ‘income sharing/deficit guarantee’. Contracts were for a period of 5-10 years, dependent on the capital investment by the company. Crossland sought to operate across the UK, using a range of new individual, registered limited companies for each contract or regional set of contracts. Ironically Crossland later bid, unsuccessfully, to manage Farnham Sports Centre, the plans of which were purchased by Surrey Heath to build the Arena Centre! Needless to say, this was an early ‘learning’ period and first signs were encouraging, but Crossland expanded considerably across the country and it became overstretched. Problems soon developed, especially as the number of contracts increased.  Major problems in Salisbury and Amber Valley were a clear indication of poor financial judgement and operational management, and these problems overtook the business and led to its demise through insolvency in 1991. One of its two founders left before the end and started DC Leisure in 1991. The demise of Crossland caused significant problems for its client local authorities which were forced to take back in house the management of centres operated under contract by the company. Most immediately re-tendered the operations which were by now subject to CCT. Some found that their assets had been diminished by a lack of investment in ongoing maintenance and inherited de-motivated staff who were wary of any outside commercial operator.

1988/89, with CCT clearly on the horizon, saw the arrival of four other companies winning local Council contracts before CCT. As with Crossland, they emerged under the control of ex-local government centre managers. Initially three won contracts with their predecessor Councils – Sports & Leisure Management Ltd [SLM]; City Centre Leisure Ltd and Circa Leisure.

The start of Sports & Leisure Management Ltd, registered in 1987 was fairly simple. A local government leisure employee at Hinckley & Bosworth Council (he is still the CEO of the organization in 2020), seeing the CCT signs, approached the Council’s CEO about alternative management options. It involved massive risks when setting up SLM and taking on the Hinckley Leisure Centre. The company started slowly, and not always well, but matured into an established player. It eventually paid off in 2000 with the sale of SLM to Castleview International Holdings Ltd. By 2002 it had 10 Council contracts. In 2007 it took on the branding/trading name of ‘Everyone Active’ and at the last count had expanded to 50 contracts covering 160 leisure centres. Everyone Active (SLM) can claim to be the longest running leisure centre operator.

Westminster City Council was one of the first local authorities to invite tenders for managing all its sports centres well before the CCT legislation. This opened the door for the Council staff running the centres to form their own company, City Centre Leisure Ltd. They clearly had the advantage of knowing the centres well. After intense negotiation City Centre were awarded the contract for Queen Mother Sports Centre, opened in 1981, and the old Seymour Centre built in the 1930s. In 2020 the Westminster centres are operated by Everyone Active.

Civic Leisure Ltd, also formed in 1988, included a former centre manager on its team and won the contract for the other 3 Westminster Centres at that time. It also won a contract in 1988 for Grundy Park Leisure Centre in Broxbourne. The background to Civic was more complicated. In the 1980s Latchmere Leisure Ltd operated the Metropolitan Clubs, a brand of squash and health clubs. Civic Leisure Ltd was formed by Latchmere Leisure, involving another local council centre manager, to bid in Westminster. Latchmere Leisure and Civic Leisure, together with Centre Court Tennis (low-cost tennis centres) and Archer Leisure Ltd, were subsidiaries of the holding company, Archer Securities Ltd, owned by Vardon Leisure, which specialised in tourist attractions. By 1995 Civic Leisure was managing 25 UK leisure centres. From 1995 it introduced the Courtneys fitness brand into many of those centres. Later, all the business was sold to the major international hotel chain, Queens Moat Houses, which was attracted by the health and fitness elements. Civic Leisure Limited was dissolved in 2011, although by 1999 only dormant company accounts were recorded.

Rochford District Council prided itself on being at the forefront of the drive of Conservative councils for competitive tendering. Circa Leisure plc was the third company to appear in 1988. It was formed by employees of Rochford District Council’s leisure operations under the leadership of the Director of Leisure Services. Its formation was sparked by the clear signs that CCT was coming to leisure services. However new government rules meant that the company could not conclude an exclusive partnership arrangement with the Council as originally planned, and a straightforward tender process had to apply. However, the company was allowed to run the facilities (three sports centres and three public halls) for one year prior to competitive tendering. Banking arrangements with the same bank as the Council were helpful. Circa then won the CCT contract against other bids that included Archer Leisure Ltd.

Contemporary Leisure Ltd presented one of the most salutary lessons in the early days of private companies and tendering. Contemporary Leisure, established in 1989, had started out as Leicester Ltd. and changed its name to Contemporary Leisure Ltd in 1990. It was led by ex-local government chief officers. Before and after CCT, Contemporary Leisure gained a wide range of amenity and leisure contracts across thirteen local authorities, including sports and leisure centres. For the purposes of other contracting, Contemporary Theatres Ltd was also established. By 1994 it had entered a range of unfavourable contracts and over-stretched its resources. Their Redbridge Council leisure centres contract collapsed into administration. The firm was insolvent and went into liquidation. The full story ended up in Parliament (see Parliament’s Hansard account).  The business was based on some questionable director and contract arrangements. It provided a significant set of lessons in finance, legal operations and management, for contract companies and local councils.,

1991 saw the arrival of DC Leisure Management Ltd under the departed Crossland co-founder. It grew successfully and was acquired by Sovereign Capital in 2003 in a deal worth £14M. Active Nation was a charitable trust operation floated off from DC Leisure in 1995 and is still operating. In 2012 DC Leisure was acquired by property management and development group Places for People. In 2018 its leisure arm, Places for Leisure (now Places Leisure), accounted for 19.5% of the organisation’s turnover from over 100 centres.

St Albans Leisure Ltd also arrived in 1991, initiated by a centre manager in St. Albans Council. It changed to Relaxion Ltd the same year. Thus, there had been something of a domino effect from Crossland amongst a small number of Council centre managers following the Crossland initiative.

Serco Leisure Ltd also started in 1991, under the auspices of the major Serco contracting enterprise. Its first contracts were in Bromley, Maidstone, Tenterden and Bexhill. Now Serco Leisure manages over 70 facilities and has 17 separate local community trusts. Serco also manages the National Sports Centres at Bisham Abbey and Lilleshall, on behalf of Sport England, and also the National Watersports Centre in Nottingham.

One of the most significant arrivals was Greenwich Leisure Ltd (GLL) in 1993. GLL was established as an Independent Provident Society (IPS) to initially run Greenwich Borough’s seven sports centres. From 1996 it aimed to work for London Boroughs, within the M25, but over the years it has expanded nationally and substantially. Later GLL created the ‘Better’ brand for its operation. It had become the largest player by 2020 with 270 contracts. Glendale Leisure was formed in 1995 and entered the scene with its first contract for South Bucks DC. It became Parkwood Leisure Ltd in 2002 with 26 facilities and in 2020 was running 100.

In 1998 the merger of Relaxion and Circa created Leisure Connection. Leisure Connection has had troubled times over the years and became part of the multinational Danoptra Group. It reorganized and rebranded as 1Life in 2013 with 40 centres. In 1999 Alliance Leisure was formed, offering a different service based on private sector investment for the development of public facilities, backed by a range of other services. The 21st century saw the formation of Fusion Leisure Ltd in 2000 and Wealden Leisure Ltd (now Freedom Leisure) in 2002. (see The People Behind the Early Companies and 8.2.6 for the growth of trust management).

  • Private Investment – Private Finance Initiative (PFI)

Another innovation of the Major government was the Private Finance Initiative which aimed to bring private investment into the provision of public buildings. Building contractors and outsourced management companies were encouraged to partner with public bodies to renew ageing schools, hospitals and other public buildings. Few sports centres were built under PFI, one example being the provision of 2 new centres and the refurbishment of one centre for Uttlesford D.C in 1995. The leisure operator for this project was 1 Life Management Solutions Ltd. A number of schools built with PFI finance were provided with sports halls and other facilities which were made available to the community. PFI schemes have come in for significant criticism in some quarters in recent years due to their high recurring costs.

  • Progress and advice

In the mid to late 1990s the consequences of the CCT legislation in relation to sports and leisure facilities varied significantly around the country. The private sector had its ups and downs and did not develop as much as in other defined activities such as refuse collection and grounds maintenance. Both private and public sectors had to devote significant time and resources to adhering to the CCT requirements.

CCT inevitably led to the development of much advice for local councils and professionals. Much detailed advice was published by ILAM, including “Competitive Tendering: Management of Sports and Physical Recreation” published by Longmans. Nowadays Sport England has a ‘Toolkit for Procurement’ available online.  Given the swiftness and complexity of the changes, the role of considered, professional advice was vital at the time, and inevitably there were many national and regional seminars held accordingly.

With the introduction of CCT, who manages centres, on what terms and in what way became the biggest issue for the sports & leisure centre profession since the 1980s. As we set out here in 8.2, the picture has gradually become more stabilised and clearer, without strong concern today for issues that dominated the debate about the case for or against CCT back in the 1980s and 1990s.

8.2.5      1997 – The Labour Government and the end of compulsory competitive tendering
  • Best Value and where it led

A Labour Government was elected in 1997 and the compulsory element of CCT was soon effectively abolished by the new Government, which indicated its intention to change and relax the rules on CCT. This highlighted that CCT was highly political, as the Conservative Government policies had been strongly opposed by the Labour Party and the trade unions. The arguments for and against CCT, especially of sports centres, had dominated the scene for a decade. Labour’s ‘Best Value’ approach was the next distinct ‘phase’ in the development of the political and management approach to the operation of sports centres. In November 1997 Hilary Armstrong, Minister for Local Government at the DETR, laid new regulations before Parliament encouraging the move to ‘Best Value’.

The statutory duty of ‘Best Value’ and its Guidance followed the 1999 Local Government Act and became effective from April 1st, 2000. Technically, local authorities had to secure continuous improvement in the services they provide and ensure the delivery of services by the most economic, efficient and effective means to achieve continuous improvement.

‘Best Value’, for all services, including sport and leisure, involved six elements – performance indicators, standards, targets and reviews alongside effective competition and audit inspection. ‘Best Value’ was seen as an alternative to necessarily direct or private contract management of centres. It sought to eliminate the perceived negative consequences of CCT whilst retaining the positive aspects. As a result, the transition from CCT to Best Value should be seen in terms of both continuity and change. The Duty of Best Value was important because it made clear that councils needed to consider overall value – including social value – when considering service provision in all its activities.

When examining their provision and management of sports and leisure facilities local authorities were required to: –

(a) consider whether it should be exercising the function;

(b) consider the level at which, and the way in which, it should be exercising the function;

(c) consider its objectives in relation to the exercise of the function;

(d) assess its performance in exercising the function by reference to any best value performance indicator specified for the function;

(e) assess the competitiveness of its performance in exercising the function by reference to the exercise of the same   function, or similar functions, by other best value authorities and by commercial and other businesses, including organisations in the voluntary sector;

(f) Note associated developments: “Beacon Councils” and “Pathfinder Authorities” (Worthing and Adur Councils for example were Pathfinder Authorities for joint working).

(g) consult other best value authorities, commercial and other businesses, including organisations in the voluntary sector, about the exercise of the function;

(h) assess its success in meeting any best value performance standard which applies in relation to the function;

(i) assess its progress towards meeting any relevant best value performance standard which has been specified but which does not yet apply;

(j) assess its progress towards meeting any relevant best value performance target.

This fairly complex analysis of centre operations involved much Council officer and Member time in assembling and interpreting the information.

Despite the revocation of the compulsion to compete, the move towards contract management continued, although Best Value probably influenced tender decisions.

  • Comprehensive Performance Assessment

Comprehensive Performance Assessment (CPA) was introduced for District level authorities in 2003 and was conducted by the Audit Commission (abolished March 2015). This was an authority wide evaluation not focusing solely on sports and leisure, which formed only one element of the CPA review process. The Audit Commission completed the assessment and ranked authorities in one of five bands from excellent to poor.

By the time of the CPA regime, the overwhelming predominance of direct local authority management of sports and leisure facilities had declined very significantly (see Outsourcing Timeline). By the time of the ‘crash’ in 2008/9 the government had resorted very much to primarily using financial controls and levers to influence the provision and management of sports and leisure facilities and services. The limitations on spending and the drastic reduction in Central Government grant in aid had a major influence in the leisure sector, which has remained throughout a discretionary service.

  • The financial dimension – savings achieved

As stated, the financial dimension was an over-riding influence on Council decisions on the contract management of sports centres. We can use South Wales as an example, where leisure centre savings have been a focus for local authorities. Torfaen, Vale of Glamorgan, Bridgend, Blaenau Gwent and Neath Port Talbot Councils saved £2.4M each a year – equivalent to a 40% cut in spending, according to the Wales Audit Office in 2015. However, it also noted that the “vast majority” of leisure services were still run by the Council’s themselves.

Private operating companies continued to grow through the 1990s and into the early 2000s as Councils, under tighter regulations, increasingly opted for the savings on offer from the private companies. The successful companies formed a nucleus of multi-contract operators some, as mentioned in 8.2.5, amalgamating or being taken over by larger non-leisure companies and benefiting from economies of scale as their contract numbers increased. The surviving national operating companies continued to flourish.

8.2.6      The advent of ‘local’ and ‘national’ Not for Profit Distribution Organisations (NPDOs – Trusts)
  • The attraction of trust arrangements

By the turn of the 21st century asset-owning amateur sports clubs were facing increasingly difficult financial circumstances. They argued that their role provided substantial ‘community benefits’ that ought to be recognised by government and given financial support. This lobbying resulted in changes to charity law whereby ‘community sport’ was recognised as a charitable objective for the first time. Consequently, community sports organisations could organise their affairs in such a way as to achieve charitable status and, with that, significant financial benefits such as reduced NNDR. An unforeseen consequence of CCT was that some local authorities thus saw the opportunity to reduce their costs by operating their sports facilities through a charitable trust. Such a trust also operates outside of CCT legislative requirements, provided the rules on limiting Councillor governance in the Trust are met.

Whether the charitable Trust operates the sports facilities with its own directly employed staff or whether the Trust contracts out all or part of the operation is a matter for the charity to decide. The decisions of the charity are subject to the scrutiny of the Charity Commissioners particularly in relation to accounting, value for money and any conflict of interest amongst Trustees.

However, as the contracting process progressed, the initial advantages of a private contractor, which may have been viewed as mainly or exclusively financial, came to be balanced against actual or perceived disadvantages. The completion of ’Options Appraisals’, stimulated by the broader Government Best Value approach, led many local authorities to consider and pursue the trust route by establishing a Not for Profit Organisation (NPDO) to operate their centres (Sport England has published Options Appraisal Guidance – 2017).  Coincidentally, such charitable structures, whether a Company Limited by Guarantee, a Public Interest Company (PIC) or an Industrial Provident Society(IPS), harp back to the start of some sports centres trusts mentioned in the 1960s and 1970s (indeed, charitable trusts have been running some public gyms and swimming pools since the 1930s).

In summary the basic and key features of trust management are:

  • Responsibility for the management of the leisure facilities is transferred to a trust, usually with a contract and specification for services
  • The trust would typically be a registered charity with a board of voluntary trustees and is independent of the Council
  • The Council would lease any facilities to the trust and would typically provide an annual grant to the trust, reflecting the likely operational subsidy of the facilities
  • In many cases, any staff employed to manage and supervise the facilities would be employed directly by the trust under TUPE regulations
  • The trust undertakes the management of the facilities, gathering all income generated by the facilities and being responsible for most costs incurred by the facilities
  • Typically, the Council retains ownership of the building and some responsibilities (usually in respect of structural repairs and maintenance) and incurs costs in respect of these responsibilities. The operating risks of the service would transfer to the trust.
  • A Charitable Trust is able to access 80% mandatory NNDR relief. The remaining 20% is discretionary relief that the Council has the option to grant. Of the discretionary relief the Council pays 75% and the government 25%, thus saving the Trust NNDR expenditure. The Council should gain from the consequent operational savings made by the Trust.

George Torkildsen, one of the architects of the first Trust in Harlow, described trusts as having “structural adaptability to succeed. They benefit from fund raising opportunities, rate relief and tax advantages”.

As the 21st century proceeded, more and more local councils, both those that had not awarded contracts to private companies, and those that had, opted to set up local NPDOs with charitable ‘trust’ status. This became known as the ‘third way’ (one of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s favourite expressions) alongside the other two options of direct management and a private operator contract. NPDOs now often arise as a result of a Council’s ‘options appraisal’ process. Originally such trusts were set up by individual local authorities with the intention of securing local accountability  and input to the management of their local facilities. This system meant that the local council, which had established them, often took a paternalistic approach to the trust. Councils of various political complexions viewed trusts as ‘arms-length’ private operations.

As they and the market developed some local trusts sought to expand their geographical scope by partnering with another Council or simply bidding for available contracts. It was in this way that Freedom Leisure, established as Wealden Leisure Ltd to solely run the facilities for Wealden DC, expanded over two decades to become a national player. Some national trusts have formed a small number of partnerships for specific projects. Freedom Leisure, for example, formed a 10-year partnership in 2011 with GLL in support for the Guildford contract.

The validity of leisure trusts to operate as charities was clarified in 2004. The Charity Commission considered and approved applications from Trafford Community Leisure and Wigan Leisure and Culture Trust to register as charities. The Commissioners were satisfied that the Trusts were both sufficiently independent and concluded that they are established for exclusively charitable purposes. The key factors were, and remain, the independence from the respective councils and the extent to which they could be charities if carrying out statutory duties imposed on governmental authorities. (For more details see Leisure Trusts – The reasons, the models and the benefits by Hywel Griffiths).

  • The private companies respond to local trusts

Everyone Active Westminster

When councils started to establish ‘local’ NPDO trusts, the major operating companies changed their legal structures to charitable trusts to match the various advantages, and have gone on to tender successfully as charities, with all the same advantages as the local trusts. These trusts have been referred to as ‘mega trusts’. Some large councils with a wide range of extensive facilities were able to create quite large trusts. These larger trusts generally seem the most stable and sustainable. What is emerging is that some of the shortcomings of small local trusts, especially in respect of investment, are beginning to prove disadvantageous. In the last few years, a number have succumbed to takeover by one of the ‘national’ trust operations. For example, North Country Leisure Ltd and Carlisle Leisure Ltd, both smaller trusts, were merged with GLL by 2015.

Concerns and issues have been raised about the national ‘mega’ trusts. One early concern was the ethics and legality of the change from private companies to trusts, whilst protecting director and manager salaries. However, both the Government and Charity Commission seem satisfied with the changes. Other concerns have included operational issues. For example, GLL had significant problems with the unions when taking over the Belfast centres and the Unite Union has a standing disagreement with GLL over zero hours contracts and union representation. There is also a concern that one size fits all national ‘branded’ services, especially for Gym  memberships, may not always be appropriate in all local circumstances.

  • Trusts abound and have some collective strength

The leisure trust movement has developed an organisation to represent the interests of all trusts, large and small. Community Leisure UK (previously SPORTA) has over 110 trust members, roughly 85% of the UK total. This indicates that there are at least 100 ‘local’ trusts operating the length and breadth of the UK in 2020. All the local trusts are prominent players on the sport, fitness and health scene in their localities. As there are so many it may seem invidious to mention examples, but these few current examples of ‘local’ trusts are representative of the many across the country: –

  • Kirklees Active Leisure – since 2001 KAL has managed 13 leisure facilities and swimming pools on behalf of Kirklees Council (includes Huddersfield).
  • Excite (West Lothian Leisure) runs 10 venues – a social impact study in 2011 showed that Excite’s work was generating health-related benefits worth almost £17M.
  • Live Active Leisure, Perth (one of the oldest leisure trusts operating since the early 1970s (Bells Centre).
  • Life Leisure (now Aneurin Leisure) has provided leisure services in Blenau Gwent since 2014.
  • Pendle Leisure Trust operates centres in the Pendle District of East Lancashire. The Trust is responsible for operating three leisure centres, a spa, golf course, an athletics and fitness centre, a theatre and an arts, culture and enterprise centre.
  • Active Northumberland manages a range of leisure and cultural facilities across the county including: swimming pools and leisure centres; sports facilities; and tourist attractions such as heritage sites, arts’ centres, and parks and gardens.
  • LED Community Leisure runs 16 leisure centres across Devon and Somerset.
  • Magna Vitae Leisure & Culture Trust was established in 2016 for East Lindsey District.

New provision and indeed major refurbishment has become very much tied to the longer-term involvement of the new breed of trust management organisations through contracts which seek to set outcome parameters but allow scope for the Trusts to achieve financial growth which is ploughed back into their operations. This can be more difficult for the smaller trusts. ‘The Move Towards a Trust’ sets out the kind of process that a number of councils have adopted in creating a local trust.

  • Trusts grow

An RBS/NatWest Report in 2014 highlighted the largest leisure trusts by turnover in 2012/13 as: –

  • GLL – £123M
  • Edinburgh Leisure – £29.7M
  • Kirklees Active Leisure – £12.6M
  • Live Active Leisure (Perth) – £10.5M

The scope of what have become known as the ‘mega trusts’ has increased considerably as time has gone on. Surveys in April 2015 of 232 local authority websites showed how the transfer to larger trusts has grown. Nine ‘national‘ operators (the majority as NPDOs) managed facilities in 44% of authorities. 144 of those transferred to larger operators, who were defined as those operating in five of more local authorities. A further 21 local authorities transferred to regional operators, defined as those operating in more than one local authority but in less than five. The remaining 67 local authorities have their leisure facilities managed by a local operator who only manages leisure facilities in that local authority area. 26 local authorities had a position where two different external operators operated within an individual local authority area. Of 161 contracts three operators held 61%. The majority of those operated as Not for Profit Distributing Organisations. At that time half of local authority leisure provision was managed by nine leisure operators.

In 2019/20 the approximate number of contracts held by each of the national ‘mega’ trusts is given below: –

2019/20 Approx contracts
Everyone Active (SLM) 160 sites
Places Leisure 102
1forLife 40
GLL 270
Parkwood 100
Freedom 84
Fusion 80

By around 2020 at least 50% of local authority facilities were operated by some form of trust, with two-thirds by charitable trusts and one-third by mutuals (e.g. an Industrial Provident Society).

  • Strategic impact of trusts

Regardless of political standpoints, there can be little doubt that today sports and leisure centres are providing substantial community benefits for less cost than in the past. Trust arrangements and benefits are more complex than simply the financial outcome, even if that is important. Research of one trust published by Gavin Reid (Managing Leisure – Taylor Francis Online) found that “the trust investigated benefited from an enhanced leisure focus and the combination of a ‘business-like’ approach and public sector ethos to produce: £2 million investment in facilities; a substantial reduction in council subsidy; reduced staff absenteeism; and a cultural change that extended middle managers’ decision-making responsibilities to generate greater service ownership and customer focus. In addition, the knowledge and experience of those invited onto the trust’s board of management provided quicker and better decisions more applicable to the prevailing leisure industry. However, the trust had not realised its “third way’ potential because the council didn’t appreciate the wider implications of New Labour’s modernizing agenda. Its prime concern was with the pragmatic (financial) benefits from externalizing leisure facilities, rather than extensive strategic thought about the nature of the new organization being created, its environment, or role in the local area. This led to decisions that mitigated against a joined-up service”.

Many smaller trusts have appreciated the broader issues and benefits in the way that they operate. This is reflected in their overall leisure programmes, especially if their contract brief also goes beyond centres, as many do. They see themselves as social enterprise leisure companies focusing on quality with a commitment to inclusivity within local communities. It remains to be seen, from substantial research (hopefully underway) whether all the changes since the 1980s have improved or decreased the broad social impact sought by the early centres. The divisive effect of CCT was noted earlier.  Some tension occasionally exists in the current trust era between council officers (and Members) and trust officials, where in some cases trust officials are former council colleagues and are now able to exercise perhaps greater freedom. Also, individuals involved in their initial establishment may change and some of the original purposes for the decision to create the Trust may be forgotten or misunderstood.

The impact of all the organisational changes over the last 40 years has inevitably impacted on the professional management scene. The sterling work of ILAM and its successors, up to and including CIMSPA today, have assisted in overcoming such professional challenges.

  • Trust management – the argument and issues

Despite the advantages and the surge of new trusts, there continue to be some arguments about their use and development. The national ‘mega’ trusts are most at the focus of any issues, although objections are raised regarding local trusts from time to time, often from a political viewpoint. We have mentioned some continuing concerns of unions and the increase in the number of small trusts being taken over by the ‘mega’ trusts. The scope of control nationally by GLL, with now in excess of 270 contracts, and just seven ‘national’ trusts running 850 sites, has not gone unnoticed. The Case Against Leisure Trusts (a European Services Strategy Unit Paper – July 2008) delivered a critique highlighting failures and potential drawbacks. Other critics have been the Directory for Social Change that has argued that trusts lack true independence and fail to conform to the public’s ideas about charity.

  • Personal reflections and experiences

Personal reflections on trust developments have been provided by: –

Jeff Hart, founding Managing Director, Freedom Leisure – A Personal Reflection.

The Management and Growth of Leisure Trusts – Sheridan Easton and Paul Wheeler (including experiences at Brentwood DSO, and Test Valley Leisure Ltd).

  • Trusts continue to dominate the centre scene

In 2020 we can see that the contracting picture for sports and leisure centres has changed dramatically, with a ‘tsunami’ of changes since the legislation for CCT in 1989 and its implementation from 1992. The current picture remains complicated, still somewhat uncertain, but more mature in all senses. As we see in Chapter 10, the management of centres by trusts, large or small, continues to dominate the sports centre scene in the 21st century.

For more detailed information about various trusts see Leisure Trusts – The reasons, the models and the benefits (H. Griffiths) and Trusts for Big Society (Winkworth Sherwood Solicitors).

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