Thursday, July 21, 2011

The big questions around the future of sports provision

Sport Wales Chief Executive Dr Huw Jones recently contributed to ITV Wales’ Wales This Week programme which investigated the future of sports facilities across Wales and whether local authorities will outsource leisure.
In our latest blogpost, Huw explains that who is going to run facilities is not the big question....
Local authorities face significant challenges across all the services they provide. Leisure is just one of them – how can they work differently? Is it the most effective and efficient service? These are the questions that local authorities are asking - and that’s absolutely right.
In many ways, who actually runs facilities doesn’t really matter – whether it’s the public, private or the public sector. The most important and biggest challenge is what the level of service should be. In other words, how many facilities do we need? Where should they be? And how should we actually configure them?
It’s a very difficult political challenge for local authorities to address. But it needs addressing and we want to help support them in that decision making.
There are all sorts of different types of leisure facilities – the question is, what is it that is actually going to make a difference? Where is it going to make a difference? Do we need a standalone leisure centre? Or should more of our leisure centres be on school sites in the next ten years?
We need to have cross departmental discussion at a local authority level - how can leisure facilities be configured with education? Should we have more dual use facilities on school sites?
And that’s going to mean the development of a joint vision. Not just education doing what it thinks is best, or planning doing what it thinks or indeed leisure doing what it thinks is best.
Would that be more economical and would that be more efficient? And also should we have libraries in that configuration? Or youth centres or older people centres?  So we actually utilise facilities for more than one purpose so we make it more efficient in terms of its usage.
What type of activities do we want to see people doing? Traditionally, we looked at leisure in terms of football, rugby and so on but we need to make sure we’re actually proactively consulting with young people – what is it that would make you more physically active? And then provide for that need.
Every time we have a difficult situation in terms of public sector funding, people tend to immediately react and say that facilities are going to close. I’ve been through three recessions and I’ve heard the same thing over and over.  But I have confidence that local communities and local councillors value sport and the contribution it makes in terms of health, social wellbeing, community cohesion and so on. Sport has huge power and impacts on people’s lives. I believe that local decision makers realise that.
What we need to be concerned about is: “what is the configuration going to be in the next five or ten years?” so that we can actually ensure that we have the best facilities that satisfy public demand and that are being provided in the most efficient way.
We accept that no one size fits all. Different areas will have different answers and solutions. But the questions need to be asked and the questions need to be answered if we’re to get every child hooked on sport for life and create a nation of champions.
You can view the Wales This Week programme here: