Research and Analytics

leisure and culture

CIPFA Charges for Leisure Services

November 2005

As a discretionary service, the provision of sports and leisure facilities allows local authorities considerable latitude in deciding which particular sports and leisure services to provide, their relative prioritisation and the method of service delivery. This local discretion extends to how they are financed in general and to the scale of charges in particular. Furthermore the Local Government Act 2000 gave local authorities a new discretionary power to promote or improve the economic, social and environmental health and ‘well-being’ of their areas, clearly linked to their participation in sports and recreation. Added to this, the government’s target is to increase the proportion of the population in England that is reasonably active from about 30 percent in 1998 to 70 percent by 2020.

Sports and leisure provision is a service area where there is already a considerable private sector market. However, most local authorities set charges (and related subsidies) that they believe will encourage use of leisure facilities, particularly by targeting specific groups within the community, for example lower charges for off-peak periods, for the elderly, the young, disabled users and low income users. They also justify subsidy on efficiency grounds in that there are significant social benefits to be gained arising from their increased physical fitness and improved health amongst these groups. Both equity and efficiency arguments require local authorities to ensure that subsidies are appropriately targeted, as recommended by the Audit Commission in its 2002 report on the service. These will be key factors in the formulation of local authorities’ charging policies.

Our statistics provide local authorities and other users with a wealth of data to help compare services. The data has a range of uses and can help inform the development of local policies. Our analysis of leisure charges for juniors (Page 3 and 4) is an example of how these statistics can be used.

A detailed discussion of the policy context for leisure services charging can be found in the Institute’s Technical Information Services information stream, 'Charging' found at ....


The survey aims to collect information about the charges levied for the main leisure services only. Therefore, minority provisions such as ski-slopes have been omitted.

The Statistical Information Service Leisure Volume Working Party considered the problem of different charges being levied by an authority both at differing locations within its area, and at different times and frequencies at the same location. It was considered essential to standardise the information collected and except where otherwise indicated, the statistics fall into the following categorisation:
  1. Charges are shown for one facility only of the following types:
    • Leisure Centre or Sports Hall - the principal facility.
    • Swimming Pool - the principal facility, this may or may not be part of the Leisure Centre complex.
  2. Charges shown for outdoor sports are the most typical or preponderant for each activity.
  3. In the case of individual activities at Leisure Centres, the charges relate to peak hour use.
  4. All charges are those levied on adults, unless the column heading indicates otherwise.

When making comparisons, users of these statistics are requested to be mindful of the following points:
  • Some authorities will levy differential charges at different centres and these may vary from the principal facility quoted in this publication.
  • Not all authorities adopt consistent charging bases, for example charges may be levied per person per game rather than per court hour.
  • The date upon which the last review of charges became operational varies across authorities (see Column 77).
  • Although the survey is used for calculating overall averages, comparisons with such figures will not take account of the background policies involved in setting these charges.
  • Charges may also vary according to the proximity of alternative facilities and the standard of provision and the associated amenities.
  • Many charges have been adjusted to conform to the framework of the questionnaire, for example activities such as Squash, Weight Training and Bowls are charged for a period varying between thirty minutes and two and a half hours.

Example Use of Statistics - Leisure Charges for Juniors

There have been significant increases in teenage obesity in recent years, the 2002 Health Survey for England 01 showed that over 16% of children aged 2-15 years are obese and that 30% are either overweight or obese. Therefore the question of attracting young people away from the TV and into the leisure centre has never been more relevant as there are serious health issues to be considered. Figure 1 shows that the charge for juniors to hire out a tennis court for one hour has risen more rapidly than the rise in the RPI for Leisure Services as a whole. However in figure 2 the charge for swimming instruction for juniors has been rising at about the same rate as the Leisure Services RPI since 1996-97. Both figures show that the leisure charges component of the RPI is rising faster than RPI for all items.

Health Survey for England 2002, Department of Health Publication, December 2003
Change in Tennis Court Charge for Juniors Compared with Change in RPI since 1996-97
Change in Swimming Instruction Charge for Juniors Compared with Change in RPI since 1996-97
There are, however, significantly more leisure centres promoting free sport for juniors to encourage children to take up exercise, such as the National Free Swimming Pilot Scheme launched by the Welsh Assembly. There are also many leisure services offering free use of swimming pools to children under sixteen during half-term and similar discounts for the use of tennis courts, which will not have been taken into account in our calculation of the average charges.

November 2005

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