Research and Analytics

Leisure and Culture

Charges for Leisure Services

September 2007

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.

Example Use of Statistics - Leisure Charges for Juniors

There have been significant increases in teenage obesity in recent years, the Forecasting obesity to 2010¹ publication showed that 15% of children aged 2-15 years are obese and that 32% of boys aged 2-15 years are either overweight or obese. Therefore the question of attracting young people away from the television and into the leisure centre has never been more relevant as there are serious health issues to be considered. 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. Similarly the charge for indoor pool use per session for juniors has risen more rapidly than the Leisure Services RPI since 1997-98. Also the leisure charges component of the RPI is rising faster than the RPI for all items.

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September 2007

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