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OPINION

It’s important that operators try as hard as possible to maximise the accuracy of the data Before the pandemic, the financial performance of public facilities was improving significantly and the 2019 annual report from the NBS showed the median for cost-recovery in leisure centre management standing at 107 per cent – an increase from 91 per cent in 2014. Although there are still variances in terms of performance, depending on the type of management and the nature of the facilities, this average shift of 16 percentage points has transformed the industry from requiring subsidy to making a return for many councils. It means that 62 per cent of facilities were no longer subsidised and the median return to councils was £85,804. But at the same time, the level of use by people in socio-economic groups six and seven had fallen from 62 per cent in 2014 to 39 per cent in 2019, while the level of use by people in socioeconomic groups one and two (higher and lower managerial occupations) has risen from 55 per cent to 62 per cent in the same time frame. This shows that although profitability was improving, representation by those with the greatest health needs was getting worse. Once again how we collect data about our users in Moving Communities will be critical to the story it finally tells. The system is designed to use online surveys, but if operators do not have access to casual users through email there’s a real danger the picture we paint and the story we tell will be flawed and unhelpful. It’s important that operators try as hard as possible to maximise the accuracy of the data collected from all users, despite their concerns about the time and effort required to complete these tasks. We all share a responsibility to present the fullest evidence base we can. 84

Issue 5 2021 ©Cybertrek 2021

Social Value Finally Moving Communities will also enable us to calculate the social value being generated, but if this is mainly derived from the better-off members of our communities who can afford to join and pay regular membership subscriptions and complete online surveys, once again the picture we paint could be partial or flawed. Demonstrating high social value in relation to the most affluent is unlikely to stimulate additional investment from councils that are struggling with their finances. Recovery and inequality The state of council financing means that many facilities will be under threat and if recovery is slow the problem will continue to get worse. Irrespective of how hard we work to make the data as accurate as possible, the core of this problem will remain – namely the nature of the current business model, which has driven the generation of more earned income and the reduction of council subsidies, in many cases replacing it with financial returns back to some councils. While we’ve improved our efficiency as a sector, we’ve also reduced access for many and as a result, our effectiveness in terms of equality has exposed the fragility of this model, which will make recovering from our current position challenging.