The Bickerstaffe Record

Being Labour, Cotterill on the Council, Leisure and culture

That Serco report in full

05.03.10 | Comment?

I have been asked by interested readers to republish in full the report I wrote in January 2008 on Serco’s operation of the Tory council’s leisure services.

Below I reprint the Executive Summary, and here are links to that summary, to the full report, the appendices, and the press release (all pdf files):

SERCOexecsummary fulllSERCO pressrelease14jan08 AppA(2005rawdata) AppA(2006analysis) AppA(2007analysis) AppC


A Labour review

Interim report to the Leader of West Lancashire Labour Group of District Councillors


Executive summary



 Paul Cotterill

Shadow Portfolio Holder, Leisure Services

 January 2008



This is an interim report, made to the leader of West Lancashire Labour Group of councillors but presented publicly for comment and further input, on the performance of SERCO Leisure Ltd (hereafter SERCO) in the delivery of leisure services at five wet and dry facilities in West Lancashire. 

It identifies a number of key failures and weaknesses in SERCO’s delivery of the contract, in West Lancashire District Council’s initial contracting arrangements, and the capacity of West Lancashire Leisure Trust, established expressly to manage the SERCO contract, to fulfil that function.

The key findings at this interim report stage can be summarised as:

SERCO has provided misleading analyses of its proposed price increases, whether by fault or by design.   Actual percentage increases have been higher than the figure provided by SERCO.  In 2006, the actual average price rise was around 9.24% rather than the 4.54% rise claimed by SERCO and accepted by West Lancashire Leisure Trust.  Price rises for individuals, as distinct from those for other public organisations, may have been as high as 14% in the same year.  Poor data provision means that price rises in 2005 cannot yet be adequately assessed.

While SERCO and the District Council have made claims about the success of the service on the basis of growing patronage (take up) between 2005 and 2007, the overall growth figure conceals quite alarming disparities.  While use has grown in better off areas, it has slumped in the lower income area of Skelmersdale.  This is a dangerous pattern to have emerged so early in the contract, especially given the cumulative and long standing nature of negative lifestyle changes. 

Even where there has been patronage growth, the poor data provided by SERCO (and accepted by the Leisure Trust) fails to show whether this growth is because of more users, or because the same, already committed users are using the service more.  Thus, while the facility-specific data that we have analysed points only to geographic disparities, our fear is that lower income residents, wherever they live in the District, are being systematically disadvantaged by SERCO’s policies.

Our assessment of investments made to date by SERCO from its contracted and its discretionary budgets suggest that the contract negotiated with SERCO is not sufficient in terms of its focus on outcomes for the people of West Lancashire, with investments overly geared to profit-maximisation activities rather than those that meet the overall public good.

As with patronage, there appears to be a worrying trend in service delivery.  Satisfaction with the service is much lower in Skelmersdale than elsewhere, and there may be a direct relationship between this and falling use.  In addition, there is clear evidence that maintenance is less good in Skelmersdale facilities.

Further, there are grave concerns about the future of the two facilities in Skelmersdale, and a lack of guarantee about service provision.

There has been inadequate investment by SERCO in its wider community and public health responsibilities, not least in its contractual commitment to working with the GP referral scheme, where there is evidence of unacceptable waiting times. 

Of particular concern is the aggressive marketing of sunbed use, including inappropriate ‘buy one, get one free’ offers, and this reflects further the focus of the contract on profit-maximisation at the expense of public health considerations.   We do not consider it a responsible use of public funds to support SERCO in its promotion of an activity that has clear negative impacts upon health.

While the integrity and public service of the Leisure Trust board members is not in question, we are of the view that the way in which the board operates is too focused on support for SERCO, as opposed to appropriate challenge in the interests of the public.  In this respect it is too much akin to a private sector board, rather than a board set up in the public interest.

Fundamentally, there is a great risk that the people of West Lancashire will be failed by the operations of the contract with SERCO.  In narrow terms this is because of the poor initial establishment and consequent monitoring of the contract with SERCO, but ultimately this poor contracting has its roots in a neo-liberal political philosophy unsuited to modern, responsible local government which seeks to ensure the well-being of the whole community.

Our recommendations, set out in the full report, are set within the reality that the SERCO contract will continue, and are geared to ensuring that SERCO lives up to its social responsibilities, and that this is facilitated both by the Leisure Trust through appropriate monitoring and challenge, and at a further remove, by the work of the Labour party and beyond. 

This is an interim report put together with very few resources, and in the interest of healthy and open political debate, we now seek officer resources from the controlling group to develop our final report.









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