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Strategies for community sport facilities managers to strengthen sustainability

Posted: Sat, 13 Apr 2019 09:33

Strategies for community sport facilities managers to strengthen sustainability

In the UK, austerity policies have been a key element of Government policy since the Conservative Party-led (with the Liberal Democrats) coalition government took control in May 2010. The government implemented a range of public spending cuts as part of its 'Comprehensive Spending Review'. This represented a significant fiscal consolidation amounting to a £81billion reduction in public spending across multiple government departments, delivered on a national and regional scale at a council level in the subsequent years. As a result, public services were stopped, reduced or reorganised, creating challenges for access to, in particular, libraries, clubs for disabled children and leisure centres. Sport, as a discretionary service, was not immune to these funding cuts, yet research on this sector and topic is limited. This article provides an insight into research that examines the strategies of community sport facility managers to strengthen sustainability during a period of austerity and aims to provide considerations to help other managers.

Following the Comprehensive Spending Review, further reduction in expenditure between 2014 and 2018 were planned. Researchers have argued that this initial period of austerity has concluded. Coinciding with the election of a majority Conservative government in 2015, England entered a new policy context of further funding cuts, upon departments and services that have already received cuts to their budgets (termed 'super-austerity'), estimated at £18bn of 'consolidation' measures through the 'new fiscal charter' delivered by 2019/2020, adding further threats to public services.

The sport sector, specifically, public sector and non-profit operations have faced examples of significant reductions in staffing, the closure of sporting projects, initiatives and departments and a reduction in services and opening hours in their sporting facilities (leisure centres etc). Further research highlighted that some facilities shifted away from social inclusion agendas towards more commercial (and potentially better funded) activities. Moreover, sport participation opportunities have been limited, including for those most hard to reach. For many within the industry and academia – austerity – is one of the biggest challenges facing the sector at present.

As we now enter 2019 and with Brexit looming, we are at a critical point in raising awareness of the issues community sport facilities managers have faced and strategies that have helped them navigate fiscal constraints. This article aims to provide an outline of the findings of research that examines the impact of austerity policies on the management strategies of the non-profit community sport sector in England, a sector that is often overlooked. The article provide sthree recommendations for managers working in sport facilities.

First, the findings from the research offer insight into the challenges that community sport facilities are encountering which have resulted from austerity, and a shrinking of the funding from the Central Government to local public services. Notably, the reduction in local authority resources has impacted community sport facility management in several ways, including:

·Reduced funding for maintenance repairs

·Reduced funding for ongoing up-keeping

·Reduced number of staff within the 'parks teams'

·Increased electricity and water costs (large sites with on and off pitch facilities)

·Increased costs for staff wages (from coaches to cleaners)

Second, the findings offer considerations for community sport facility managers from the lessons of those operating within the industry. Different community sport facilities have navigated the challenges outlined above to maintain sustainability, essentially three strategies have proven beneficial:

1.Flexible pricing strategies

2.Income diversification

3.Building networks

Adopting a flexible pricing strategy for different types of groups and populations proved valuable for maintaining accessibility for a breadth of users and sustainability. Income diversification involved some very traditional to innovative approaches. This ranged from a café, to an active licensed social club, through to community property purchase and regeneration.

Facilities that maintained strong policy and commercial networks were able to access resources and support. This included having a range of organisations in partnership (from across the public, private and voluntary sector). This could include professional football clubs community programme, which are often charities, who may offer positive support, such as:

·Collaborative funding opportunities

·Shared resources (i.e., marketing, social media)

·Access to participants across the lifespan (through existing programmes)

·The programmes had other projects related to football and education that often rented space and used the site frequently

·A product of this was access to participants across the lifespan (through existing programmes) and

·Access to a groups of participants that are often difficult to engage

·Finally, an informal ongoing development/sustainability fund

The full research article can be accessed here and this has hopefully serve to raise considerations for community sport facility managers.

Dr Dan Parnell is a Senior Lecturer in Sport Business at the Centre of Sport Business within the University of Liverpool Management School. Dan is regularly involved in the delivery of senior executive mentorship and education, alongside facilitating positive organisational change, performance management and recruitment in elite level football. Dan is a founder member of The Football Collective, a global platform for football researchers, and is a member of the Advisory Board for the Sports Think Tank. Connect with Dan and find him on Twitter @parnell_daniel.

Paul is a senior research fellow in sport business at Leeds Beckett University (UK) and global fellow of the Academy of Sport at the University of Edinburgh (UK). Paul has published 4 books and over 25 peer reviewed articles with a nucleus on sport business and society. His research area is focused on social network analysis as a theory and method applied to political and economic networks in sport. As a consultant, he has worked with organisations such as; The Scottish Government, The Football Foundation, Barclays plc and Department of Culture Media and Sport (UK). Since 2014, he has been reviews editor of Journal of Consumer Culture, he is co-founder of the Football Collective academic group, and is a member of the Advisory Board for the Sports Think Tank.

Tags: Featured, Policy, Sport, austerity


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