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The indoor leisure service provided by Liverpool City Council is fair but has poor prospects for improvement, accor...
The indoor leisure service provided by Liverpool City Council is fair but has poor prospects for improvement, according to an independent report released today by the Audit Commission.

The Audit Commission inspection team gave the service one star* because a broad range of leisure options is available, but positive aspects of the service are outweighed by areas where standards are less satisfactory. For example, many facilities are in a poor condition.

Helen Platts, commissioning inspector, northern region, said:

'The council has made some difficult decisions in modernising services, and is committed to the indoor leisure service. However, the improvement plan is weak and does not address key issues. Plans for the next five years are unclear and some difficult decisions on leisure have not been taken. The council must now complete the new sports and recreation strategy by December 2002, and ensure it includes a clear vision, aims and objectives.'

The inspection report highlights a number of key strengths:

-- The council has a clear mission and aims, together with strategies for culture and sport and recreation.

-- A number of modern and refurbished facilities offer a good quality experience. Customer satisfaction is rising, and there are examples of the service responding positively to customers' comments.

-- Staff have good access to training and other basic skills.

However, inspectors also found weaknesses:

-- The aims of the service are too narrowly focused on financial targets, and not enough attention is paid to customer needs.

-- The service does not have enough information about what customers want, and this limits its ability to meet their needs. There are no systems in place for ongoing consultation with customers.

-- Many facilities do not meet the standards that customers expect, or the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

To help the service improve, inspectors made a number of recommendations, including:

-- Within six months, put in place a planned and costed programme to repair and improve facilities with particular attention paid to customer priorities such as cleanliness, maintenance and family changing rooms. Ensure regular consultation with customers to identify priority areas for development and investment.

-- Improve the take-up of sports and leisure opportunities by putting in place, before the end of 2002, a properly resourced marketing plan aimed at increasing the total number of users, but also targeting young people, black and ethnic minorities and other priority groups.

-- Complete the new sports and recreation strategy by December 2002, making sure that it takes into account the views of customers and under represented groups, such as those covered by the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Act.

Liverpool council's indoor leisure facilities are managed in-house by the Indoor Leisure Management, Direct Service Organisation (ILM - DSO). There are 19 leisure centres, including specialist facilities for gymnastics, athletics, football and tennis. The centres receive 2.5 million visits each year. In 2001/02 the service generated an income of£4.4m and spent£7.9m, leaving a net cost to the council of£3.5m.

Copies of the report are available from Liverpool City Council or on the Audit Commission Inspection Service website at

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