December 2019 customer forum notes

Notes from the topics covered in our customer forums, held in December 2019. Some of this information is time specific. For up-to-date information about the review, see our leisure review latest updates page. If you have any questions, please email

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Reasons for doing the review

We continue to explore ways to optimise the delivery of our services and this exercise is being done to look to improve the running and maintenance costs and protect the financial sustainability of the centres over the longer term. Over the next 10 years the centres will need even more financial input. We hope to use the fee the new provider will pay to invest for the future and help us to keep the centres running well. Lots of other local authorities have partnered with other providers and gained larger economies of scale and savings on energy costs and gym equipment. The bidders will have more large-scale expertise in leisure and the improvements needed to survive in this difficult highly competitive market.

The partner would have control of the internal areas of the centres, including gym equipment but not the external infrastructure or pools. The reason we are doing this procurement exercise is that we are struggling to cover the maintenance costs of our aging buildings and also income levels are dropping due to local competition. We are looking to partner with a provider so that they can give added value to our customers and improve our current provision. Some larger organisations will have larger economies of scale and are likely to get greater discounts. They should also have more experience and expertise than our current provision and create new opportunities we cannot. Any potential bidders will be closely compared with our in-house provision and will have to be evaluated as offering additional added value as well as a financial benefit to the council.


We haven't put about multi-site membership in the contract yet but we will look at this in the evaluation process. Most providers provide multi-site use.

The new provider could make a recommendation to increase prices above CPI to us. We would only consider such recommendation after fully considering the implications on our customers and community.

No changes to Price for Life can be made without customer consent.

Clubs and programming

In the event of us entering into an agreement with a third party as a result of this review, it will be a contractual requirement for the operator to honour the existing clubs' bookings which will be monitored by the contract manager. The earliest date of any agreement commencing will be 1 January 2021, and therefore these bookings will be honoured until 1 January 2022. During the remaining period of the contract the operator will need to provide us their proposed programming. 3 months prior to any contract year we would expect the operator to take any proposed changes to the relevant customer forums for feedback before making any recommendations to us. The contract also sets out that we expect the operator to continue to support arrangements with clubs and enable these to be expanded to meet demand where possible. We have asked bidders how they will engage with clubs as part of the evaluation questions. We have also asked how the operator will ensure that clubs continue to remain a key part of the overall programme and we would expect to see this reflected in the business plans that they submit to us as part of their bid.

We hope a new operator would continue to offer a similar provision for fitness classes. Obviously, they will want to follow current trends and introduce new classes like we try to, so we cannot guarantee the classes will stay exactly the same. But if anything, we hope they improve and increase the classes available. The Active Lifestyles provision is protected in the contract, so they cannot remove it or make changes without our consent.


All staff who spend more than 60% of their time on the leisure service will TUPE transfer to the new provider.

At the end of November we did further staff briefings at each of our sites, it is very important that we communicate with our staff regularly and ensure if they have any questions, we answer them.

Bidders and procurement process

4 organisations are through to the next stage of the process. They have been asked to make their full bids by 31 January 2020.

If no bidder is successful, we will stay as we are. One other model we are exploring is the arms-length trust or NFDC company. However, with the VAT changes earlier this year, this model does not provide as many advantages as it previously did.

Bidders are being asked to take on all five centres as one contract.

We are looking to make the specification available to the public by mid-January after some editing of confidential information.

We will hold further customer forums in April when any preferred bidder will present to our customers and staff, we will take any feedback from these forums and this will be detailed in any decision-making reports to councillors.

We will try to accommodate everyone as best we can in timings and locations for the presentations. We intend to have them at several locations and different times of the day.

When the time comes to present a bidder, or bidders, to you, we will think about how to structure the questions asking side of things. It may be that we let them present and then they leave the room and you feedback to us on any questions you have or comments and then we will make sure they get asked of the bidder before final evaluation. It will be easier to structure if we only have one bidder, but if we have two we need to make sure they are asked exactly the same questions to ensure it's a fair process, hence the need to restrict questions during the presentation.

We will have a contract manager in place to oversee the contract and ensure the provider keep to the specification. We foresee the provider and contract manager meeting regularly. There will also be a Contract Partnership Board, which will include the Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Wellbeing and senior officers of the council, we expect these meetings to be monthly to start and move to quarterly at a later date.

The final decision will be made by full council which includes all 60 elected councillors.


Since the customer forums, we have extended the bidder submission from 20 January to 31 January 2020.

These forums will take place once we are down to two shortlisted bidders or one preferred bidder, we now envisage this will be late April 2020.

The provisional timescale is that Cabinet and council will consider any recommendation in July 2020.

The earliest any new arrangement will take place is 1 January 2021.

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