In July 2023, a report came to Cabinet which set out initial plans for the council to insource LiveWire services. This was subject to testing the market to assess whether there would be competition for other providers to deliver the set of integrated services currently delivered by LiveWire.
An updated report is now set to come to Cabinet on Monday 11 December for consideration, with Cabinet being asked to continue the intention to insource LiveWire services.
Not a competitive market
Following the previous Cabinet report in July 2023, a decision was made to carry out a procurement process to assess current market conditions, and to see if other operators could take over the existing LiveWire service model.
To ensure a meaningful test, a full, competitive procurement process was undertaken (‘Tender with Competitive Dialogue’).
However, linked to this, only one response to a pre-qualifying questionnaire was received. The Cabinet report therefore notes that this does not sufficiently demonstrate that there is a competitive market that is able to deliver integrated leisure, libraries and lifestyle services in Warrington.
The report also therefore states that the recommendation is to continue insourcing LiveWire services.
Council committed to meeting LiveWire costs
The Cabinet report states that there would be a significant cost to the council if it continues with its intention to insource.
The report recommends Cabinet approves a value of up to £4.1 million to be included in planning for future council budgeting (the ‘2024/25 Medium Term Financial Plan’) to account for the insourcing. It also acknowledges a total financial impact in 2023/24 of up to an estimated £5.3 million. This is linked to building maintenance service level agreements and Great Sankey Neighbourhood Hub rent, alongside other additional costs.
However, the report demonstrates that the council is prepared to meet these costs, as it shows its continued commitment to leisure, library and lifestyle services.
Protecting community services and local jobs
Cabinet member for leisure and community, Cllr Tony Higgins, said: “The report coming to Cabinet reflects the complexities of insourcing Warrington’s libraries, leisure and lifestyle services and demonstrates the amount of work already undertaken in getting to this stage.
“Earlier this year, we committed to testing the market to assess whether other providers would be able to deliver the current LiveWire model, but it is clear that the market is not currently competitive enough to give us the required assurance on any path forward other than to insource. This is perhaps not surprising given the national issues that the leisure sector is facing, which was crippled by the COVID pandemic and is currently being significantly affected by the energy crisis, with financial assistance from government not enough to adequately support providers.
“We must acknowledge the risks of continuing along this path. There will be a huge amount of work required to meet the insourcing target date of 1 March 2024, and delivering the insourcing process will also come at significant financial cost to the council.
“However, the Cabinet paper outlines that we really don’t have a palatable alternative path. Despite the report’s complexities, it ultimately sets out how we can best preserve the important services LiveWire currently provides. Yes, insourcing will come at a significant cost, but the cost of not proceeding with our insourcing plans could be far greater, and would put at risk a number of our vital services and local jobs.
“LiveWire provides a number of hugely important community and leisure services, supporting people – including some of our most vulnerable - to make wellbeing improvements. Our libraries – which have been on a truly transformational journey through our modernisation programme – are well-used and valued by our communities.
“We want to keep people using their local swimming pools, visiting their neighbourhood libraries and making use of the vital local facilities that LiveWire provides.
“I am clear that to not proceed with insourcing would present a real risk of these services not being provided in the future.
“Therefore, while we ultimately must not prejudge Cabinet’s decision, approval would give us the clear confirmation we need to proceed with the insourcing of LiveWire, protecting our valued leisure, libraries and lifestyles services, alongside hundreds of local jobs.”