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The process of bringing Warrington’s leisure, library and lifestyles services back in-house is to begin, after the council’s Cabinet approved ‘insourcing’ proposals at its meeting of Monday 10 July.
The plan to insource – meaning the council will take direct control of LiveWire’s services, facilities and staff - aims to ensure the ongoing delivery of these important wellbeing services for Warrington’s communities in the future. LiveWire staff have been briefed on these proposals, along with trade union colleagues.
LiveWire, which currently provides these services, has seen a significant loss of customer income and increasing financial pressures in recent years, a trend seen nationally across the leisure and fitness sector. This means it is no longer able to deliver these services on behalf of the council without significant financial subsidy support.
The council has provided a number of support measures to LiveWire since 2020. However, following a subsidy compliance review process with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), the council has determined it cannot provide the subsidy as proposed in a referral to the CMA.
The council carried out an options analysis, with external support, prior to the subsidy compliance review process. Completing this process has allowed the council to clearly determine that insourcing services is now the preferred option, noting that a procurement test to the open market will also be carried out to ensure insourcing is the best value approach prior to the insourcing process being completed.
Cllr Russ Bowden, Leader of the Council, said: “We know just how important our leisure, library and lifestyles services are to residents across Warrington, and LiveWire has delivered these services to a consistently high standard for more than a decade. We are proud of the hugely positive impact the organisation has made in our communities.
“However, like the wider leisure sector, LiveWire has been under huge financial pressure due to legacy impacts of COVID, changing customer habits and the sheer cost of keeping services running. This means it cannot continue to deliver these services without significant financial subsidy support. Many areas have seen leisure services cut and swimming pools close in some cases, something we are keen to avoid in Warrington.
“Therefore, it’s vital we take firm action now on an alternative delivery model. Our proposals to insource aim to protect these services, which are so important to our residents, for the future, so they can continue to be delivered to a high standard.
“As part of this process, our next steps will be to test the market to see if there are other operators who may be able to deliver LiveWire’s current services, and at what cost. We know that there are a lot of services LiveWire provides, which may not be able to be delivered by another organisation, but it’s important we carry out a market testing exercise to ensure that our decision to insource remains the best option.
“If we proceed with insourcing, our priority will be to ensure a considered and controlled transition to an in-house delivery model. We know that there will be many questions about the transition, and I would like to provide reassurance that we will be doing everything we can to minimise the impact on staff and customers.
“While we are too early in the process to know with certainty what staffing structures will look like, we are committed to working closely with LiveWire senior management and trade union colleagues, and engaging in a clear, open and honest way with LiveWire employees, throughout this process.”
It is expected insourcing could be implemented by summer of 2024. Cabinet has approved an interim grant be provided to LiveWire, up until June 2024, while the insourcing process and transition plan is established and delivered.
This will ensure LiveWire can continue to trade lawfully and solvently and effectively deliver the services contractually required of them until the point of transfer.
For more information on the insourcing proposals, please visit warrington.gov.uk/livewire
Notes to editors