The proposals to ‘insource’ are being put forward to ensure the ongoing delivery of these important wellbeing services for Warrington’s communities in the future.
LiveWire, which currently provides these services, has seen a significant loss of customer income and increasing financial pressures in recent years, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, cost increases in areas such as energy, and changing customer choices.
This trend – which has been seen nationally across the leisure and fitness sector – means LiveWire is no longer able to deliver leisure, library and lifestyle services on behalf of the council without significant financial subsidy support.
The council has provided a number of support measures to LiveWire since 2020, with the primary intention of supporting the ongoing delivery of services and retention of staff, in what has been an unprecedented period of challenge and change for our communities.
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.
This means that LiveWire will not be in a position to sustainably deliver the contract to manage leisure, library and lifestyle services in the short to medium term. Therefore, to ensure the ongoing delivery of these services, a decision is required on a future delivery model, both in the short and long term.
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.
It is expected insourcing could be implemented by summer of 2024. To aid a considered and controlled transition to an in-house delivery model, it is being recommended that 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.
Cllr Russ Bowden, Leader of the Council, said: “We are proud of the valuable work LiveWire has done in delivering first class leisure, libraries and lifestyles services over the past decade. Since its inception in 2012, the company has achieved a year-on-year increase in leisure participation, and this continued until the introduction of coronavirus restrictions.
“The organisation has consistently delivered good quality services, in some areas being recognised as a national and international exemplar of good practice in inclusivity.
“Of particular strength has been the development of our community hubs, bringing leisure, library, health and community services under the one roof, and leading the way on inclusion in areas such as physical accessibility and dementia friendly design. LiveWire has also done some fantastic work – through our borough-wide modernisation programme – to bring people back into our libraries.
“This recommendation to consider an alternative delivery model is in no way a reflection of LiveWire’s performance. However, we must recognise the reality of the huge financial challenges facing leisure organisations across the country, and the significant impact this has had on LiveWire’s ability to continue to deliver these services.
“At the heart of the proposals being put to Cabinet is a commitment from the council to protect these valuable services. We know how important they are to our residents and local communities, and we need to ensure that robust plans are put in place, so they can continue to be delivered, to a high standard, now and in the future.”
If the proposals are approved by Cabinet, key stakeholders will be informed of the recommendations, and the council will work closely with LiveWire senior management and Trade Unions to ensure an appropriate and transparent consultation and transition process with LiveWire staff is undertaken.
Notes to editors
Warrington Borough Council established LiveWire as a separate Community Interest Company in May 2012 to manage ‘neighbourhood and wellbeing services’, including leisure services, the hubs at Woolston and Orford (and now Great Sankey/Bewsey & Dallam), and library services.
Warrington Borough Council also has a contract managed by public health for a range of lifestyle services, including the stop smoking service, better health, active at home and healthy hearts.
The significant increases in energy costs has impacted leisure providers across the country, most publically highlighted with the plight of swimming pools. The national members association for leisure and cultural charitable trusts, Community Leisure UK (CLUK) reported in February that half of the UK’s community swimming pools face closure or service cuts within six months, due to the increase in energy prices.
Warrington Borough Council has a statutory duty as a library authority (unitary, county or metropolitan borough councils) under the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 ‘to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons’ for all those who live, work or study in the area.