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UK leisure centres under best value: a strategic analysis

Angela Benson (Southampton Business School, Southampton, UK)
Steven Henderson (Southampton Business School, Southampton, UK)

International Journal of Public Sector Management

ISSN: 0951-3558

Article publication date: 1 May 2005




To understand the effects of the best value regime on the public provision of recreation at the level of the leisure centre.


A strategic auditing device is applied to 87 leisure centres to investigate the strategic variables of environmental stability and attractiveness, service strengths and financial resources. The analysis produces a typology of leisure centres, and evaluates the prospects of each type under best value.


The findings suggest that a large number of leisure centres managed by local authorities will make limited headway in implementing best value. What is more, many face problems that will be exacerbated, rather than eased, by current policy. Leisure centres managed by Trusts generally face more benign local environments, which appear to offer greater prospects, but it is clear that Trust status itself offers few advantages outside a greater range of financial sources.

Research limitations/implications

The research focuses on strategic choices as they face leisure centre managers. It does not directly explore the strategic and policy decisions made at other levels.

Practical implications

The paper argues for subtler recreation policy (and by implication, the provision of public sector services generally) that pays due regard to the local conditions of service providers. Policy that focuses only on general prescription of managerial (and often rhetorical) practices will frequently lead strategies towards satisficing performance indicators that may be arbitrary, rather than focusing on problems and issues as they face professional leisure managers.


The use of a formal strategy tool as the level of a service provider is novel, and augments work on hybrid firms facing strategic choices based not only on political factors but also private sector market‐oriented competitors. Further, useful comparisons are made between leisure centres managed by Trusts and those still controlled by a Local Authority. The data provided will also help to inform practical and academic debates concerning the application of quality standards and management practices in the leisure sector.



Benson, A. and Henderson, S. (2005), "UK leisure centres under best value: a strategic analysis", International Journal of Public Sector Management, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 196-215.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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