Y Pwyllgor Llywodraeth Leol a Thai

Local Government and Housing Committee


Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Carolyn Thomas
Jayne Bryant
Joel James
John Griffiths
Mabon ap Gwynfor
Sam Rowlands

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Diana Edmonds GLL (Better)
GLL (Better)
Dominic MacAskill Unsain
Fergus Feeney Swim Wales
Swim Wales
Mark Sesnan GLL (Better)
GLL (Better)
Matthew Williams Cymdeithas Chwaraeon Cymru
Welsh Sports Association
Mike Welch Aura Wales
Aura Wales
Richard Hughes Awen Cultural Trust
Awen Cultural Trust
Sara Mogel Aura Wales
Aura Wales
Sian Williams Aura Cymru
Aura Wales

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Catherine Hunt Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Manon George Clerc
Stephen Davies Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu’r pwyllgor yn y Senedd a thrwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:01.

The committee met in the Senedd and by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:01.

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datgan buddiannau.
1. Introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Local Government and Housing Committee. Our first item today is introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. Let me say that the meeting is being held in a hybrid format, but aside from adaptations relating to that, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place. Public items of the meeting will be broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and a Record of Proceedings will be published as usual. The meeting is bilingual, and simultaneous translation is available. Are there any declarations of interest from members of the committee, please? No, okay.

2. Gwasanaethau Llyfrgell a Hamdden awdurdodau lleol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 2
2. Local Authority Library and Leisure Services - evidence session 2

We will move on, then, to item 2, which is the committee's second evidence session regarding its inquiry into local authority library and leisure services in Wales. I'm very pleased to welcome—joining us here in the committee room, we have Richard Hughes, chief executive of Awen Cultural Trust. Welcome to you, Richard. Joining virtually, we have Mark Sesnan and Diana Edmonds of Greenwich Leisure Limited (Better); we have Sara Mogel, the chair of Aura Wales, and Sian Williams, leisure development manager with Aura Wales. So, thank you all very much for joining committee today to give evidence. Perhaps I might begin with some initial overview questions. Firstly, a general question, really, if you could summarise for us what you see as the key benefits and value of leisure and library services to communities and those who use them and the impact on communities when services are withdrawn. Who would like to begin with an initial answer? Richard, yes.

Yes, happy to.

Bore da, pawb. Mae'n bleser i fod yma'r bore yma.

Good morning. It's a pleasure to be here.

I'm delighted to join you this morning. Hello to colleagues on the screen, as well. I guess, as an opener, the services that we operate and you've just described there, Chair, are absolutely vital community anchors. In many communities, they are the only services that people have left, especially where we work in many of the Valleys communities in south Wales, and I'm sure it's the same with many rural areas as well. They provide critical health and well-being benefits, social benefit and, dare I say it, they're probably stopping the bill for the NHS from getting even worse than it is today, because of what they do.

Once displaced, they're very rarely returned to communities, and there is a detrimental impact, not just on individual users, but on the vast array of user groups that use these. We're talking about sports clubs, which I'm sure colleagues from GLL, et cetera, will be able to talk in greater depth about. But the numbers are incredible that use the services, libraries in particular. We alone have over 1 million visits a year to our libraries.FootnoteLink If you were a retail outlet, you'd probably be delighted with those kinds of numbers, but they play a huge part in people's lives, both physically and emotionally.

And I'll finish with just a couple of quotes that we've had from our library user surveys, where somebody said that,

'Without the library, I would probably be prone to get depressed. The library's a bit of sanctuary, not just somewhere to borrow books'.'

Somebody else said that,

'Without the library, I would not get out of the house, and I feel my mental health would suffer'.

Those are just two examples from our users and I'll probably leave it at that and pass on to colleagues, Chair.


Okay. Diolch yn fawr, Richard. Thank you very much. Would any of our other witnesses like to add to what Richard just said? Yes, Diana?

Yes, I really just would like to endorse what Richard has said. In terms of libraries, which is the area within GLL that I specialise in, we manage over 100 libraries across the country and we see very much the same story that Richard has described: the use of our libraries has come back since the pandemic and what we see is a tremendous desire to read. Eighty-five per cent of our customers say that the greatest experiences of visiting a library are the books. So, people really have a desire to read, and so that may be educationally—parents may want children to read; children may be delighted to read—but also in terms of the health indicators that Richard talked about, we know that books are a tremendous release. They take you away from the space that you're in. And we know from the work, say, that we've done with prisoners, that nothing soothes a prisoner more than a book. And so, I think there are tremendous health benefits from libraries. There are digital benefits; there are social benefits; there are space benefits, and really, these are community hubs that need to be protected.

Okay. Thank you very much, Diana. Okay, if the rest of our witnesses are content with what we've just heard and do not wish to add anything, that's fine. Let me move on, then, and ask for a view on the key challenges facing local authorities and leisure trusts to keep these community leisure and library provision services in Wales operating and intact. What are the key challenges you would want committee to consider at the current time and moving forward? Who would like to set out some of those for us? Sian?

Yes. Bore da. I think the way that we would perceive things is that this is hopefully a short-term predicament and problem for the sector. The outlook is really good and positive, and I think some of the challenges that obviously we all know about emerging from the pandemic have caused some significant challenges for the sector, not least the utility costs.

Quite a lot of the carbon dioxide-emitting buildings of local authorities are usually some of our facilities, with some ageing stock in some areas as well. Inflationary costs that just can't be passed on to our customers; whilst we do increase our tariffs and do so carefully, the cost of trades people, materials and chemicals, et cetera, and supply chain issues, are a challenge. And probably the most salient point for me is around staffing—our ability to retain and recruit into the sector, our ability to maintain adequate pay differentials and meet the cost-of-living and national living wage increases. And the entry levels into our sector as well: the costs of the qualifications for these people to come into our sector to teach vital life skills, like swimming, require national pool lifeguard qualifications, swimming teacher qualifications, often amounting to quite significant sums of money. So, I think they're probably three of the hidden challenges that we've identified.

Good morning. Bore da, everybody. It's the same, obviously, for GLL. GLL operates the leisure centres in Cardiff in partnership with the council. And we've had significant support from Government in Wales and from Cardiff Council throughout the pandemic, and, obviously, that came to an end. But, as we all know, you've got the pandemic, then the war in the Ukraine and the overarching carbon-neutral challenge, and then the other challenges of inflation, cost of living and staffing et cetera that have just been explained to us. 

I think that, underneath it all, the good news is that the customers are coming and already have come back, both to leisure centres and libraries, and there's an absolutely clear need for these local, free or low-priced and affordable community services. Between us, we've got to come up with ways of protecting, preserving and promoting them. And nobody's saying that's easy and we're not saying that it's all about a handout, but also we can't use pricing when we're trying to keep the community using the facilities, keeping the services local, using local labour, but also making sure that they're accessible—you don't have to drive to them. You need a big network to do that. It's very expensive. All the buildings have got a massive carbon challenge. So, even as we move through getting the energy crisis stabilised—and that won't happen before the end of this year—there's still a clear and present and major problem for Cardiff Council and GLL, particularly in leisure centres: £70,000 a month missing that is just going to the energy companies, basically. 

But even when the price comes back down, we do need a long-term strategy of building renewals and of a re-evaluation within the community across Wales and the rest of the UK about the role of leisure centres and libraries, and the need for them. And we mentioned all the things like physical health, mental health and community cohesion, but there's also water safety, local jobs, apprenticeships, and then there's a mass of energy that goes into sport and leisure and culture from volunteering, and the leisure networks are the catalyst for that, and that brings huge benefits both to the kids that are getting the sports skills and also to the adults who get involved, and it gives them a purpose in life.

And then, alongside all of that, obviously, you've got the role that we play with the NHS—extensive prehab work in Cardiff of getting people fit for operations so that they can spend less time in hospital and have a better outcome, and then helping them after they've been in hospital to get their fitness back and to reintegrate. So, vital services, but financially challenged.


Thank you. Just very quickly, to pick up, I think Aura reflects all of those things that have been said, so, I won't repeat them, but I think one of the challenges is trying to explain to people who have other budgetary demands that we can save you money. So, we do save the health service, the public health service, the police, in terms of anti-social behaviour, and local authorities in terms of some of their social services—we save them money. But I think one of the challenges is that we're not very good at actually explaining all of that, and we certainly don't quantify it, in a way. So, people are looking at the budgets for libraries and leisure and don't realise that they're actually saving other people's budgets and there doesn't seem to be that connection. So, I think that's something that we can all do to try and ease that disconnect.

Okay, thank you very much, Sara. Perhaps I might ask one further question before we move on to other committee members. I think we're probably all familiar with the developments that have taken place over several years in terms of local authorities sometimes using alternative models for delivery, other than direct provision by the local authority itself. So, I wonder what your view is in terms of the current budget pressures on local authorities and the extent to which that might have changed the context for that decision making around whether to use an alternative delivery model or not, and, allied to that, whether further library and leisure centre closures are now inevitable. Who would like to offer a view on those questions? Richard.

Yes, thank you. First of all, I don't think closures should be inevitable. I think there are always decisions to make before you get to that, so I don't think it's inevitable. I think, just picking up on the point there, there is sometimes a negative media narrative around our services at times of austerity, and I think we all have an obligation to try to do something about that. I think we're always the low-hanging fruit when it comes to budgetary cuts, or that's the way it plays out in the media, anyway. But, I don't think closures are inevitable.

I think councils should still look at alternative models of service delivery, but perhaps take less of a parochial look at it. Rather than have 22 local authorities in Wales looking to do 22 different things, there may be a future in greater strategic partnerships, in creating a critical mass of services, and that's where you derive better value from. So, I think the next step for local authorities in Wales, rather than just looking at their own patches to see where the efficiencies might be, is to see what can be done by working together and whether that's via the regional economic partnership areas that we've got or on a health board basis, perhaps. But, I think there's some potential there.

And just going back to the point that, if closures are inevitable, we don't look at short-termism when it comes to cash savings, because a cash saving over there for a local authority for one or two years is a bill for the NHS over here. And I think that's a point we all have to make to partners when they're looking at this. The commercial case may often exist for some kind of closures, so I don't think it's inevitable, but what I think we need to build around things are other strategies around active travel strategies and transport strategies to make sure that, if localised closures do happen, people can still access their services easily. So, I'll leave you with those three points, Chair. 


Richard, just to expand a little bit on, perhaps, a regional approach and the advantages that might bring, are we talking about back-office savings, for example—back-office cost savings? So, you'd only have one set of directors of personnel and IT, finance and whatever else. Is that the main advantage of that regionalisation, apart from the synergies that you get from bringing local authorities together?

I would think it's one of the advantages, and yes it doesn't make sense to have 22 of everything, or even more if town and community councils in some areas are doing asset transfers of their own, so that just grows. I think there are greater advantages than that. There is a commercial advantage from widening the scope of what you're doing as a business across a patch, whatever type of business you are, whether you're a charity or a social enterprise, which comes with being able to operate across a wider region. I'll use the example of Pyle library and leisure centre in Bridgend. It's literally on the border of Neath Port Talbot, so many of its customers would be coming from there, but the partnership only covers the Bridgend area. So, if there were greater strategic partnerships, you could see how that would benefit people in another county borough. So, I think it goes beyond just the back-office efficiencies. I think there's a better way of working more strategically with partners as well, with the health board being, obviously, a key one, and I'm sure that will come up time and time again this morning. 

Thanks. I was just going to ask that. So, listening to what Sara said as well about the impact on social services, health and the police, do you see that there's a role here for the public services board as well, to try to bring them on board and highlight the importance of leisure services on those services as well? And, going back to just what was said about economies of scale, I was a little bit concerned about maybe looking at rationalisation. It's always concerning, because the previous speaker also said about the importance of access as well. So, you do need to make sure that people have access to these important facilities. So, it was just really to dig a bit deeper on that. But, then, that's fine, John, because you then asked about the back office and how we could do it that way. So, that's really what I wanted to come in with. Thank you.


The significance in grouping people together, grouping organisations together, is the fact that you can buy highly effectively. So, we are all probably buying the same resources, or an element of the same resources. GLL operates, in library terms, over 100 libraries, and so we buy for those libraries together, and the discounts that we gain are considerable. Now, in Wales, there's already a move towards that, in terms of joint purchasing, but there is real power in that, in being able to offer an excellent service across all your service points by that discounted buying, and I think that really is very significant. There certainly is the power of reducing costs by having single HR facilities, single back-office facilities—that type of thing—and that can't be underestimated. The point is that services need to be with the people, and there always needs to be configuration to suit the local community—while you're doing all this fantastic buying in the background, you need to make sure that what you're providing on the shelf, certainly in library terms, is what that local customer wants.

It was just in response to Carolyn's point around the services boards, really. I think that there's probably a perception about how we run our services—we book badminton courts, people come to swim—but, actually, the sector's moved on a great deal. There's a huge amount of innovation and forward thinking, and collaboration in a really holistic way, working with lots of different agencies to absolutely address the key outcomes in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. And I think Sara's probably quite right—we need to advocate much more the way that we deliver against those outcomes, not least 'A Healthier Wales', but also the cohesive communities. We're not tied to buildings; we actually take our services out to the most disadvantaged, disengaged communities, and we deliver on their doorsteps, through our active communities programmes. And I know that Fit, Fed and Read was mentioned, but we're actually addressing food poverty and accessibility there. Last summer, we distributed over 3,000 meals across our sessions, and the kind of impact that that has on those communities, and working with the police, the fire service, the youth service, really helps that holistic kind of impact for work. But, absolutely, we need to do more around engagement and advocacy of the value of our services, and those who are most vulnerable in our communities, really—how we address those health inequalities.

Sian's stolen most of my thunder, as we both put our hands up at the same time. I was also going to pick up on Carolyn's well-made points. I think that we can play a bigger role in the public services board. We deliver a public service, but we're not a public service, because we're a community benefits society. So, we sit slightly outside the public services board, and that's probably true of similar other organisations that have various forms of charitable status, and maybe, now that we do have this great variety of delivery methods, maybe that the actual make-up and remit of the public services board could better reflect that. I'm not a lawyer, so I can't tell you how you'd do that.

I'd certainly want to reiterate the point about rural communities. In Aura service Flintshire, we don't have a big urban area. We have six towns, but we have a lot of rural areas and, therefore, we have to often take things to people. We have a wide remit—so, it's library, leisure, heritage and play. For some of our rural communities, their playground is their leisure centre—that's what they have. But we have seen, when we came together, the savings of back office, because those four areas share things like finance and HR and marketing and the skills of our leadership team. So, there are savings to be had there, but I don't think that that should be the major driving factor; I think, actually, the service and improving the service to our communities should be the driving factor for how you organise that. Thank you.


Just very briefly, we're very fortunate that we do sit on a public services board—it was Bridgend, but it's soon to become the Cwm Taf Morgannwg services board. We also sit as part of Bridgend's corporate parenting board as well, and, interestingly, our client department in the council in Bridgend is actually the social services and well-being directorate. So, we actually report into that health and social care area, if you like. That's made a huge difference, so far as the other users that we then work with as a result of being tied in there. We do a lot of work with the council with carers, young carers, adults with a learning disability, and a lot of work and investment in accessible play, as well. I think all of that comes as a result of being sat on those boards and reporting into that specific directorate.

Thank you very much. We'll move on to other committee members. Firstly, Mabon ap Gwynfor. 

Bore da. Diolch yn fawr iawn i chi i gyd am ddod yma. Ddaru rhai ohonon ni gael ymweliad i Lannau Dyrfrdwy i ymweld â rhai o lefydd Aura, felly diolch i chi am y croeso. Gobeithio bod troed Sian yn well, achos dwi'n cofio roedd ei throed hi wedi brifo bryd hynny. Ond o feddwl am y sgwrs ddaru ni ei chael a'r sgwrs sydd wedi bod yn y fan yma rŵan, rydych chi wedi sôn am gydweithio rhanbarthol fel ffordd o arbed pres a bod hynna yn y pen draw yn mynd i arbed pres swyddfa gefn—y back office yna. Allwch chi esbonio ychydig ar hynny? Oherwydd pan oedd y gwasanaethau yma'n rhan o awdurdod lleol, yna roedd y pres yna'n cael ei sugno i fyny gan yr awdurdod lleol—y back office ac yn y blaen. Felly, sut mae ymddiriedolaeth fel chi yn arbed arian lle nad oedd yr awdurdod lleol yn gallu gwneud hynny? Richard.

Good morning. Thank you all for being here. Some of us had a visit to Deeside to see some of Aura's places, and thank you for the welcome. Sian, I remember you'd hurt your foot at the time; I hope you're better. But thinking about the chat that we had and what we're talking about here, you've talked about co-operation at a regional level as a way of saving money and that could ultimately save money at the back office level. Could you explain a little bit about that? Because when these services were part of a local authority, that money was sucked up by the local authority—the back office function. So, how would a trust such as yours save money where the local authority couldn't do so? Richard.

I'm happy to start. I think the important bit here is that, when calculating the true cost of a service before any decision is made to use an alternative model, the whole cost of the service needs to be calculated within the council. They're not, as you describe there, just sucked up by the rest of the council. That is an actual cost to the council. So, by taking a service into an alternative model, there are clearly efficiencies left in the council, so it's important that those efficiencies are realised as well. There's a whole host of them, whether that's legal, HR, finance, that then should be realised as a cashable saving.

I guess, once transferred, what we then have is an organisation that is dedicated to providing these services. Speaking in terms of somebody like us, we're a charity, our objectives guide what we do. Therefore, we are 100 per cent focused on the beneficiary. For everybody who works with us, their behaviours and values need to be aligned to that. That's one of the biggest differences, motivationally and in everything else, to transferring out, compared with those posts still existing in a local authority, where there are a multitude of priorities coming across the desk every day. You can then go about employing the specialists that you need to work in that particular sector. So, they're the two points I'd make. They're not sucked up, because they have to be considered as cashable savings within any calculation in any transfer.

I'm feeling much better, thank you for asking, by the way. The point I'd like to make is, actually—not to move on to the following questions—that we're an employee-owned community benefit society, and we did take our time setting up that business collaboratively with the council, the members, trade unions. I think, culturally, then, we were in a really positive place. Whilst we do look for efficiencies as part of our business as usual, our ambition was to grow our way out of the financial issue and invest in facilities, invest in projects and programmes, and seek to—as Sara mentioned earlier—deliver other agendas where we received additional funding. We deliver an alternative provision programme where we engage with young people who are at risk from exclusion. We train them, and some of them have been employed with us after that project. So, there are really good employability links, and again, all of these things generate additional revenue for us and address the situation in a different way by growing our way out of those challenges. That's more of an issue now with disposable income being really pressed and the situation we find ourselves in, hopefully for the short term. I hope that kind of addresses the point in a slightly different way.


Just to pick up on Sian's point about staff-owned organisations, what I think is so enjoyable, frankly, working for this kind of organisation is that the staff are empowered. We have staff working in local communities, obviously, and they are able to come back and say, 'We need to do this for our community.' And it's frankly always a pleasure to say, 'Yes, let's do it, then. It's really getting the power of the employees into the actions. It's a real pleasure to be able to innovate; the staff become really proud of what we achieve, and they're really proud that we are an innovative service. And that means that, actually, we can apply for funding. We get more confidence, we apply for additional funding. I think this year, we've attracted £1.7 million into our libraries, because we've applied for grant funding from elsewhere, which all goes to augment the local authority funding that we receive as a management fee. It isn't that we charge the public huge amounts of money; it's actually that the fact that we are innovative is attractive, and it's attractive to funders, because they want to see how it can work. So, it really is based in the fact that our staff, working with customers, come back and say, 'Our customers need this.' That's what it is.

Diolch, Gadeirydd. Os cawn ni adeiladu ychydig ar yr atebion yna, mae pob un ohonoch chi o'n blaenau ni bore yma yn cynrychioli ymddiriedolaeth—trust, felly. Pam eich bod chi wedi mynd am y model yna? Mae yna sawl model gwahanol ar gael o ran darpariaeth: creu cwmni hyd braich, neu gwmni annibynnol, neu aros o fewn llywodraeth leol. Pam eich bod chi wedi mynd am y model arbennig sydd gennych chi? Pam ydych ch'n meddwl mai honna ydy'r model mwyaf addas? 

Thank you, Chair. If we could just build a little bit on those answers. Each one of you before us today represents a trust. Why have you gone for that model? There are many different models available in terms of provision: creating an arm's-length company, or an independent company or remaining within local government. Why have you gone for this specific model you have? Why do you think this is the most suitable model? 

Going back in time to 2014, before Awen was created in 2015, it was all based on quite a comprehensive business case as to why a specific model was chosen. In our case in Bridgend—we work further afield now, but our genesis was in Bridgend—it was about creating an organisation that had the social focus, and therefore a charity was the best way to go in order to achieve that. But also, there was an acknowledgement that a fully independent organisation, so far as the council was concerned at the time, was the best way of making the most of the agility and flexibility and, as Diana said, the ability to innovate as well. That was best served not just through a local authority trading company or arm's-length, but best served by creating a fully independent organisation, and that independence is what's served us very well. We have a very mature partnership across all three of the areas where we work. In my opinion, they are the models that work best, where the local authority is happy to devolve that control and doesn't want to control how that organisation works. If it tries to do that too much, then some will fail and some won't be very good. I think the decision to take us down the charitable organisation route, the social enterprise route, was based on that—that there wasn't a motivation to try and control this organisation; it was happy to let it go, but actually create an outcomes framework by which success would be measured. And dare I say, it built on the success of the transfer of leisure services to GLL Halo a couple of years before that. Members could see what was happening there and its success, so there was plenty of track record to say that that model can work. It was as much about social and outcome-based motivation as financial motivation. 


I'm going to leave why we chose this model to Sian and to Carolyn, who were both involved in 2016-17 when I wasn't. I think it's quite interesting that you are talking to charitable trusts today, because it seems to me that one of the key benefits has been that different governance model so that the structure itself isn't part of a larger and broader organisation, so we can focus on those areas that we're responsible for as well as our community. I think that's important. We're a bit more agile, and that's not a criticism of local authorities. Local authorities are big organisations and they have a myriad of responsibilities.

In my very first meeting that I chaired, we were presented with a business case from an idea that had come from staff for the inflatable park. We were able to say that, yes, we would invest in the first inflatable park in Wales, and it was up and running within a few months. That would have had to have gone through a much more lengthy process than had taken place with us, and it's been a terrific success, both in terms of engaging people to be more active, particularly families, but also financially successful. It's like a double bonus, really.

Because we're a charitable board, we attract volunteers from our local community who bring with them a range of experience. That might be things like finance, marketing, PR, education, HR and the charities sector, as well as leisure, libraries, play and heritage. Because we have a rolling programme of recruitment, it means that if we need a particular skill, we're not waiting to either employ somebody out of a budget or to have an election—we can bring in that skill within a very short period of time because we have this rolling programme of recruitment. We appraise our board members and we review our board performance, so we're very focused on what we do. 

I'm going to apologise now to all the politicians in the room, but we don't have party obligations. When we make decisions, we don't have to worry about what our party might think or what the political ramifications might be or how it'll play out in the next election. For Aura, we are an employee-owned community benefit society, so, obviously, we, the board, have to talk to our shareholders, which we do regularly, with our employees, but our employees are bought into Aura—they're part of Aura in a much broader way than it's just Aura that employs them. So, it's a very different relationship and there's a much better synergy between the board and the shareholders than perhaps you might find in a commercial company. That's a very long-winded answer to a short question, sorry.

Thanks, Chair. The history of the leisure trust, I think, is worth stopping on and understanding, because there is a bit of confusion, I think, out there about outsourcing, which actually started with Margaret Thatcher, believe it or not. I'm unfortunately old enough to remember all of that—compulsory competitive tendering. Leisure was deemed to be something that could make money and therefore it should be run by the private sector. That was Thatcher's view. I worked in local government at the time, and lots of other people in the trade unions and local government at the time thought that this was just not right and that these are public services and they need to be protected as public services. And so that was why we set up the leisure trust movement in the first place. And I'm pleased to say that the majority of leisure centres in particular in Wales, and a lot of the libraries, are run by leisure trusts, and that's great news. It's something you should be proud of, I think, and make sure you hang on to.

Outsourcing now is kind of saying, 'Should the council run it, because, if it's council-run, it's better?'—apparently—'Or should the private sector run it?' But it isn't really—. That's not the question. We have got a sophisticated model of these social enterprise charitable companies across the country who sit in between, who try and do the best of both, who have got—. We're all from a local government background, we ingrained with the need for public services and public facilities and the challenges within the communities, but we also need the freedom and flexibility to compete against the PureGyms and the other private sector companies that are, effectively, eating our lunch. And it's not easy within a local council—and I was an assistant director of leisure for a number of years in local government—it's not easy for a local council to act and react properly in that marketplace. And so what happens is that the public sector becomes second rate because they can't afford to keep reinvesting, and the private sector take the low-hanging fruit; they take the money out of the system. And you end up with a cycle of decline, and facilities inevitably end up closing because of that.

So, we're pleased and proud in the social enterprise leisure trust movement that we are able to reverse that. The city of Cardiff now pay £1 million a year to have their leisure centres run, when it cost them £3 million, but the facilities are better used now than ever, because, jointly with the council, we've ensured that the investments have gone in the right place, because we know the marketplace and we know what the commercial competitors are going to get up to. But the one thing I'd ask Members not to confuse us with is the private sector, because we're not. We're all dedicated to what we do. Nobody makes any money out of doing this; we are, essentially, public servants trying to do a good community job.  


Sorry, Chair, it was just because Sara mentioned—. I was a councillor at the time when we did the transfer to Aura leisure, so I wasn't sure whether I should have declared that at the beginning. That's all. Thank you.

Thank you, Chair. It's just really a question for Mark, really, just based on his comments there. I've been looking at the written evidence submitted by Unison, and basically they're fundamentally opposed to your model, really. I was just wondering why. Why are they so against it? Why are they so keen that it be handled in-house, by the local councils, rather than organisations such as yourselves, really? I was just wondering if I can have your views on that. Thank you.

Okay. So, do you want the honest answer, or the diplomatic answer? The straightforward issue with the trade unions—and I've been a Unite member and, prior to that, a Transport and General Workers Union member, all my life, and I was a National and Local Government Officers Trade Union steward at one time, 35 years ago—. Local government is highly unionised, and we respect that. And the unions, it's very easy for them to influence all terms and conditions, pay policies, et cetera, through their networks within local government, and it's not as easy for them to get a grip within outsourced organisations of any type. And so, because of that, they're just fundamentally opposed to the principle that the council don't control it, therefore their ability to have an instant voice is diminished. That's not to say that leisure trusts don't work with trade unions, it's just easier and more straightforward for what I would call, if you'll pardon it—. The Corbynite philosophy is that, if it's state run, if it's local authority run, it's well run. There's no evidence for that, and I don't think any of our customers would necessarily agree with that, but it is a political polemic; it's nothing to do with the actual practicalities.

[Inaudible.]—ask for you view on whether or not terms and conditions are as good in these alternative delivery models, compared to local authorities, because we did one visit in Wales where a local authority had turned their leisure services over to a trust but are now planning to bring them back in-house. One of the costs they face in doing that is concerned with the pension arrangements for the employees. So, basically, the local authority employees get a better pension deal than those working for the trust, so, if they bring it back in-house and they match the pension arrangements for other local authority employees, it's going to be a considerable cost. So, is that a general picture in your view? That's one example where terms and conditions are better for the workforce in local authorities compared to the alternative delivery models.


So, the pensions are an issue, because local authority pensions are very good and very expensive. Both Diana and myself are still in the local government pension schemes, even though we work for an independent social enterprise. When we work with councils, including Cardiff, we do negotiate with them the ability for staff to join the scheme. The difference is it's optional, not compulsory. They have to be in some form of pension, but they're allowed to join or stay in the local government scheme if they want to, and there are certain terms and conditions around that, but we accept that if people want to be in the final salary pension scheme, which is a good scheme, which I benefit from, then, as a staff-owned organisation, other people should be allowed to do that. Other trusts and other councils—it depends what deal they did when they outsourced, but GLL would always want that option for our staff. If they want to be in the pension scheme, they should be in it.

Ie. Os caf i adeiladu ar hynny eto, os gwelwch yn dda, ryw ychydig. Wrth gwrs, mae telerau gwaith mewn awdurdod lleol yn dda iawn, nid yn unig efo pensiynau, ond, wrth gwrs, bellach mae'n rhaid cael cyflog byw go iawn yn rhan o'r ddarpariaeth yna. Dwi wedi siarad efo amryw o ddarparwyr gwasanaethau hamdden sydd yn dweud, wel, maen nhw methu â thalu'r cyflog byw go iawn. Maen nhw'n talu'r cyflog byw, ond nid y real living wage, ac, os buasen nhw'n gorfod gwneud hynny a dod i mewn â thelerau cyflogaeth awdurdod lleol, buasen nhw'n methu â chynnal y gwasanaeth yna. Felly, ydy hynny yn un o'r rhesymau pam rydym ni'n gweld modelau lled braich, oherwydd arbedion cyflogaeth? Felly, ydyn ni'n gallu bod yn sicr bod telerau gwaith a chyflogau yr un mor dda yn y sector yma ag ydy o pe bai'r ddarpariaeth yna o fewn yr awdurdod lleol?

Yes. If I could just build on that again, a little bit, please. Of course, the working terms in local authorities are very good, not only in terms of pensions but also the real living wage has to be provided as part of that provision now. I have spoken to a number of leisure providers who say that they can't pay the real living wage. They do pay the living wage, but not the real living wage, and, if they did have to do that and bring in the local authority employment terms, they wouldn't be able to maintain that service. So, is that one of the reasons why we are seeing these arm's-length arrangements, because of these terms and conditions? Can we be sure that wages and terms are as good in this sector as they would be if the provision was within local authorities?

If that was addressed to me, I'm happy to—

The salary cost is as challenging for local authorities as it is for any organisation, and it is down locally to negotiation sometimes with the local authority and the trade unions about where we end up, but certainly GLL is a real living wage employer, and we've also got the Welsh workforce code, so we are quite constrained. The issue for all these social enterprise businesses isn't actually about trying to reduce the staff costs; it's about trying to increase the income. And we've heard examples of where we're more innovative about being able to trade and act and react better in the marketplace and open new sources of revenue and work with partners, such as the health service and the arts council and others, to bring funding in. It is a complex paradigm, and at the moment everybody is on their knees financially, because of the pandemic and because of the Ukraine war and energy issues. But the will is that we want to be great employers, we're staff-owned or influenced businesses working with partners at the local authorities, and not disadvantaging people because they work for us. We want to give them great careers, great training and good pay and good pensions.

Yes. Just to follow on from what Mark said, we, from next week, will be a real living wage employer. We have the same sickness scheme as the local authorities. We have a benefits platform. We have an employee assist programme. Generally, our surveys are telling us people are happy working for us and want to work for us. So, I think we've got work to do to maybe break down some of that narrative that local authority is good and every other sector is bad, because that simply isn't the case. We work very, very well locally with our trade union colleagues. We've got great relationships, actually, and they welcome the innovation and the focus that we have on workforce well-being. So, I think, nationally, they may have an ideological position, so far as 'outsourcing' is concerned, but, I think, locally, there are some very good examples of where trade unions are working very well with us as a sector. And I suppose, just to say, the alternative of sometimes keeping something in-house, is that—. The alternative is a loss of facilities and a loss of jobs. So, I think that's—. We have to be frank and honest about that, that there is an alternative. There's a very good alternative that is very fair, and one that looks after people, but the other one potentially has a loss of jobs involved in it, because that's the reality—that's what we faced in those, if I say, the Osborne austerity years of the 2010s, and we may be entering another phase of austerity as well. And I think that very real debate has to be held. 


Okay. Mabon, we're going to have to move on. Thank you very much. Diolch yn fawr. Joel. 

Thank you, Chair, and thanks ever so much, everyone, for coming in this morning. I just want to ask you a couple of quick questions on social value and well-being. I'm really just keen to know whether or not you think local authorities place enough emphasis on social value, based on your experience. Richard, do you want to go first?

The experience that I have, and we have as Awen Cultural Trust, is that the local authorities that we work with do. And that isn't a coincidence; we will only work with local authorities that do put a value on and understand outcome-driven partnerships. So, we're not driven by market share, but what we are driven by is finding partners that think the same way as us. So, I do think that, in Wales in particular—. I think we're very good at this in Wales. I think, in Wales, all 22 local authorities care about these services. I don't think there's a single local authority in Wales that doesn't care and understand what value libraries give people, what value the arts, culture, heritage and sport and leisure give people. I think they're under tremendous pressure, but I don't think—. There are great people working in local authorities all across Wales, and they want the best for their citizens, and they would definitely understand the value here. 

I mentioned earlier that we sit on a public services board. We also have an advisory board in the Bridgend area; we'll be setting that up proportionately as well in Rhondda Cynon Taf and in Blaenau Gwent. Our advisory board includes the leader of the council, two cabinet members, the chief executive of the health board, the chief executive of the housing association as well, and a member of Community Leisure UK, who I know have given evidence to this inquiry as well. So, when we sit down, we're always talking about outcomes, and how, as a partnership, we can improve those outcomes for local people. So, it's rarely about the nuts and bolts; in fact, I'd say it's never about the nuts and bolts. It's a very positive conversation, and members at all levels, I think, understand the value of what we do. It's just that, sometimes, I think they're backed into a corner so far as where their savings are coming from, and we understand that they're facing huge pressures, especially with the cost of utilities and the inflationary impact.

So, we understand that, but, actually, we're coming to the table with solutions as well, because one of the challenges facing the sector is that we're needed now more than ever, potentially. We've seen that with the warm welcome hubs that have been set up across Wales. At the same time as there was talk about closing, all of a sudden it was 'Well, can you do something to help us over here?' So, they really do get the relevance. 

I think it's sometimes difficult for councillors without a quantitative value in relation to the social value. So, I think that that can be difficult, and what we have done recently is to work with Sheffield Hallam University, and with other specialists in the sector, to actually quantify how much does a council get back from, say, a £1 investment. And what we have found in Lincolnshire is that we are generating over £5 for every £1 of investment, which I think is a very powerful way of demonstrating value. So, I think that that also is important—that we shouldn’t be afraid of quantifying what we do.


Perhaps you could share that piece of work with committee, if that's okay.

Thank you, Chair. Diana just completely read my mind, or I read hers. I was about to just echo exactly her point around quantification and the understanding of the value of some of our programmes, and we also work with a different company to review and investigate a couple of our projects. One was in libraries, which was about our tackling of social isolation and loneliness, and when we reviewed those interventions and interviewed the participants, the social value for every £1 spent was £8.75. And in our active communities teams, we work collaboratively with community safety to identify areas of high anti-social behaviour, and we go in and deliver interventions using sport as a tool to engage young people. Those programmes were evaluated and, for every £1 spent, £13.16 of social value was created. We gave those details to the Members that visited Aura in our infographics. I'm happy to submit that. I think it quantifies some of the work we do across leisure and libraries in terms of our social value.

Yes, Sian, if you could forward it, in addition to what you've already shared, that would be great, thanks. Okay. Joel.

Thank you, Chair. I just wanted to come back to Diana and Sian, then, about quantifying the social value of it. How easy have you found that, because we heard in previous evidence sessions that it's quite difficult to quantify? If I remember reading an article right—I think it was in The Developer a couple of years back—there are over 300 social metrics to work out social value, and it leads to a lot of overgeneralisations as well. So, how confident, then, are you with your figures and that, really?

And if I could just come back to Richard then, the rhetoric from the UK Government is that we should look to create community co-operatives to take on leisure services or libraries, but then the rhetoric from the Welsh Government is, actually, 'No, no, this should remain within the local authority.' To what extent do you think, then, that alternative models are becoming the default option from local councils? Are they actively looking? I know, in my own local council, Rhondda Cynon Taf, that their model is something that they pride themselves on—their RCT Together programme. And I just wanted to get your views on that, really. Is it that the local authorities are running counter to the Welsh Government? Or is it that this is like a last resort to offset? Because I know, from my own experience, as a former councillor, I felt that RCT were quite keen to offset what they saw as financial liabilities or burdens, especially a lot of the older properties that they managed. Thank you.

Okay, who would like to begin an answer? Sian and then Diana. Sian first, please.

Thanks, Chair. Yes, it's not an easy journey. It's certainly not simple and straightforward, and it involves quite a lot of consulting with users and surveying, and monitoring and evaluation of the work. To make that a bit easier, we worked with a community interest company, Social Know How, who worked with us within our services to map through those two pieces of work. We picked specific projects because, like you've mentioned, it is quite challenging to quantify everything. So, we picked a couple of projects that we were able to use to demonstrate social value. I'm not sure if that's answered everything, but, yes, we had some help and assistance in doing that.


Ours is slightly different—in fact, no, quite different. Ours is a generic model that was derived from the leisure model that was developed with Sheffield Hallam and Experian, and it is very stringent. It covers the service as a whole, but it can only work where we know who the user is. And then there is a linking back to see what is the type of user—so the age of the user, where the user lives. So, a lot of things are really taken into account here. The data that is derived is derived from our library management system, and that is fed through into the data model. What it takes is, it takes information on people who borrow books, people who use computers, people who use e-resources. What it doesn't do is take account of people who simply visit a library. We run Greenwich libraries, for instance, and that is the most visited library service in England. And we don't include, we can't include, because we cannot tell, who comes into the library, because that's absolutely free; nobody is questioned about who they are, how old they are, where they live or whatever. So, I think there is an undervaluing.

What is interesting is that the highest generator of social value, in quantitative terms, is a rural situation in Lincolnshire, where the value, as I said, is over £5. Now, Sian, with the community interest company that she mentioned, is doing it in a different way. Ours is generic; it's looking right across all the services. It's not focusing on an individual product or an individual project; it's focusing on day-to-day provision of public library services. And what we'd like to do is to look to see if we could develop further the methodology so that we gain data on who visits, because that will send that social value figure up considerably. So, that, for us, is an important next step and something that we would like to do, to give more of an understanding.

Could I just also respond generally to the question about what local authorities are looking for when they use an alternative delivery model, like a trust? In our experience, yes, of course, there is a desire to constrain costs, but there is also a desire to improve the service, and I think that really is so significant. It's important that, going in to provide library services and leisure services, as we do, we have an aim to improve—not just to stay the same, but to improve and transform services for local communities. Thank you.

Thank you. You talked earlier about increasing costs, so I'd just like to understand a little bit more about how energy costs and the cost of living have impacted on leisure facilities and libraries, and also the impact it's having on footfall and usage as well, post pandemic and with the cost of living.

Yes, I'm happy to make a start. Can I just make a point about the whole social value piece? At some point, we know what we do is good, and I think everybody else does as well, and sometimes there's constant clamour to try and justify our existence, and I don't think we need to do that all of the time. I think we need to be confident in what we're providing. And I do think that local elected members are very aware, at a very local level, because they listen to real people, and that's what we've got to focus on as well—those real case studies.

That leads me into the question here around the impact of energy costs and the cost of living. Firstly, from a beneficiary, from a customer's point of view, we've seen, clearly, the impact that this has had on families, on businesses, on individuals. So, from us, through the service, and coming out of the pandemic, speaking from libraries, we were one of seven library services in Wales to actually increase our membership during that time. So, more people were actually turning to libraries during the pandemic, and then through the cost-of-living crisis as well. So, I think that says a lot about what libraries could offer. We were agile enough to change our services to meet those needs, and we continue to do so. So, very often, as part of our warm-welcome scheme that we're running through the libraries, it might be the case that we just open up and somebody comes in, and they're now having a free cup of tea and a cup of coffee, they can read, they can socialise. Sometimes it's the case that they're just doing a jigsaw in a library, but they can go in there without anybody asking any questions and do what they need to do to feel better. And I've had personal experience of going around the libraries and seeing that happen. So, I think that, as a service across Wales, libraries have reacted really, really well, and the leisure and culture areas have done so as well, whether that's through theatres and the arts, by putting on free music events in the week, where, again, people can go and enjoy themselves without anybody judging them as to why they're going there. I think that's the important thing.

Clearly, for us as businesses, and across the sector, the energy costs are incredible. So, they're going up, into next year, by up to 200 per cent. That's the reality of it. I'm sure Mark will come in with some eye-watering figures across GLL, compared to what it means for us, especially when you're warming water in pools across the country. I have to say that local authority partners have been very supportive of that, very understanding of that. What we don't have in Wales is that public sector decarbonisation capital scheme that we can access. We're doing a lot ourselves, but I would urge Government to think of that, so that we can access the capital to really make a difference, not just to tackle the energy costs, but to get us to that net-zero position that we all want to get to. So, there's a climate emergency need to get there. I know that they run these decarbonisation schemes—large schemes—in England and in Scotland, and I'd urge that something similar in Wales would be very, very helpful.


Richard, I believe that something has been made available for decarbonisation capital through Sport Wales.

And we have had—. There are smaller schemes, but I think it's one of the challenges for both local authorities and us, especially where we have a mixed maintenance matrix that runs through our leases. They are struggling as well to be able to invest in that new green technology to the extent that they would like, which, in turn, would help us mitigate any future energy hikes as well.

Yes, just to reply to Carolyn's point about Sport Wales. Aura runs three swimming pools and the only ice rink in north Wales. They are energy guzzlers, and we found it quite amusing—I think that would be the phrase—that the UK Government said that our libraries were intensive energy users in terms of the support, but our leisure centres weren't. They'd obviously never seen our bills for our swimming pools and ice rink. However, we did get funded by Sport Wales for some decarbonisation projects. So, for example, at Deeside Leisure Centre, which committee members visited, the energy usage has gone down by a third because of those projects, which is fantastic. However, our energy bills have gone up by over £600,000, which, for a fairly small organisation, is a big hit, but we have been supported by our local authority, without which we couldn't have survived, to be quite frank. Without that support, I'm not sure we would have been able to continue. But the decarbonisation programme would be very much welcomed by Aura, because we too have quite elderly buildings, and so they're quite difficult to decarbonise. But also some thought about the importance of things such as swimming pools and ice rinks in the health and well-being of a community, and how much that community might welcome some support from Welsh Government. As I say, we've had support from Flintshire, and I'm not criticising that, but I know the local authority can't continue to support us at the level that they're doing now. 


So, it's interesting—. Joel earlier mentioned about England are looking at setting up co-operatives and mutuals and communities taking over, but I have heard you mention today that you're still getting some local authority support, which has been essential. So, for example, in Cardiff, leisure services used to cost £3 million and are now getting £1 million-worth of support. And again, during this crisis now with energy, that local authority support has been really important, which has come across this morning to me. 

When we visited Plas Madoc, that's run now by a community, and their energy bill increased—just for the swimming baths and that small leisure centre, it was £6,500 and it's now increased to £16,000 or £17,000 a year, which is huge. So, my other question, really, is to examine the operational challenges and financial risks for local authorities where alternative delivery models fail, or authorities are looking to bring back in-house. So, that was touched on earlier. So, these models have been set up, but, should local authorities want to try and bring them back in-house, how difficult would that be? The financial risk as well for local authorities should you collapse, because you cannot get that money from local authorities to help subsidise you—would you survive, basically? I know when we visited Aura leisure, there were concerns there regarding making sure that an agreement for the next few years is signed by the local authority, because otherwise you might not survive. So, if could you just elaborate on that a little bit further. Thank you. 

These are big questions and I'm afraid we've got very little time left, but if somebody could attempt a fairly concise answer. Yes, Mark. Mark seems to be muted at the moment. Ah, there we are. 

Thanks, Chair. It is a challenge and it's different everywhere. The energy costs I think in all businesses, and we are no exception—. Unfortunately, as was pointed out, swimming pools, in particular, and ice rinks, are massive energy guzzlers. If you just run gyms, like PureGym, it's not really that much of a problem; you run swimming pools, it's huge. But the key, in answer to Carolyn's question, really, is about the partnership with the local authority. The council has got a different way of operating the services with its leisure trust, whether it's a big trust like GLL or a local leisure trust, and the solutions have to be found locally and they have to be found jointly, and it is going to mean that somebody has to pay. The leisure trust doesn't have the money, the customers—. If you want customers to pay, then you'll price them out.

It currently costs over £12 to provide a swim and nobody pays more than £5, so that money has to come from somewhere. There's a transition we all need to go through on this journey to carbon neutral, reducing energy consumption. It's going to take a lot of capital, it's a big journey, we've all got to go on it together, and it's not about outsourcing or insourcing; it's about partnership working. 

Thanks very much, Mark. Okay. We turn to Jayne Bryant again. We'll need concise answers, I'm afraid. Jayne.


Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, everybody, and thank you for your evidence this morning. 

In terms of the statutory framework, perhaps you can just outline if you feel that the Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964 provides the required statutory protection for public libraries in Wales. And do you think that there is evidence that local authorities are providing a 'comprehensive and efficient' library service? We know that some libraries have gone over to other models, and how libraries are so important to our communities. We've talked about that this morning.

I'm happy to give it a go. I'll try and be concise; it's quite a big question.

I think here in Wales, Government in Wales, through the Welsh public library standards, have contributed to making sure that that Act has some definition, greater definition, and I think, certainly speaking in Wales—and I think it’s been done better here than perhaps elsewhere in the UK—it has protected the library services. It doesn’t mean that libraries haven’t shut, but I do think that they’ve provided a framework whereby local authorities can be measured on their efforts and on their intentions around library services. Whether they’re run directly by the local authority or by another body, I don’t think that makes a huge amount of difference.

What we currently lack in Wales is a strategy for libraries in Wales. There hasn’t been one for many years. We need a new one. There isn’t a public body that’s responsible for libraries in that sense, some kind of—even if there was a sponsored body. But, yes, I think there is strong evidence that it has helped to protect libraries in Wales, but not just protect, but, through the various iterations of the frameworks, I think improve libraries as well. We’ve seen the capital investment that’s gone hand in hand with that to make a real difference. We launched a refurbishment only last week of Pencoed library, and this investment is on the back of the standards as well.

I think the standards—. Personally, I think they need a whole revamp. I think they’re too input-output focused rather than actually looking at delivering best value and the social value that we were discussing earlier, and the case studies that—. A lot of effort goes into putting those together every year, and I think more sharing of best practice is needed.

So, I’ll leave it there, Chair. I tried to be as concise as I could.

Okay, thank you very much, Richard. Well, if other witnesses are broadly content with those points, and don't wish to add anything that is highly significant, I'll go back to Jayne. Jayne.

Diolch, Cadeirydd, and thank you, Richard, that's really helpful. Do you think that there's a need to legislate to safeguard library provision? And do you think it should be extended to ensure leisure services are a statutory requirement in Wales as well? If so, what do you think that would actually achieve? I realise that's quite a question as well, so—.

Very quickly, the problem with the current legislation, the 1964 Act, is those words ‘comprehensive and efficient’. Really, it is how those words are defined. So, they are defined locally, and that places library services at risk. I think there would be merit in looking at the situation to see whether further protection could be built in, and I agree with Richard that the fact that you have public library standards has been helpful, although I note that it has not prevented the erosion of funding from, say, book stocks across Wales. There may be some sense in defining areas that should be ring-fenced and cannot simply be eroded. Although a book fund is actually quite small in comparison to an overall costing for a service, it's something that can, if I may say, be looked on by a financial director of a local authority with enthusiasm when faced with problems elsewhere. So, there may be some merit in looking to see whether additional legislation would be helpful to make sure that the services that you value are retained. I think I need to transfer across to Mark in relation to leisure. I don't think I'd like to meddle in that area, so if I could transfer across to Mark on the leisure side, please.


Yes. It would be helpful if local authorities were forced to have a coherent leisure strategy, and that's—. I think that would give clarity to everybody, including our colleagues in the health service, so people knew what to expect for a universal leisure service. We can survive without it, but it would be a good move to standardise what the expectation of leisure services is and to make it compulsory for the local authorities to make sure that it happens.

I think so, because it's different in every part of the country, and I'm sure it's different in every part of Wales, because there isn't a national standard for what provision should be. So, I think simple legislation, saying that there needs to be a health and leisure strategy that ensures that the leisure centre service joins up with the health service would be good.

Sorry, Chair. Yes. I think it's a difficult one to dissect. Legislation may help, but also the points that Diana made—it would need to be clearly defined so that there isn't this minimal standard, I guess. But what would be incredibly helpful in future, because we have received support from Welsh Government via local authority, is, if funds were made available for leisure services in particular, that, when they get passed on to local authorities, they're ring-fenced in some way so that, when there are difficult financial pressures for local authorities, that actually helps protect some of the support.

Thank you very much. I'm afraid we've just got a few minutes left. Sam, are you content that your questions have largely been covered? Is there anything in particular you'd like to quickly ask?

—I was going to ask a bit more around the Welsh public library standards framework, and, Richard, you helpfully touched on it a few moments ago. I noted your point around the lack of, perhaps, a national strategy at the moment around libraries. But I'm just conscious that the current standards framework actually ran out in 2020—so, it was 2017-20—and, obviously, it had evolved from, I think, 2001, when the thing first came in. I just wondered whether you think that the framework itself has kept up to speed with the way in which libraries have evolved over the last 20 years or so. I think of myself—when I first went to the library as a kid, it was literally just you'd get a book off a shelf, and that was probably the only option you had, whereas, these days, there's a whole array of things there. Do you think the library standards now reflect what people expect and want to experience in a library, or do you think they're still set to quite traditional views of what libraries could and should deliver? And would you say that the framework that's been in place has improved some performance of libraries across Wales?

In answer to the second question, yes, no doubt they have improved library services across Wales, so they have been a useful vehicle for that. Have they kept up to speed? Probably not, and that's partly because we're four years behind in getting a new framework in place, and I know the sector is crying out for that. I think the entitlements provide a great base to build on, but I do think they're too input and output driven as they stand. I guess a question for Government is, 'Why are you asking those questions? What are you doing with the information? Why does it matter how much is actually being spent? Should it be more the results of that expenditure?' Because somebody could be spending millions on their library service; it doesn't necessarily mean it's a good library service. So, I think it's really asking those deep questions as to why we want this information.

But you're right, libraries are now very vibrant spaces; they're very different wherever you go, they're very localised, and I think whatever framework we have in place needs to reflect that, and that they mean a great deal of different things to many, many different people. And so, yes to a framework, the entitlements, but it needs careful thought to make sure that it is actually looking at best value and social value.


Okay, Richard. Thank you very much, and thank you very much to all our witnesses. We'll have to leave it there, I'm afraid, but you will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in the usual way. Thank you much for giving evidence to committee this morning. Diolch yn fawr.

Okay, committee will break very briefly. I'm afraid we will have to be back at 10:30, so a quick comfort break.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 10:25 a 10:32.

The meeting adjourned between 10:25 and 10:32.

3. Gwasanaethau Llyfrgell a Hamdden awdurdodau lleol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 3
3. Local Authority Library and Leisure Services - evidence session 3

Okay. Welcome back, everyone, to the committee's third evidence session on local authority library and leisure services. I'm very pleased to welcome Matthew Williams, head of policy and communications for the Welsh Sports Association, and also Fergus Feeney, chief executive officer for Swim Wales—welcome both.

Perhaps I might begin with some fairly general initial questions, and firstly, could you summarise what you see as the key benefits and value of leisure and library services to communities, and what the impact is when those services are withdrawn? Who would like to—? Matthew?

Yes, I'll kick off. Obviously, our comments are largely confined to leisure services, because our membership doesn't encompass anyone in the library sector. The Welsh Sports Association's membership is made up of about 140 organisations delivering sport in Wales. A good chunk of those organisations are the national governing bodies of sport, so Fergus from Swim Wales is here alongside me; Swim Wales are a member. We have a broad range of organisations from quite small national governing bodies—Basketball Wales, as an example—through to some of the largest, like the Football Association. That's about 6,000 amateur sports clubs and about a million volunteers and participants in sport within our membership. I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of those rely upon public leisure services to deliver their activities. They are hiring spaces at public leisure centres, hiring sports halls, rugby pitches, football pitches, et cetera, and losing access to those services, those facilities, would be a huge threat to their ongoing activity, and we have seen that happen, to an isolated extent, in the last probably 10 to 12 years, where a small number of leisure facilities have been closed, leaving gaps in people's access to services. And that has most often happened in rural communities, where travel distances and times are extended, if a rural leisure centre is to close or part of that facility is to close, or change its services dramatically, you'll end up with people either ceasing that activity, or having to move elsewhere in the country to deliver it.

So, broadly speaking, the benefit to having safe, accessible and affordable public leisure services is self-evident to us in that it enables our members to deliver their sporting activity and these facilities act as community hubs in doing so—they're places where people get together; they socialise, they take part in physical activity for their mental and physical health.


Thank you, Chair. A lot of what Matthew said—. If I just concentrate on our activities and sports, through your own Welsh Government survey and Sport Wales survey, the active adults survey and the school sport survey recently commissioned—and we saw the result some months ago—there are 500,000 children and adults aquatically active across the whole of Wales, nearly 15 per cent of the Welsh population, which I've said in front of a couple of other committees over the last 18 months, post COVID, and various other committees I've sat in front of, and it gives me great pleasure to say that 500,000 Welsh people are that active in the water. And that could be—without any jokes here, but that could be anything from Miriam on a Tuesday morning with the girls doing aqua aerobics or it could be children learning to swim: 150,000 per week in swimming lessons right across the country, or that startling number of nearly 400,000 active adults just either having a swim before work, after work or generally just using that as a social base for activity. And it's one of the very rare activities and sports where we cater from six months old to—we have swimmers who are 96 years of age, 100 years of age, not in the big numbers, but they are out there. So, it really spans across the ages.

So, that's the first point: half a million active Welsh people. If we're trying to attain a figure—which Sport Wales regularly talks about as well as Welsh Government talk about—of a million active people every week, well, we're halfway there with the aquatic piece alone. So, the connection to swimming pools and leisure centres is quite obvious there. Without those facilities in those areas, those numbers that we have together, collaboratively between Welsh Government funding, UK lottery funding, Sport Wales, via Sport Wales to ourselves, and with our other partners across the 22 local authorities, et cetera, et cetera—. There are lots of partners and we've all worked together and spent millions of pounds and millions of hours building that up and there's a real threat to all of that if we don't take care and take heed of the current situation.

The impact, Chair, very quickly, across mental health, we have lots of reports, lots of studies across England, Scotland and Wales, you don't have to look too far to see the positive impact on people's mental health, their physical health and on areas like pre-cancer treatment, post-cancer treatment in terms of physical health and recovery. And we're doing a lot of work with GP referral, with the NHS at the moment, where this is playing a huge part in the preventative health agenda—a huge part—and all of that's really coming through. Thank God sport and health are coming together to work together for, in my opinion, the first time in a serious way for a long time, if ever.

And then, you have the social connection that I think that Matt alluded to—I'll finish on that. It's the social connection. There are so many stories, and we see that through the free swimming initiative where we've asked people, 'What do you get from the free swimming initiative?', which is a very unique scheme commissioned by Welsh Government. And I'm a massive fan and advocate of that programme and I've been involved in it all of my time in the job at Swim Wales. That social connection, bringing people together, especially from those rural communities. Sometimes, these facilities are the only community hub that they have for miles. There's a lot in that, Chair; sorry, if I went on a bit.

No, not at all, Fergus. We'll be exploring these issues in greater detail as we go through this evidence session and other committee members will want to contribute with questions. 

But just picking up on what you said about threats, Fergus, I wonder if both of you could say something about what you see as the key challenges facing local authorities in maintaining and investing in community leisure and library provision in Wales.


I think there are probably three key challenges at the moment. I think the first of them is really that people's habits and lifestyles are changing, and that means the offer that is required is probably going to need to change. The pandemic has accelerated some of that and introduced some new challenges around the lay of the land in terms of what customers are doing. The second is probably ongoing operations and maintenance challenges, and that's really related to the scale of the revenue funding available to these services in local authorities. The past, probably, 13 years have been quite challenging in that context. And then the third is probably the scale of the capital funding. We really welcome the record levels of capital investment coming via Sport Wales into the sector. However, local authority leisure services' capital requirements are probably quite a lot higher than those going through Sport Wales. And Sport Wales is funded to deliver sports development activity, for the most part, and shouldn't necessarily be expected to fund the capital requirements of local authority leisure provision, especially given the scale of them. 

Matthew, just picking up on what you said about habits and lifestyles, could you just say a little bit more about that?

Yes. So, we saw a fairly substantial drop in participation during the pandemic, obviously, for obvious reasons, but there has been a long and slow recovery post pandemic, and I think a lot of our members are reporting that things are beginning to get back to 2019 levels at this stage. However, contained within that is a challenge in that a lot of our members, particularly in the public leisure sector, are reporting that their income mix has changed. So, those who have come back to activity in public leisure centres tend to be more heavily weighted towards those paying concessionary and social rates. So, the income mix has shifted considerably. So, whilst participation levels are similar, the income is not. And that, coupled with the increased costs we've seen, particularly since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, is posing particular challenges for the leisure sector. And then you've also seen slight shifts in the kinds of activities that people want to do. So, running and cycling perhaps picked up some activity during the pandemic, so did golf and tennis, because they came back a little earlier. Those in middle incomes and higher might have gone to private membership clubs for their activity and aren't participating in public leisure anymore, and that brings its challenges as well. 

Yes. I think to answer the key challenges question, and I'll try not to duplicate too much what Matt said, I think No. 1 for us is the post-COVID impact. We're still in recovery. Numbers were down at one stage—participation numbers—on the population, or the active community I've talked about, the 500,000. We were down about 30 per cent, coming out of COVID. That's more like 10 or 20 per cent now. So, we're seeing a nice steady recovery, but there is still a real issue around confidence for some of the older age groups we had who wouldn't have had a problem with mixing in public environments and had confidence about going outside and making that jump, as we always call it, from the sofa to the front door, and from the front door to the leisure centre. So, there's a confidence issue there, but it's building back slowly. 

The mix has changed, because ironically, where we're down on adult participation in some areas, we've actually got record numbers learning to swim—150,000 children, versus just over 100,000 pre COVID, which is fantastic. We're seeing waiting lists across a lot of those local authorities, which is fantastic. There's a bit of irony, really. We had a shortage of swimming teachers, post COVID, because a lot of that workforce left because of furlough and various other things. Because of the uncertainty, people lost jobs, there was the closure of pools. So, we're trying to build that up. So, actually, the supply and demand, we're trying to do our best to support the sector and equal that out. We do an awful lot of training. We've put 1,000 new swim teachers out there over the last 12 months, which is obviously going to help our partners across the local authorities.

I think the post-COVID recovery created a situation where revenue streams and profit and loss for a lot of these pools—. They are small businesses, a lot of them, where a local authority has four, five or six pools, where it's devolved with capital asset transfer, or over to a leisure trust. They still have to balance the books; they're small businesses. They need money in, there's money going out, and that's a real challenge. Therefore, they've had to hike up or increase prices. That's put a real strain on affordability, and therefore a knock-on effect on accessibility. Collectively, we're trying to get more people active. That's pricing a lot of the Welsh population out of this, which is pretty concerning. On top of that, we've got what I would say is a significant disconnect in the transport system, where I don't see transport talking. Even within local government, I don't see transport talking, and I'm happy to be proved otherwise, but I do get around, a bit, all of our partners, and I think we could be a lot better in accessing leisure and libraries—I can't speak for libraries, but I'm sure it's very similar—and matching that up with transport, especially in the rural areas and the harder-to-reach areas. That's a real issue.

To Matt's point then, we have just under 500 accessible pools in Wales and about 200-odd are local authority owned, but 80 per cent of those local authority pools are 20 years old or older, and internally we talk about a crumbling estate. And while we're very grateful for the Welsh Government's £8 million capital a year, I'll just put that into perspective. The Wales National Pool, which is a 50m pool that replaced the Empire pool in Cardiff, which is where my offices and a lot of my staff are based, was built for £15 million or thereabouts in 2010. To build the equivalent pool nowadays would be £40 million plus. The international pool, not far from us in Cardiff Bay, cost £27 million. The Ponty lido, which was just a refurb, really, and a fantastic job, and hats off to our colleagues at Rhondda Cynon Taf who did that, was £3 million. With an £8 million a year capital fund for the whole of sport, you kind of see where I'm going. Protecting the aged estate that is our swimming pools and those 200 pools across leisure centres is a huge concern, because even if we get through the short term, the long-term picture really needs to be addressed.


Fergus, could you tell the committee about the picture across Wales in terms of children learning to swim by attending swimming lessons with their school? I know, locally, for me, I think in the last year of primary, children from the schools in Newport go to the local swimming pool, and that's been a regular programme for a long time. Is that the picture across Wales? Because obviously not all children will have parents who will take them along to the swimming pool or enrol and pay for swimming lessons, but these children who don't benefit in that way can benefit through the school programme. I just wonder if that's consistent across Wales.

With respect, Chair, I think you're spot on with the catch-all role that school swimming plays for all of our children across Wales. It's a real equaliser. The sad thing is, and I'm meeting with, through our sport policy colleagues, who've set up a meeting—. We've reached out to the department for education, because with swimming we're hanging on with our fingernails. We're in the 2022 new curriculum, the competency piece and the water safety piece and the life skill. We've managed to stay in the curriculum because of that piece. So, it's really, really important, but I said in a previous committee when I gave evidence, and there was a bit of shock around the room, that only 50 per cent of the 1,600 plus primary schools in Wales actively take part in school swimming. It's not mandated. It's not regulated, if you like, by Estyn in the way that other subjects are. So, only 50 per cent in our survey. We had to go out and do our own across the whole of the primary school network.

It's a very, very sad situation, and what's resulted from that is that 42 per cent of children leaving key stage 2 or year 6 have the ability to swim. This year, we'll see circa 70,000 children, including two of my own—. I've got four daughters; one in secondary school, one very tiny, and two 11-year-olds going into secondary school. But they'll leave year 6 able to swim. They're two of the lucky ones; we've been able to put them into Llanishen Leisure Centre to learn to swim. But there are lots of other children that school swimming will be the only way they'll learn that life skill. It's a really, really serious situation. So, looking at those figures, 35,000 to 40,000 children will leave year 6 this year without the ability to swim, and that number is going down every year, because of that kind of inactivity.

It's not a blame thing, but I think we've taken our eye off the ball with regard to school swimming in a big way, because those children that can't afford those lessons—. The average lesson pre COVID was £6.50 for a swimming lesson, and post-COVID, in the current environment across Wales, the average cost of a swimming lesson is £12.50. So, we've nearly doubled the cost of a swimming lesson. Those children in those harder-to-reach areas, underserved areas, socially and economically deprived areas, have no chance, and that's why school swimming is so important. We celebrate the 150,000 who are in those lessons—that's fantastic—but they're the ones that can afford it. We're going to have a situation very soon where, dare I say it, white middle-class children will be able to swim and the rest won't. 


Thanks, Chair. Just on a point you mentioned earlier, Fergus, in relation to the quality of the estate, as it were, whether it's swimming pools, or whether it's perhaps leisure more broadly, do you think we've missed a trick in terms of twenty-first century schools? Clearly, there's been huge investment in our school grounds and estates to bring them up to standard. Do you think we should have done more, and perhaps in the future should do more, to incorporate within that twenty-first century school programme leisure facilities, so that funding can take place, and the experience of children at school can be appreciated more wholly? Do you think we've missed a trick there?

Can I take that one? I think it's topical. My senior management team were away for a strategy day recently, and we are launching a new framework for aquatics in Wales over the next few months. We've been working on that with staff and partners, and all the rest of it, for about 12 months. One of the areas that we're going next level down in terms of aquatics—. We have a plan for, obviously, our performance and our national squads in the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics and that side of things; that's one area. But on the aquatics piece, the core aquatics piece, school swimming came up, and somebody asked me 'What's our strategy for school swimming?'; it was a board member. We went away to produce that strategy for school swimming. We have a strategy for school swimming. The next question came up: 'So, how does that connect to the strategy for school sport and school activity?' So, we went looking for it. There is no strategy in Wales for school sport and activity. It doesn't exist.

I think, with respect to my colleague, if I can answer it that way and say, 'How can we design facilities?' The twenty-first century school piece is, in my opinion, crying out for an informed strategy that says, 'This is what a school should look like with respect to sport and activity'. I think we leave a lot of that to chance in Wales. I think if a school is minded, if a headteacher is minded—. I might be speaking out of turn a little bit, but we know from the swimming piece that 50 per cent of those headteachers will wake up in the morning and think swimming, they'll think 'This is a life skill. This is important for my children to leave the school.' And that's great. But there's 50 per cent who won't think that. They'll be thinking English, maths, which are important, of course they are; the curriculum is hugely important. And all credit to our colleagues—the new Curriculum for Wales has been produced, but it's missing, in my opinion, that piece around sport and physical activity; there doesn't seem to be an overarching strategy for all of us to get behind. 

Thanks. I just wanted to come on that regarding swimming for schools. Teachers have said that one of the biggest things that stops them is transport to get children to the swimming baths; it's really expensive to hire a coach. That was one of the biggest issues. I'm on the culture committee, and I know that Jayne is on the Children, Young People and Education Committee and they've looked at it as well, sports and the curriculum. So, I just wanted to feed that in, the transport. I suggested that, if there could be some social value added to procurement of school transport, where the operators could possibly give social value to schools to provide free transport later on in the day to swimming lessons, that could be helpful.


If I can, Chair, very quickly. Thank you. We've touched on this, I think, before. We have costed that up. To fully fund school swimming, which accommodates for my colleague's question there in terms of transport cost, that will equate to £4.4 million a year, and we've presented that paper in to Government. It's being discussed at the moment—where does it sit; is it sports, is it education. The debate continues, but that will put a frame on that. I think the procurement piece is a really excellent point. I think there is a great opportunity to consolidate some of that across local authorities and to help schools out, because that is the barrier. It's not so much training teachers and teaching assistants to help, it's not swim schools, it's not the local authorities, it's not the pools. That infrastructure, that piece of the jigsaw, is in place. But that gives you an idea: across Wales, we could do this for £4 million.

I'd be grateful if whatever work you mention to committee—. If you haven't already shared it with our committee clerks, it would be useful to receive that. Mabon ap Gwynfor.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Cadeirydd, a diolch ichi am ddod yma y bore yma. O edrych ar y gwahanol fodelau sydd gennym ni o ran darpariaeth a sut mae'r cyfleusterau yma'n cael eu rhedeg, dwi'n gwybod yn ôl eich tystiolaeth chi, Matthew, fod y gymdeithas chwaraeon yn agnostig am y math y fodel, ond mae yna fodelau gwahanol. Mae gennym ni rai yn fewnol i awdurdodau lleol, awdurdodau lleol yn rhedeg gwasanaethau. Mae gennym ni rai cwmnïau lled-braich wedi cael eu creu, fel yn Sir Ddinbych neu yng Ngwynedd. Ac yna mae gennym ni rai annibynnol, fel pwll nofio Calon Tysul yn Llandysul. Felly, mae yna lwyth o fodelau gwahanol ar gael. Oes gennych chi farn ar y modelau yma? Er eich bod chi yn y gymdeithas chwaraeon yn agnostig arno fo, oes gennych chi farn ar sut maen nhw'n gweithredu? Ac o ran Nofio Cymru, oes gennych chi farn ar pa fodel sydd yn gweithio orau i'r defnyddwyr, os gwelwch yn dda?

Thank you very much, Chair, and thank you for appearing before us here this morning. In looking at the different models that we have in terms of provision and how these facilities are run, I know from your own evidence, Matthew, that the WSA is model agnostic, but there are different models. There are some internal to local authorities, run by those local authorities. We have some arm's-length companies that have been created, as is the case in Denbighshire and Gwynedd. And we have some independents, such as the Calon Tysul pool in Llandysul. So, there are all sorts of different models available. Do you have a view on these models? Although you as WSA have said you're agnostic, do you have a view on how they operate? And in terms of Swim Wales, do you have a view on which model works best for the users of those service?

Mi wna i geisio ateb yn Gymraeg, Mabon. Fel dŷn ni'n ei weld e, mae yna dair model wahanol, felly mae yna in-house model traddodiadol, mae contracted model fel yng Ngwynedd a Sir Ddinbych, a beth sy'n digwydd yma yng Nghaerdydd gyda GLL fel charitable trust, yn gwneud y delivery ar ran yr awdurdodau. Ac wedyn y trydydd model yw’r model community asset transfer lle does dim contractual relationship rhwng yr awdurdodau a'r deliverer, ond maen nhw dal yn gwneud rhywbeth dros y gymuned yn rhywle lleol. Dwi'n mynd i droi'n ôl i'r Saesneg nawr, os ydy hynny'n iawn.

I'll try to answer in Welsh, Mabon. As we see it, there are three different models, so there is the traditional in-house model, there's the contracted model, such as in Gwynedd or Denbighshire, and what's going on here in Cardiff with GLL as a charitable trust, doing the delivery on behalf of the authorities. And then there's the third model of the community asset transfer where there's no contractual relationship between the authorities and the deliverer, but they still do something for the community locally. I'll turn back to English now, if that's okay with you.

Those three different models present different challenges and different opportunities. I think for those where there has been a community asset transfer, there's a real opportunity to deliver something in partnership with the community, something where the community really buys into it, where local people have a real stake and say. Because it's not a contracted relationship I think there's no financial safety net in those delivery models, and a lot of those facilities that came through the community asset transfer process are probably those most under threat at the moment. I know you've got examples in your own constituency around that, and there are others elsewhere in Wales where single-site operators are finding the current environment really challenging.

For those contracted services where they're run by a third party on behalf of the local authorities, they've been able to access alternative financing arrangements, and there have been some tax incentives for them over the last 10, 12 years. So, they've probably got a slightly more favourable bottom-line position and have been able to invest. That isn't across all of them, but some of them have certainly been able to modernise more effectively and readily, perhaps, than some of the in-house deliverers.

In-house delivery, I think, is still in the situation where closing leisure centres, et cetera, is a politically difficult decision to make for council cabinets, council members. And there is a level of protection that's associated, I think, with that in-house model of delivery, despite the often increased costs that in-house delivery faces.


If I could just add to that rather than take away, and I will be brief, Chair; I understand you've got other questions. I think there are no right or wrong models—and I won't repeat the models that Matt just listed. There are no right or wrong in our opinion. I think what it does boil down to—. Somebody I heard, not so long ago, talked about some of these having devolved responsibilities, but devolved responsibilities to an operator or to a trust doesn't mean you're absolved of responsibility. And I think that's the question for me: some of these, with what we've seen through COVID and post COVID, and now with the energy crisis—and I'm not going to name them, as such—but some feel really out on a limb and cut adrift. And while it's really important to have these different models, because some do benefit—. Some local authorities run their leisure facilities in a very professional manner and are very competent and have a very competent skill-base, workforce, et cetera, and that's fine. Others see a need to give that to a more professional outfit or professional operator who does this stuff for a living, and I think that should be commended.

But I think the interest and the will—and I go back to strategy—somebody needs to still care about how those services are delivered and what support that outfit needs. And that could be through more experience, more skills, it could be through procurement or whatever, but there needs to be a connection maintained and a support network maintained, even though they are managing separately day to day. Does that make sense? So, that will needs to be there. And I do question, on my travels across these local authorities, and all of these partners that we work with—there's some brilliant work in Wales, there really is, and I could list a whole load of great examples of good practice—but what it boils down to is: where does health and well-being sit on the agenda? How far up the agenda does that sit? And I think there's a direct correlation between the social value of health and activity and well-being, and how that local authority sees that. There are lots of different priorities, of course there are, but it boils down to will. If there's a will there, they will support whatever operating model exists.

Gan gymryd yr hyn rydych chi wedi'i ddweud, felly, o ran bod modelau gwahanol yn darparu pethau gwahanol i gymunedau gwahanol, a bod yna ddim un model iawn ar unrhyw un achlysur, ydych chi wedi gweld patrwm o gwbl yn y modelau yma fod un math o fodel yn cynyddu cyfranogiad ac yn cynyddu defnydd, a'ch bod chi'n gweld mwy o bobl yn defnyddio y gwasanaethau mewn un model? Ynteu oes gennych chi enghreifftiau o arfer da, hwyrach, y buasech chi eisiau eu rhannu efo ni er mwyn inni ddysgu ohonyn nhw?

Now, having heard what you've said about how different models provide different things for different communities, and there's no one right model in any circumstance, have you seen any pattern, within these models, that one kind of model increases participation and usage, and that you see more people using those services in one model? Or do you have examples of good practice, perhaps, that you'd like to share with us, so we could learn from those?

I ddweud y gwir, na. Dydyn ni heb weld evidence o hwnna o gwbl. Mae participation yn dibynnu ar gymaint o ffactorau lleol, mae'n anodd i dorri mas beth sy'n gwneud pethau fel yna. Felly, na, dwi ddim yn gweld evidence fod un model yn gwneud mwy o wahaniaeth i participation nag unrhyw un arall.

In reality, no. We haven't seen evidence of that at all. Participation relies on so many factors on a local level, it's difficult to work out what drives things like that. So, no, I don't see evidence that one model makes more of a difference to participation than any other.

No, but what I can say is that I think there is definitely a connection between some of our leisure trusts. There aren't many of them; I think there are 10 in Wales at the moment, something like that, Matt—just double checking there. So, there are 10 in Wales, and I do see a correlation between the leisure trusts being closer to the community. They talk to the community, the feedback loop between the community itself and the leisure trusts seems to be stronger. Sometimes, in some of those operating models, there's a distance between the head and the tail. So, talking to the community, finding out what the community wants, can be a hard thing to do, getting that insight and data, and then reacting fairly quickly. So, I do think it's a bit like the oil tanker and the speedboat—some of these leisure trusts are more of the speedboat model, where they can listen, readjust, and, next week, they can put on a class because they've had 25 people rock up to reception and say, 'Wouldn't it be great? I was in Carmarthen last week, they had a class X, Y and Z—could you do the same?' Suddenly, it's on. That's as opposed to maybe some of the other feedback loops, where you fill in a form, it goes into the reception, it goes up the ranks, through the local authority, and somebody might read it in six months' time. I'm not saying that's always the case, but for me, they seem a lot more flexible and adaptable, and closer to the people.


And I think you could probably put concrete examples of that, post pandemic, where the contracted operators tended to return to activity and opening a little quicker than those that were directly in-house. And that, again, varied across local authorities, and some of it was down to arrangements made with local health boards, around keeping leisure centres as field hospitals, vaccinations, et cetera. But there was almost a natural incentive for those third-party contracted, whether it's trust, trading company, et cetera, to get their doors open a little quicker.

Diolch. Ac os caf i ddilyn lan ag un cwestiwn olaf—diolch yn fawr iawn. O ran budd economaidd, budd ariannol i'r awdurdod lleol, ydych chi'n gweld bod y modelau yma yn rhoi budd ariannol i awdurdodau lleol ac yn gwneud lles iddyn nhw, eu bod nhw wedi cael cwmni allanol i'w wneud o?

Thank you. And if I could follow up with a final question—thank you very much. In terms of economic benefit, financial benefit to local authorities, do you see that these models do provide financial benefits to local authorities and are beneficial to them, that they've got an external company to undertake these operations?

'Ydw' yw'r ateb byr i hwnna. Mae yna reswm pam mae cymaint o awdurdodau lleol wedi gwneud yr arrangements yma. Mae'r trust model yn gwneud yn siŵr bod y services yma yn dal i gael eu darparu yn y gymuned. Felly, oes, mae yna ychydig o broblemau gyda management fees sy'n cael eu talu i'r trusts, yn enwedig, ac mae yna broblemau jest i wneud yn siŵr bod rhai o'r trading companies yn mynd nôl i sefyllfa lle maen nhw'n profitable. Ond dros yr holl piece, mae'r arrangements yma wedi bod yn llwyddiannus.

'Yes' is the short answer to that. There's a reason why so many local authorities have undertaken these arrangements. The trust model ensures that these services can still be provided in the community. So, yes, there are some problems with management fees that are paid to the trusts, especially, and there are problems as to just ensuring that some of these trading companies are going back to a situation where they are profitable. But across the whole piece, these arrangements have been successful.

Yes, I would. Very quickly, I think that, sometimes—. And it's not, again, a blame thing at all; it's just an observation as a national governing body—and after football and rugby, one of the larger ones—that our view is that there needs to be a lot more data and insight as to social value and the return on social value, and I think that there's a lot of information out there. When you're looking at a spreadsheet in isolation—I run four businesses myself—you're looking at the numbers, you're looking at the profit and loss, and it's very, very easy just to see those numbers, try and balance the books, and not look further afield.

I'll give you a quick example. We deliver eight national events a year at the Wales National Pool Swansea. We have a commercial arrangement with the university and Swansea Council, because they co-run and own the Wales national pool—WNPS—and Swim Wales is, effectively, a long-term tenant. So, we do have a commercial contract in place with them, and I have to remind them all the time that those eight events a year bring in £3.7 million to the local economy. We have to paint that wider picture, to say, 'When these events go on, it's not just paying money, that I pay you to hire the pool, they pay money in, and if there's money left over, it goes into sport.' There's a whole bigger picture.

And I think that data and insight is missing across Wales; we could be much better. Again, there will be people out there, listening to me today and saying, 'We do a great job on that.' They probably do, but there are gaps. I think that, as a collective—and I'm sure Brian Davies and his team in Sport Wales would agree with me—we need to be better at collecting that data and insight to show that picture, rather than focusing on this post-COVID energy-crisis PnL only.


Okay. Thank you, Fergus. It takes us on to social value, and Joel James. Joel. 

Thank you, Chair, and thanks everyone for coming in this morning. Yes, as the Chair said, this takes me on because I'm quite interested in the social value. One of the concerns that I have is whether or not local authorities, for example, place enough emphasis on social value, and I just wanted to get your idea—obviously, I think, Fergus, you've just touched upon it—but, given your experience, do you think local authorities place enough emphasis on the social value of swimming pools and what they can bring to communities? Thank you.

I think, overall, yes, they do place quite a lot of value on the social value of these places and buildings, and I think I touched on it earlier, that it's a politically difficult decision to close facilities, to reorganise facilities, and that is because of the value that communities and voters within local authority footprint areas place on these buildings. And I think the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 has helped in this regard, in making sure that local authorities do pay some regard to the wider benefits of having leisure facilities within their footprint, and the things against which they deliver in terms of education, health, community well-being and community safety. But, yes, I think Fergus said it in his last answer: we could probably get a lot better at this. I think local authorities could probably be better at articulating the social value of the leisure facilities in their areas.

Yes. Thanks ever so much, Matthew, for that. We've heard, then, from different evidence sessions—and Mabon touched upon it—about preferred options, and that. And I just wanted—. And we've heard about alternative models like social enterprises anchored in community hubs, and all that. I just wanted to get your opinion, based on your own experiences: to what extent is that becoming the default model now from local authorities? Are they looking to offset their community assets, maybe because they might see them as a financial liability, and as you mentioned, there isn't necessarily that statutory duty to provide them? Or are you seeing a concerted effort by local authorities to try and keep them in-house, and that, as you mentioned, they have recognised that social value to try and maintain them? I just wanted to get your opinions on that sort of thing. Thank you.

I don't think there's a—. There is roughly an even split in Wales today around whether services are delivered in-house, or whether they are contracted to a third party, whoever that third party might be. So, I don't think there's a particular direction of travel. We've seen one contract that's going back in-house at the moment, though that has been delayed by a year, I understand, due to financial challenges around bringing that contract back in-house. And I think, as I put in my written evidence paper, a lot of the challenges in this space come around that transition point, in whichever direction that transition is—whether it's going from an in-house model of delivery to a third-party model, or vice versa. So, I don't think there is a default option in Wales at the moment, and I think there are sets of decisions made based on local priority and local need, and that is probably the best way for it to be done. Our interest in this is always in either improving or preserving the existing levels of service.

Okay, Joel, I think we'll have to move on, I'm afraid. We're so tight for time, I'm afraid. Carolyn Thomas. 

Thank you. I'd just like to understand a bit further about the rising energy costs and the cost of living. How have they impacted on public leisure facilities, and the impact on footfall and usage? I know you touched on it earlier, but if there's anything else you'd like to add. 

As far as we're aware, energy costs in the sector have roughly tripled for some organisations. That’s a really significant impact on the bottom line, and as I said for those single-site operators, often, those who’ve undergone community asset transfer, that’s a real problem, and those are the ones we’re most worried about at the moment. I know you heard evidence from Sport Wales last week, and there’s also some evidence from the Bevan Foundation’s tracker survey, around the impact that this is having on people’s participation levels, and in particular those on lower incomes currently appear to be doing less and less sport, and that is worrying. We don’t want to see participation become the preserve of the middle and upper income brackets here in Wales. 


Just a little bit, Carolyn, if that's okay. The work that we’ve done across the board suggests that the gap in energy bills across all of our partners—and I mentioned just under 500 pools—if we just look at local authority or local government leisure facilities alone, the estimated gap is between £26 million and £32 million. So, that’s the increase compared to this time last year. In fact, I’d go further than Matt and say that energy costs are three to five times, in some cases, what they were before. I’d go a little bit further on that.

So, we think those 10, actually—there is a correlation between the earlier questions—those 10 leisure trusts, the smallish leisure trusts, where they have better connectivity with the community, et cetera, et cetera, they actually are the most fragile, the most vulnerable. Community Leisure UK, our colleagues there estimate that 70 per cent of those leisure trusts face imminent danger over the next six to 12 months. Some of that is really, really close to us. So, between £26 million and £32 million, just to average that off—whatever—£30 million is the gap. We’ve done a bit of work, and it’s not scientific. We did a bit of work, this is literally picking up the phones to development officers, speaking to all of our contacts across our partners, just sense-checking, things like the recent Welsh Government settlement will have helped ease that £30 million somewhat, because the increased settlement across local authorities will be fed into the system, obviously, through local authorities, and will go to leisure facilities, and we think that might satisfy maybe a third of that.

Then there are other—. There are five different energy models, I’ll just add. There are five energy models in terms of people who have hedged and bought energy, and don’t have an issue; people who do have an issue; operators who foot their own bills; operators who don’t foot their own bills, the local authority has that, and it’s netted off against the wider procurement piece. So, there are five different models at play here, but in essence, we think that the recent settlement may have eased some of that, and reserves across the local authorities may have eased other parts of that, but there still could be £10 million, £12 million of a gap that somebody has to fix over the next 12 months—somebody, somewhere.

And if we look at recent announcements from England, the £63 million that has gone into servicing leisure centres and pools and helping support that, which, albeit, is very welcome in England, and if you look at the consequential, they apply a similar Barnett formula, it might equate to £3 million. We’ve got our ear close to the ground, don’t we, Matt, about what’s coming down the track? And that’s for others to decide. But if there was a figure of £3 million put into that, and I’ve just outlined a best-case gap of £10 million or £12 million, you can kind of see—. And the terminology that colleagues of mine used last week was, ‘This is a lifeline, not a life-saver’, which rings very true, actually.

So—and I’ll emphasise this—I don’t want to say I’m ungrateful at all. We work with the Minister, we work with Dawn Bowden and her team, sport policy, and other departments. We know the work that goes on, and we’re very grateful for the work that goes on. We know the intricacies between Welsh budgets and UK Government, so we don’t say this lightly, but politics aside, just outlining the gap, we think between £10 million and £12 million, best case. But we start at about £30 million. So, this is a significant problem.

We visited a community asset transfer that had a swimming pool in it—a leisure centre with a swimming pool. And they said that they were unable to access grants to decarbonise because they had to do that through the local authority as well. So, I think, because they don't have that partnership with the local authority, they're not getting the funding to assist with the core running and they're not able to apply for grants either. Is that something that you've come across as well, that you agree with? 


It's definitely not something that I agree with, because I think it's a barrier, but there would be reasons why that's there. That's again for other people to debate and decide, but I have heard that several times. If you have one example, I could give you three or four or five examples of where we've heard similar barriers, where pools desperately—. There are some really energetic and clever people out there trying to problem solve with sustainability, with futureability, with different ideas, and we need to help them in every quarter. There's the short-term financial support, but there's also the long-term picture, where, again, I go back to my stat that I gave you earlier, 80 per cent of that estate is 20 years or older. So, this is a sticky plaster. There's an immediate issue with bills and energy, but there's a long-term issue around sustainability, and we have to find a way of making it easy for people. 

I think on that point—sorry, Chair—just very, very quickly, unfortunately, it varies dramatically from local authority to local authority. Sometimes, it's very relationship dependant, and we probably need to try and find ways to make it less dependant on that personal relationship and knowledge. 

Yes. It should be more systematic, rather than relying on particular individuals in particular positions at particular times, really. Okay. Jayne Bryant. 

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Good morning, everyone. You've touched a lot, this morning, on sustainability and the challenges that are faced. Do you think there's a need to legislate to ensure that the provision of leisure services are a statutory requirement in Wales? 

We definitely think there's a need to explore the options around that. I think, as I've alluded to in an earlier answer, the well-being of future generations Act has probably helped crystallise the position of delivery of public leisure, but whether it goes far enough and has the appropriate funding attached to it, and those kind of things, is an outstanding question, in our view. I know, last week, when you heard evidence, there were significant questions around what a statutory responsibility could look like, but I think it's an area that hasn't been fully explored. We certainly probably haven't done all the work needed, but it's definitely something that we think needs to be looked at, as we move forward. 

Yes. Briefly, I would agree with that. I think that the framework is there for all of us to get behind, I think, to legislate. Do we need to legislate? I think that would be a pretty strong response. I wouldn't say no to that, because obviously it would be in all of our interests in terms of what I do for a living and getting as many people aquatically active across Wales as possible. But I think the framework is there across the well-being of future generations Act. I talked earlier about the will. I think there's a very strong will across Wales, across all of our partners to do this. They know it's the right thing. I'd like to think that the will and the overall strategy and ambition for Wales would override any need to legislate. But, clearly, if that's not happening, then, we run out of alternatives. 

That's very kind of you. Thank you very much. I just want to touch on obviously, the existing policy is in place by Government to try to support people engaging with activities. And I mentioned earlier the twenty-first-century schools programme or policy, a framework they have there to see those assets being improved. If I remember, right towards the start of the session, I think, Matthew, you mentioned the national exercise referral scheme as well. I just want to touch on some of those policies and how, as leisure-type organisations and services, you're able to effect change in those policy areas, not just the ones I've mentioned, but more broadly in terms of the types of things that Welsh Government are trying to achieve. How can you directly or indirectly support those policy objectives by Welsh Government? If you could touch on that at all.


I know these are big questions, but I'm afraid we've only got a few minutes left, I'm sorry. [Laughter.]

I will absolutely happily default to my policy colleague here.

I was just trying to think of a way to respond to that question succinctly. Sport and leisure services, I think, as we've talked about, support a wide range of Welsh Government policy outcomes—school swimming, for example, in delivering life skills. You touched on national exercise referral. I think one of the challenges we have, in our view, is that sport's place around some of the decision-making tables isn't clear. So, for example, in the public services boards, there isn't necessarily always a place for sport, and that may change now that Sport Wales is beginning to roll out the regional partnership model. I think that's one of the key areas of alignment that could happen. Sport's role and voice in, for example, the national exercise referral system has been tricky, and the level of subsidy that is provided to the national exercise referral system has been unchanged for the better part of a decade now. That's made me delivery of it increasingly challenging. I think all of that comes back to how sport doesn't always have access to the decision makers in the right places, in education policy, in health policy, et cetera, et cetera. Does that answer your questions?

Yes, I think it does. Perhaps, Chair, just briefly to expand that a little bit, I suppose the question is, from us as a committee, in terms of our inquiry into these services in our councils, if these services didn't exist, either in the way they do today, or to a lesser extent than they do today, how would that impact on Welsh Government's ability to deliver on policy? And I guess you would say that it would detrimentally impact, it would be more difficult for Welsh Government to deliver on a policy they'd want to see succeed because these services aren't available in local authorities.

I think, for our membership, the membership of the WSA, for those bodies in our membership who are funded via the Welsh Government, or via the UK Government, indeed, most often via Sport Wales, they are funded to deliver sports participation, visibility on the world stage—all of those things. So, the most direct policy impact, in our view, if public leisure didn't exist, is that delivering against all of that remit would be far more challenging. It would be very challenging for Sport Wales to deliver on its remit letter if public leisure wasn't sitting there, providing this backbone of infrastructure. So, I guess that is the most immediate answer to that.

Thank you very much, and thank you to both our witnesses. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr. Okay, a quick break for five minutes, and we'll be back at 11:35. Diolch yn fawr.

Gohiriwyd y cyfarfod rhwng 11:28 ac 11:34.

The meeting adjourned between 11:28 and 11:34.

4. Gwasanaethau Llyfrgell a Hamdden awdurdodau lleol - sesiwn dystiolaeth 4
4. Local Authority Library and Leisure Services - evidence session 4

Welcome back, everyone, to our fourth evidence session on the committee's work on local authority library and leisure services. I'm very pleased to welcome Dominic MacAskill, Unison Cymru Wales regional secretary. Welcome, Dominic, and thank you for coming in to give evidence today. Perhaps I might start with some fairly general questions. Firstly, could you tell committee what you consider to be the key benefits and value of leisure and library services to communities, the impact on those communities, and, indeed, the local workforce, when services are withdrawn?


Okay, thanks for inviting us to give oral evidence. Obviously, this is supplementing the written submission that we've made, and I think the first thing to say is that Unison's position with regard to local government services generally, but library and leisure services quite specifically, is that these are our services for creating healthy and more equal communities. So, in effect, local government services are our health service and our NHS predominantly is our sickness service. In terms of library provision, and in relation to the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis, they've really come into their own in terms of providing spaces for people who don't have the capacity in their own homes for study or for the equipment in terms of technology and Wi-Fi access, so it provides an equal platform for communities to access those services. And library services provide services for all ages from reading groups for young children right up into support for people looking to apply for jobs, with CV preparation. It provides study, it provides a warm place, and this is all of the things that are above and beyond just looking to see whether you've got reading materials that are going to interest you, but, obviously, access to books that you don't have to pay for. So, it provides that equal platform for communities.

In terms of leisure services, we have all sorts of campaigns to combat obesity and other chronic health problems that are preventable through people having more healthy lifestyles, and in order to have more healthy lifestyles, you need to have good access to affordable leisure services, whether that be your local swimming pool, which obviously has the added benefit of reducing the risk of fatalities when there are accidents close to water. So, you can see all of the potential benefits of these services.

In terms of the workforce, when you have these provided historically by councils, then the workforce is paid reasonably, consistently, with access to reasonable terms and conditions and pensions, and so you have a well-motivated, well-trained group of staff with proper professional and career progression, which allows for greater retention of expertise.

The problem we have is—and I'm sure in subsequent questions we'll get onto that—is the tendency to respond to monetary pressures by looking to outsource these services, predominantly to save money, not to improve the quality of or access to those services.

Okay, Dominic. So perhaps we could go on from your answer to ask you to outline the key challenges that local authorities face at the moment in maintaining and investing in that community leisure and library provision in Wales. What would you see as the key challenges to local authorities?

I'll make some general points about the overall challenges to public services generally, but local government services specifically, and that is the continued, albeit reduced, policy of austerity that we've been living under since 2010, which has put an immense strain on local government budgets. Obviously, it's coming through from Welsh Government, but Welsh Government's funding has been restricted, and, in terms of the amount of money—I think it's in our report—that Welsh Government would have had if it had just kept pace with inflation is in the billions. And that could have been translated into support for public services and, in particular, library and leisure services, which we are talking about today. So, there are immense constraints on budgets for councils. And the response, unfortunately—. In the short time we had in preparing our submission, we did a survey of councils, which is included in the paperwork, which shows that the response of a significant number of councils has been to outsource part or whole parts of their libraries or leisure services in various models—a whole fragmented approach to the provision of the service, but driven mainly by budgetary considerations. So, those are the challenges.

Responding to the provision of these services in such a disjointed way does have consequences, particularly for the staff that are employed in providing these services. And the main problem that we encounter is that, in order for budgetary savings, it's mainly savings on staff costs. So, we see outsource services looking at moving away, as soon as they're able to, from Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) protection so that you end up creating a two-tier, away from local government workforce, which is lower paid, moving away from the local government pension scheme, because of the costs associated with that.

There are some—and I'm sure we'll get into some more specific questions—systemic problems as well, which councils look to benefit from in their outsourcing, and those are around business rates. So, community mutuals can be given up to 100 per cent relief on business rates, whereas directly provided council services are not able to do that. Because of the way that business rates are collected, i.e. pooled by Welsh Government and then paid out to councils on a formula basis, there is no direct consequence for councils in making those decisions. So, there is a budgetary advantage for outsourcing services—leisure and library services—which is not, in terms of an all-Wales approach, sustainable, and actually reduces the finances and is an unequal playing field. I think that's a key issue, which, if this committee can have any influence, would be one to address.

I think I'll end there and wait for more specific questions. 


Yes, that's great. As you say, we will come on to these matters in more depth, Dominic. So, Mabon ap Gwynfor. Mabon.

Diolch. Dwi'n mynd i siarad yn Gymraeg. O ddilyn i fyny ar y pwynt rydych chi newydd ei wneud, felly, mae yna sawl model yma yng Nghymru o ran darpariaeth o'r gwasanaethau yma: mae yna gyrff annibynnol—cwmnïau annibynnol wedi cael eu sefydlu sydd yn rhai cydweithredol cymunedol; mae rhai awdurdodau lleol wedi sefydlu cwmnïau lled braich; mae rhai wedi prynu gwasanaethau i mewn gan gwmnïau eraill allanol; ac mae yna rhai wedi cadw'r gwasanaethau yna'n fewnol. Beth ydych chi'n gweld ydy'r fantais, os oes yna fantais, o allanoli'r gwasanaeth yma ond o gael cwmni cydweithredol neu gwmni lled braich i'r awdurdod lleol? Oes yna unrhyw fanteision i hynny, ydych chi'n meddwl, o ran y ddarpariaeth, o ran sicrhau parhad gwasanaethau, neu yn gyllidol?

Thank you very much. I will contribute in Welsh. Following on from the point that you've just made, there are a number of delivery models here in Wales for these services: there are independent companies that have been established, which are community co-operatives; some local authorities have established arm's-length companies; some have bought services in from other companies; and some have retained those services internally. So, in your view, what are the advantages, if there are advantages, of outsourcing these services but in having a co-operative or an arm's-length company running these services for the local authority? Are there any advantages to that in terms of the provision and the survival of services, or in budgetary terms, perhaps?

Yes, from our perspective, in terms of quality and sustainability of services, going forward, there is no advantage to outsourcing in any form or model. In terms of the staff experience, our survey has demonstrated that there are no benefits to staff; in fact, quite the opposite. There are lots of detrimental experiences of staff in terms of leisure services, but also library services as well. There's a greater reliance on zero-hours contracts, or under-hours contracts, and by 'under-hours contracts' I mean that you would expect somebody to be working 20 hours but you give them a 10-hour contract, and so you have the ultimate flexibility of the workforce, and moving away from the National Joint Council—that's the national local government terms and conditions and pay. And so we've got examples, and I think we mentioned one in Blaenau Gwent, where they refused to pay the agreed annual pay uplift one year for staff employed in the outsourced services in Blaenau Gwent. We have attempts to move away from the local government pension scheme. And because these are outsourced, then the council basically says it's nothing to do with them.

The thing about outsourcing services is that you don't outsource the responsibility to provide those services, but you lose control in providing those services. I think the pandemic and the holistic approach of public services in adapting and changing services to respond for the benefit of their communities—. You're less able to have the ability to do that with outsourced services, because they're subject to tendered terms, which are fairly rigid and inflexible. And if you wish to change and amend them, then that comes at additional cost. So, we believe that council services should be married together holistically, they should be under democratic control, and should not be outsourced as silos, because that reduces their effectiveness and ability.

Now, there are some budgetary benefits, and I mentioned the one, which I think, in all-Wales terms, is an illusionary benefit, but that's the business rate relief. So, if you're going to be able to give 100 per cent business rate relief to a library service or a leisure service that's outsourced, you should also be able to give 100 per cent business rate relief if you retain it in-house. It shouldn't be an unlevel playing field, which distorts the economics of the situation. It can't be right that you cede democratic control and the ability to adapt a service just because there is a model that provides some financial benefit from doing that without any benefit to the service that is being provided or to the workforce that is providing that service. 


Diolch. Yn y dystiolaeth rydyn ni wedi ei chlywed y bore yma ac yn flaenorol, mae rhai o'r darparwyr, y cwmnïau lled braich, yn dweud eu bod nhw mewn sefyllfa, maen nhw'n teimlo, ychydig yn well, mwy hyblyg, i ymateb i anghenion, lle, o dan drefn awdurdod lleol, buasai syniad, ddywedwn ni, o ran darpariaeth newydd yn gorfod mynd trwy ryw gadwyn atebolrwydd tan ei fod yn cyrraedd rhyw bennaeth adran ac yna'n dod yn ôl i lawr y gwasanaeth yna, ac sydd hwyrach yn broses o fisoedd cyn ei fod yn cael ei weithredu, lle mae'r cwmniau yma'n dweud eu bod nhw'n medru bod yn llawer iawn mwy hyblyg ac, os oes yna syniad newydd yn dod, maen nhw'n medru ei weithredu o'n sydyn iawn, a dros nos, bron. Sut ydych chi'n ymateb i hynny? Ydych chi'n meddwl bod hynny'n fantais ac yn rhinwedd i gwmnïau lled braich, dros ddarpariaeth fewnol?

Thank you. In the evidence that we've have heard this morning and previously, some of the providers, these arm's-length companies, say that they feel that they are better placed, they can respond more flexibly to needs, whereas, under a local authority system, there might be an idea for a new provision, which would have to go through an accountability chain, and it would get to some head of department and then come back down to the service level, and there could be a process lasting months before its implemented, where these companies say that they can be far more flexible and, if there is a new idea, they can implement it very quickly, or overnight, almost. How would you respond to that? Do you think that is a benefit and a merit of these arm's-length companies as opposed to internal provision?

Well, certainly there is a track record of alternative providers implementing changes very quickly without any consultation with either the local authority or with the staff that provide those services. In fact, that's one of the criticisms that we put in our report, that the social partnership model that we benefit from in public services is not always translated or taken on board by the outsourced providers.

There probably is a built-in ability to be able to do things quicker, but that doesn't necessarily make it better. Again, in our report, the main driver to changes that are implemented by outsourced bodies is our financial drivers, which rebalance the services to increase the income, rather than for the social need and the health and well-being of the community across the board that they're providing for. And I think there is no—. This is not to say that in a number of areas councils couldn't do exceedingly a lot better in terms of engaging with their communities and with their workforce on providing improved access and improved quality and variety of the services that they provide within their library and leisure facilities. But I don't think there's any substitute for having accountability for those services, which is democratically accountable through the local councillors, which, as soon as you outsource these facilities, you lose that direct accountability. An ordinary citizen would not know who to contact within an outsourced provision, whether it's a community mutual or a private company, but they know who their councillor is.


Dominic, just before I bring in other committee members, could you give us some idea of the extent of union membership of local authority employees delivering these services compared to the other models?

At the point of these new models being established, then the union density is probably on a par with the centrally paid staff, and the union density within councils is very high; it's probably around 70 per cent. So, at the commencement of a new service, then you'd expect that to be of a similar proportion. Over time, and this is—. Again, some of this is reflected in our report—over time, the relationship between the partnership arrangements that are for existing public services and local government in particular get eroded by some of these outsourced bodies, and so they create barriers to trade union organisation through restricting facility time, not engaging with the recognised unions in consultation, and this goes back to the point about making quick decisions without fully consulting staff, and sometimes on important areas—. We've got Celtic Leisure, a recent example, where they gave a 45-day notice for, basically, a fire and rehire without going through the appropriate consultations. So, that does create problems in retaining trade union organisations in those areas. Having said that, in the Celtic Leisure model, it actually worked the opposite way. We actually had a higher density, in the end, in Celtic Leisure, because of the negative experience of workers—

—and it led to a community campaign, led by the trade unions—

—which led to changes to the position and agreeing to insource that service.

Thank you, Chair, and thanks ever so much for coming in this afternoon. I just want to touch upon the social value of these facilities. I know we've heard from previous evidence sessions about that there's sort of a mixture of concerns of local authorities. One side says that they don't necessarily put as much emphasis on the social value of leisure centres or libraries, but, then, on the other side, we hear that, well, actually, they do. And I just wanted to get your opinion on that, really—whether or not it's your experience that local authorities do put that, or do take into account the social value when they're making these decisions. 


I think the position is varied across Wales. I think there is a general understanding that library and leisure services do create a very useful social advantage—which I mentioned in my first contribution—about equalising and creating healthier and more equal communities. But the financial strains that councils have been placed under, over the last 10 to 15 years, has led to decisions based on budgetary need rather than social need. And so they're trying to balance maintaining these socially beneficial services whilst also cutting budgets. So, what you end up with is some councils not necessarily closing a library, but reducing the hours of opening of the library, substituting professional staff with volunteers, which retains the service, but, actually, reduces the social value of that service. And so I think there needs to be a conversation and a clear position taken on the value of local government services generally in terms of creating more equal and healthy communities, but, in particular, the library and leisure services, so we get a consensus on that. 

So, at the moment, we have some statutory requirements of the vision of library services, which could mean quite extensive provision in one authority, but another interpretation could be that you could have just one library in a local authority and you're still fulfilling that statutory obligation. So, I think there needs to be a conversation around the consistency of that. And in terms of budgetary considerations at a Welsh Government level, but also at a Westminster level, the balance between a reactive service—which, unfortunately, our NHS is predominantly a reactive service—and a proactive service, which is mainly the local authority services, which create or improve people's health, which, hopefully, reduces their need to, actually, later on in life, or during their life, access the NHS service. So, it's a very complex position, but I think there is a mixed picture out there. 

So, with regard to that, then—and taking on board Mabon's comments about the different models that are out there—do you think, then, that a move from a local authority-provided service to, say, a social enterprise, or an anchoring community hub type of thing, does that lower its social value, do you think? Do you think it has a higher social value being within the local authority?

And my second question, then, is: again, with your experience, do you see that there seems to be a drive from local authorities to move their provision on to these alternative models? You mentioned there about budgetary decisions. Do you see them then thinking, 'Well, this is a way that I can clear some money or offset the budget and all that, by setting up these social enterprises'?

And Dominic, I know these are difficult questions, but we have little time left, I'm afraid, so succinct answers would be appreciated. 

Okay. I'll try and cover that quickly. I believe, when you're outsourcing to whatever model that we're talking about, the imperative for that outsourced body is to work within the budgetary constraints or the contractual constraints that have been established when the tendering process went ahead. And what we've seen from experience is that tends to affect our members', the staff that provide the services, pay and terms and conditions, which actually creates problems of retention. So, the quality of the staff providing the services, whether it's having a qualified librarian in a library, or whether you're having people who are well able to motivate a diverse community in a leisure centre to access those leisure services—those sorts of professionals are eroded. So, therefore, the social benefit, potentially, declines.

The drive to alternative models, I believe, is mainly financially driven. There is a tendency now for councils to see that they have outsourced responsibility, they've lost control, but they haven't transferred any of the risks associated with moving those services out of house. So, there is a tendency now in Wales, but also across the border in England, to move some of these services back in-house, so you actually have got that control, you can model your services holistically to link in with other services that the council provides, and I believe that is the way of retaining and enhancing social value.


Well, my questions are on increasing costs and exit strategies, and I think you've covered quite a lot of those already, really. I'm just looking at the implications of the high energy costs and the cost of living on people attending leisure services, and then also at the operational challenges and financial risks for local authorities where alternative delivery models have been set up and failed, which you've touched on already. Is there anything else you'd like to add?

I think I would hope that councils will learn the lessons from the experiences across councils in Wales and share those experiences. I'm sure some of that does go on. Because I think a lot of the assumed benefits for outsourcing services are very rarely realised, and, if they are realised, they're realised at a cost, usually to our members and the people who provide those services, which means that those benefits are not sustainably able to be delivered into the future for reasons around retention and career development, which I've touched on.

In terms of the exit strategy, what we'd encourage councils to do is, before they do move towards outsourcing any services, that they consider comparing it with an in-house option, and do a proper options appraisal. Neath Port Talbot didn't originally do that when they were looking to retender the contract for Celtic Leisure. We commissioned APSE, the Association for Public Service Excellence, and the report is available—it's a link in the submission that we've made—which basically demonstrated that the benefits that they thought—the social benefits and the financial benefits they thought—they would gain from outsourcing were actually not realisable, and so there's a good critique in that report from APSE, which I'd commend you to read.

Diolch, Cadeirydd. Thank you very much for your evidence so far. It's just around statutory frameworks and how you feel the extent of the Public Libraries and Museums Act 1964 provides the required statutory protection for public libraries in Wales. Do you think it's still fit for purpose?

I touched on this earlier, that I think that it's—. Well, in practice, it's clearly open to interpretation, and within that interpretation you have very varied quality of provision and a very varied amount of provision to service communities. And so, the most stark assessment, which Unison has made, is that you could actually fulfil your statutory obligations by just having one library providing services in your council. It's an extreme case, which we don't yet experience in Wales, but we believe that it's so vague that that is the potential. So, I think—and this is what I touched on—there needs to be much more conversation to create a much more consistent appreciation of and a consistency of approach to the delivery of services that have a clear role in creating more equal and healthy societies. So, I think it's something that it would be useful to relook at, yes.


Thank you, Chair. Just following on from that and the points that you've already made around that need for legislation to safeguard library provision, and if you think that should extend to leisure services being a statutory requirement in Wales. What do you feel that would achieve?

So, there is a tendency, I think, to go for legislation as a response to a developing crisis. The crisis is mainly driven by a funding crisis. Local councils are accountable to their populations, and their populations want good-quality public services, including and especially library and leisure services. So, there's clearly a demand for these services that, I believe, if councils had sufficient funding, we wouldn't be sitting here discussing these services in the terms that we are discussing them, and then we wouldn't be necessarily looking to see whether we need to legislate to bring councils into order around this.

So, I think it is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation; I think the lack of funding has meant that we've got a disparagement and a completely varied provision in terms of quality and quantity. So, essentially, it's, 'How can we get consistency clearly?' Well, I think we get consistency by improving funding to local government. But I think there is a role for clarification and tightening up on legislation. But I'm not one who supports over-prescriptiveness for councils, because I believe councils are responsible to their communities, and within a framework, they work well if properly and adequately funded.

Thanks, Chair. You've probably answered the questions that I was going to ask, actually, Dominic, in relation to the balance between trying to find those financial savings and ensuring that the fair work and those community-centred outcomes take place. But I'm just interested in some of your comments in the evidence you provided. I think you stated that

'Removing a library or sports centre from local council control and democratic accountability, means people have no say whatsoever about the quality of the service.'

That seems different to some of the evidence we've received so far, where particularly those trusts that have been set up say that they have an even better relationship with their communities and perhaps even better accountability, even to the staff, especially the example of a trust where all the staff were shareholders within that trust, and they feel they have that better, direct link. So, are they wrong in what they say?

I think if you give an opportunity for a provider to pitch for a service, they will be able to provide you with very glossy presentations and lots of claims to win that contract. The evidence that we've picked up on the ground is that where we have people, in a sense, having a stake in those community mutuals or in those social provision bodies, they are minimal. The engagement with the recognised trade unions, where the membership in those bodies would be the majority of the staff, is poor, and often they set up alternative ways of engaging with the staff to bypass the organised, recognised trade unions. So, the evidence of it in practice is not good. 

In terms of the engagement with communities, some of them do that well, but no better than services that are provided directly by councils. Having said that, I'm aware that some councils probably don't deliver the quality of services that they could deliver, and better engagement with their communities and with their workforce would enhance that. But the key thing is that the responsibility is on the council. You outsource that to another body and let them get on with it, but the complaints and the issues get raised with the council, and so, you create this third party and a complex matrix that citizens are supposed to negotiate in terms of influencing the services they provide, and I think our experience on the ground is that that doesn't work well.


Okay. Dominic, thank you very much. Thank you for coming in to give evidence to committee. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy. Diolch yn fawr.

Thank you. Thank you, everybody.

5. Papurau i'w nodi
5. Papers to note

Okay, then. Our next item is the one paper we have to note under item 5, which is a letter from Propertymark, in relation to the feasibility of devolution of local housing allowance and broad rental market areas to the Welsh Government. Is committee content to note that paper? Yes. Okay, thank you very much.

6. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42(ix) i benderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod.
6. Motion under Standing Order 17.42(ix) to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting


bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o weddill y cyfarfod yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(ix).


that the committee resolves to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(ix).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Our next item, then, is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from the remainder of the meeting. Is committee content to do so? Yes. We will move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 12:11.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 12:11.

Correction: Richard Hughes wishes to note that Awen Cultural Trust has a million visits to all of its services and facilities; the library total is nearer half a million.