A Passion for Excellence: inspiring and challenging

CLOA chair Ann Gosse offers her view of the implications of the new improvement strategy for culture and sport

Ann Gosse
Ann Gosse

From the perspective of someone who has spent a long time working in the field of leisure, culture and sport, A Passion for Excellence, the improvement strategy for culture and sport, is as inspiring as it is challenging. Published by the Local Government Association in partnership with CLOA among others, the document asks some difficult questions of our sector and sets some stern tasks but it also celebrates the achievements made by leisure professionals on behalf of their communities, their towns and their regions, across the United Kingdom. It emphasises that while we face real challenges regarding the capacity of the sector to meet the demand for improvement and leadership we as a sector have also made important and invaluable contributions to the improvement of places, the improvement of communities and the improvement of lives.

However, for all our achievements and success, A Passion for Excellence is right about the issue of capacity. The document notes that in “attempts to improve leadership… progress is still slow” and that in the drive for improvement “new arrangements will need to be realistic about capacity available”. All the professional bodies within the leisure, culture and sport sector are comparatively small and all are dependent upon the contributions of their members. At CLOA we recognise that capacity is limited. As an organisation we are far more active than we should have any realistic right to expect thanks only to the dedication and commitment of CLOA members. As chief officers they are committed to providing leadership on behalf of their respective communities but they are also prepared to work hard on behalf of their professional body to do what they can to deliver against the improvement agenda at a national level.

As an organisation CLOA is committed to the national leadership agenda. CLOA chairs the meetings of the National Culture Forum, a grouping of organisations working within the leisure, culture and sport sector which has grown from its informal origins to play a significant role in the discussion and development of national policy. It is the first time that we have had an effective alignment of professional bodies working across culture. All recognise the need for leadership and all are committed to its provision on behalf of the culture sector. All are committed to the improvement agenda and all are working to address the issue of capacity.

A Passion for Excellence has taken us a long way. It is three years since the introduction of the Comprehensive Performance Assessment. It rattled some cages but things have settled down as leisure professionals have responded to the challenges of demonstrating the importance of their contribution to their communities. Local area agreements have provided the opportunity for leisure and culture to demonstrate once again its capacity for responding positively to the changes across the local government landscape. We now have dedicated national indicators and many local indicators that serve to confirm the status and importance of leisure, culture and sporting provision to local communities. Even as the agenda is changing, the recognition of the cross-cutting contribution that leisure makes to improving places, improving communities and helping people improve their own lives is growing.

The development of a “national library of evidence and impact”, referred to in A Passion for Excellence, is a valuable prize and one worth every effort within the leisure and culture sector to achieve. Right across our sector people are grasping the improvement agenda and A Passion for Excellence will serve as a powerful support and effective guide on that journey. Martyn Allison’s assessment of the current situation in the leisure and culture sector –  “It has been a difficult road and in many ways we’re now only at first base; the real challenge is working together to deliver it” – is both accurate and pointed. While we have come a long way, there is still much to be done if our sector is to illustrate definitively the value of local culture in a national context. CLOA will be doing all it can to meet the challenges.


Dr Ann Gosse is director of culture at Sheffield City Council and chair of CLOA, the Chief Culture and Leisure Officers Association

An introduction to A Passion for Excellence: An Improvement Strategy for Culture and Sport was included within the April issue of The Leisure Review.

A Passion for Excellence is available to download at the Local Government Association website  Local Government Association website 

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“As an organisation we are far more active than we should have any realistic right to expect thanks only to the dedication and commitment of CLOA members.”

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