A local future for physical activity

The Local Government Physical Activity Partnership has been established to explore the challenges and opportunities of promoting physical activity through local services. Here Mark Allman, Ian Brooke, Cate Atwater, Paul O’Brien and Lee Mason offer a summary of the key points of the debate so far.


For many people working within local councils, physical activity related service areas (which includes sport) can feel both exciting, frustrating and daunting right now. However the role and impact of these services is often needed more than ever. We believe there is a growing need for strategic support, reassurance and challenge in the sector.

Managing change is part of everyday life, but this has all too often manifested itself as crisis management rather than a strategically planned response. There is acceptance of the importance of being physically active. However, there remain huge challenges in bringing about systemic change in order to support more people to become active; with local councils’ capacity to effect the required change having weakened through years of austerity. Uncertainty is something we have just become accustomed to.

Driving better outcomes through increased levels of physical activity is incredibly difficult. It will challenge local councils not simply because it cuts across so many traditional service or directorate structures (or silos), but also because it can lead to questions about where the leadership and ownership actually comes from. So for example - does leadership and ownership come from traditional leisure and sports development services or does it come from elsewhere e.g. public health or health and wellbeing based services or beyond the council through collaborative approaches and partnerships? And does this matter? Much depends on the existing strengths of the council to drive the agenda for change.

The Local Government Physical Activity Partnership is a collective body of organisations who are either responsible for or have an interest in the provision of local services and opportunities to enable individuals and communities to become more physically active. This partnership is passionate about the development of opportunities and the critical role that the public sector needs to play alongside other partners in driving better local outcomes through physical activity.


Developing a helpful conversation within the sector

The group wants to create an environment for positive debate and discussion about the key strategic issues facing local councils focussed on supporting physical activity. Equally to provide reflective and perhaps at times provocative think pieces for the wider sector to consider.

The group, established in 2018, has brought forward thoughts from its round table conversations about the challenges the sector faces and how the sector might position itself to drive better outcomes. These think pieces are not about providing definitive answers or official positions by any of the partners, but instead about amplifying points and raising key questions for discussion in the sector. Ways forward are likely to develop iteratively over time and are likely to look different in each area. It is vital that every locality has thought about what those issues mean to them and how they should respond.

In addition to this wider think piece about the strategic positioning of physical activity services, the group has also considered producing future think pieces (e.g. Leisure Management, Systems-based Approaches, Asset Based Community Development, Co-Production). We would welcome hearing about the key strategic issues that you would like debating.


How should local council’s best approach increasing levels of physical activity?

The group considered what factors are important. Typically what things would you expect to see for success to follow?


Headline thoughts and observations


Further considerations and issues for councils

What is the council’s role in driving physical activity?


There are potentially three other areas to think about in relation to this work.

Is the approach insight driven?


Is there evidence of influence and integration?


Does your council display positive behaviours?

It is critical that services can work collaboratively and respond quickly to policy changes or partnering opportunities. The way the service works is essential in responding to driving;

Above all councils need to move away from an over reliance on deficit models of delivery (i.e. provision led) as it simply creates dependency and is ultimately not sustainable.

Asset or strengths based approaches will have more lasting and powerful outcomes, but will require a shift in thinking and approach.



We are working in increasingly complex environments, which is why this think piece has posed questions that place leaders need to consider within their local context.
This requires a robust understanding of place and the communities that live there, having the skills and capacity to influence the local system and the ability to demonstrate the value of the services provided and how they are an integral part of the solution to local priorities.
As a partnership we have a strong common purpose in supporting the sector to achieve this and will continue to work collaboratively to do so.



This paper has been produced by:

Mark Allman, Past Chair of CLOA
Ian Brooke, Chair of CLOA
Cate Atwater, Chief Exec, Community Leisure UK
Paul O’Brien, Chief Exec, APSE
Lee Mason, Chief Exec, Active Partnerships


Need support?


Meeting the needs of Commissioners
CLOA and Sport England have developed a number of learning resources to prompt thinking about how your service can engage with commissioners locally.

Ensuring action on health and wellbeing
APSE’s exploration of the national framework for public health in England, the responsibilities of local authorities and the opportunities for sport and leisure services.

Local Delivery Pilots Sport England
Join the Community of Learning from the local delivery pilots. This brings together what is being discovered by the 12 place pilots as they develop whole systems approaches to tackling inactivity and how it can be of use to all localities.

Strategic Outcomes Planning Guidance
This Sport England guidance is designed to support Local Authorities through the stages and approach needed to ensure investment best meets local strategic outcomes informed by the needs of the community to deliver appropriate interventions, whilst recognising the challenges faced by Local Authorities.

Support for local leaders
The LGA and Sport England offer programmes to assist Cabinet members/portfolio holders with the responsibility for sport and physical activity to lead transformational change in their service.



The Leisure Review, August 2019

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“Systemic solutions won’t be delivered in the short
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