Oxford City Council has awarded the contract for managing Oxford’s leisure facilities to Serco Leisure Ltd in an effort to enhance the leisure services it provides to residents.
The City Council’s Cabinet formally approved the award of the ten-year contract on 24 January 2024, and it will come into effect on 30 March 2024.
The transition will involve the management transfer of leisure facilities in Oxford – Barton Leisure Centre, Ferry Leisure Centre, the Leys Pools & Leisure Centre, Hinksey Outdoor Pool, and Oxford Ice Rink – from Fusion Lifestyle to Serco Leisure. It will also see significant investment and more staff across the sites. It will also deliver savings over the contract term.
Last month, Serco Leisure won Water Leisure Operator of the Year at the UK Pool & Spa Awards – the fifth time they have achieved this accolade in the past six years. They have over 30 years of leisure management expertise, which includes managing Sport England’s national sports centres and other local authority leisure contracts such as Birmingham and Mansfield.
Councillor Chewe Munkonge, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Leisure and Parks said: “I am delighted to confirm Serco Leisure as the selected provider for Oxford’s leisure facilities.
“At a time when many councils up and down the country are grappling with the closure of key facilities due to budget pressures, we are proud not only to maintain but also to elevate our suite of leisure amenities for Oxford residents.
This new contract marks a fresh start for leisure provision in Oxford and will bring many health and wellbeing benefits to our residents.
“We are committed to providing all Oxford residents of all ages and abilities with access to quality health and fitness facilities, and we look forward to working closely with Serco Leisure and seeing their plans come to fruition over the coming months.”
The decision to appoint Serco Leisure followed a rigorous procurement process involving several external bidders alongside an in-house comparator.
A detailed assessment system was used, which applied a 60% weighting to the quality of service offered and 40% for costs and business plan deliverability.
A proposal to provide Oxford’s leisure services through in-house arrangements showed it would require significant funding – an average of £1.75 million per year – making it unviable. In contrast, the contract with Serco Leisure will yield positive financial benefits, supporting the City Council’s aim to stabilise its finances at a difficult time for local government budgets.
As one of the UK’s leading leisure centre operators, Serco Leisure manages facilities throughout England as well as centres in Northern Ireland and the Channel Island of Jersey. It is also the operator of Stoke Mandeville Stadium, the birthplace of the Paralympic movement, and Bisham Abbey and Lilleshall National Sports Centres on behalf of Sport England.
Among a range of improvements coming to the five facilities as part of the new contract, Serco Leisure will be introducing state-of-the-art EGYM equipment into two of the leisure centres. These machines are accessible for disabled and non-disabled users, easy to adapt for all levels of strength and fitness and provide a fully automatic, personalised experience.
Simon Lane, Managing Director for Serco Leisure, said: “We are delighted to be partnering with Oxford City Council, and we look forward to working with them to support the people of this community to live healthier, more active lives.
“We are very proud of our record as an operator. While many other leisure service providers have had to close centres, cut opening hours or reduce swimming pool temperatures to bring down costs, I can proudly say that no Serco Leisure-managed centre has had to close or reduce the quality of service during the challenges of recent years.
“It is that level of commitment to customer service that we will be bringing to the five facilities in Oxford, which we will be managing from April this year.
“In addition to Oxford, we have been appointed as the operator for a number of centres on behalf of Buckinghamshire Council. This will present opportunities for increased collaboration within the Oxfordshire, Berkshire West and Buckinghamshire Integrated Care Systems.”
The investments planned for Oxford’s leisure centres include:
- the installation of new gym equipment
- the creation of a spin studio at Barton Leisure Centre
- a new group exercise studio at Ferry Leisure Centre
- the conversion of half the sports hall at the Leys Pools & Leisure Centre for soft play and TAGactive
The appointment of Serco Leisure also secures several public benefits, such as concessions for low-income families and free swimming for all children and young people aged 16 and under residing in Oxford.
Serco Leisure’s proposals also commit to both increasing the number of users of the council’s leisure centres and enhancing customer satisfaction for existing customers.
The council and Serco Leisure will collaborate with the Oxfordshire health system to ensure the leisure facilities continue to support public health and alleviate pressure on the NHS.
Highlighting the City Council’s commitment to environmental sustainability, £14 million has been invested in recent years to decarbonise the leisure facilities, which contribute about 40% of the City Council’s carbon footprint. The council will collaborate with Serco towards the full decarbonisation of the leisure facilities.
Fusion Lifestyle will continue operating Oxford’s leisure centres until 29 March 2024. Existing Fusion Lifestyle staff will transition to Serco Leisure in adherence to TUPE guidance.