They play a very important role in our communities and make a big difference to people's lives - from sessions for tiny tots, to medical referral schemes that help people to get back on their feet. We want to make sure that this great work continues for years to come and so we made the decision last month to bring in an external leisure management company to run these services on our behalf.

You may ask why? The simple fact is that we made the decision so that we can continue providing these excellent services for years to come.  In the current economic climate, we have to look at new ways of doing things in order to maintain and protect council services. Behind the scenes we have already been doing this for many years, without our customers even realising. We work differently, we use less office space, and we're constantly looking at ways in which we can be more efficient. Providing our residents with quality services in the most cost effective way is our priority. By making this particular decision, we are not only protecting our leisure services, but we are also protecting other council services.

You may be aware that many other councils have already adopted this approach. The main advantage is that leisure trusts are able to operate differently from the council. This leads to savings and economies of scale. They operate numerous sites, and so they are able to share their systems, technology, marketing and buying power. Plus, in many cases, management companies have charitable status, enabling them to make savings from business rates and VAT.

We have made the decision to work with SLM Ltd, which operates as 'Everyone Active'. They operate 119 leisure and cultural facilities across the country and have significant experience in the leisure industry. This will give our leisure services the chance to build on their current success and offer customers even more choice. In addition to maintaining and improving current services, the company will also achieve service improvements through the introduction of additional activities and capital investment in the facilities. SLM Ltd already plans to invest over £1m in the leisure centres - mainly at the Chichester site -to refurbish and further improve their offering, including the provision of brand new, state-of-the-art gym equipment. It's also important to point out that our leisure staff will transfer to the management company and so as a customer you will still see the familiar faces.

I want to assure residents and customers that the change will be as seamless as possible. We expect the new operator to start in May of this year. The contract lasts for ten years, with the option for the council to extend for a further five years. We understand that customers may be concerned about future pricing and so this has also been covered within the contract. There is also a process to ensure the management company performs to the standards that we expect. We are confident that the new company will continue to meet our high expectations and deliver these important services to our local communities.

Cllr Tony Dignum

Leader of Chichester District Council

February 2016