February 28th 2017
Emergency Ward

Occasionally some Councils in the UK try and shore up their decreasing budgets by putting usage on their sports pitches out to tender or, in reality, to the highest bidder.  Notwithstanding the discriminatory aspect of this policy, on the few occasions this has happened Leisure Leagues has bid and, because we usually pay the most, by some distance, very often win these tenders.  18 months ago we won such a tender put out by South Staffordshire Council to run at three of their leisure centres.  We offered a rate of £200 per hour for each pitch, more than 50% over and above the next highest bidder and a rate that only sports pitches in Central London can achieve normally.

We won the bid and, a year later were using most of the time we were given – in fact we were full at two centres and working on the third.  The Council were getting an unprecedented amount of money for the times we were using, at an unprecedented rate.  However, the Council’s Leisure Services Manager, Tony Ward was embarrassed.  And he came to see us to tell us why.

He had provided a budget to the Council that indicated the Council would receive the rate we were offering for the pitch space we weren’t even using and he’d made a bit of an error in that he also hadn’t got us to sign a Contract with the Council for the Agreement.  Could we solve his problem for him?

Well, as many of you will know, we are a not-for-profit organisation and give to substantial causes each year.  We are not in the business of saving a leisure manager embarrassment at the expense of the good work we do in the community.  So we said, politely, no.

But this wasn’t all.  What struck us at the meeting with Mr Ward was that he didn’t seem to know how 5 and 6-a-side football operated.  He thought it was played on a big 11-a-side pitch.  A leisure services manager who didn’t understand the basic concept of a sport played by 2 million people in the UK?  Rather odd we thought.  Never mind, we explained the basics of the sport to him and we agreed that we would talk again and would try and help him out in the future where we could.

But that wasn’t going to save his embarrassment.  A few weeks later we received a letter stating that he was going to terminate our hire of the pitches as soon as possible.  He didn’t seem to worry about the thousands of people, many of whom disadvantaged, who play in our leagues in South Staffordshire.  No, his only concern was trying to get out of a tricky situation and finding a scapegoat to do it.

Then we discovered that this wasn’t the first time that Mr Ward had tried to make himself look good at the expense of the community.  He’d recently decided to close down a community swimming club offering lessons for disadvantaged people in Penkridge, in the process making the swimming instructor redundant.  To save money?  No, not this time.  This was all about Mr Ward’s thinking he knew everything about swimming (he was a bit of a swimmer in his heyday, by all accounts) and wanting to show the Council that he knew best how to run swimming lessons.  Angry protests by children and parents had no effect on him.  Impervious to the needs and wishes of the community, yet thinking only about saving and establishing his own reputation, Mr Ward went ahead regardless.

We work with most Councils in the UK and we have excellent relationships with most of them.  But Mr Ward was a different kettle of fish entirely.  We’re moving our leagues in South Staffordshire to nearby, better, friendlier facilities – and we’ll leave Mr Ward to see whether or not he would achieve the same revenue (at £200 an hour per pitch) from other sources as he did with us.  Our bet is that he won’t, not by a long way.

But what will that matter to Mr Ward?  Nothing really.  He will have made his point, secured his scapegoat, clung on to the remnants of his ever decreasing reputation.  And the community?  Well, what do they matter when the reputation of the Leisure Service Manager is at stake!

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