Voluntary transfer - The original research

The institute is pleased to announce the publication of a major new piece of research co-authored by CIMSPA fellow Geoff Nichols at the University of Sheffield.

The research covers the emerging trend of service providers transferring sport and activity services to voluntary delivery mechanisms.

Download the research (PDF) from the link, or see the introduction and summary below.


The transfer of public leisure facilities to volunteer delivery

Geoff Nichols, Sheffield University Management School.
Deborah Forbes, Newcastle University Business School.

In response to financial cuts local authorities are faced with choices of closing facilities; such as sports centres, libraries and museums; or transferring them to management and delivery by volunteers. In some cases transfer has been an extension of previous policies to develop community engagement but in many the accelerating pace of transfers has reflected the need to reconcile budget cuts with maintaining the service and responding to local pressure groups.

This report is based on 20 interviews with facility managers, local authority managers, volunteers and support organisations conducted between March and August 2014. These covered 10 facilities in 10 different local authorities. Some respondents were contacted through an on-line questionnaire survey promoted though the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity.

The report raises broad issues; including the implications of the pace of change, of budget cuts and of a changing balance between local authority and volunteer control of facilities. It is not a guide on how to implement asset transfer - Sport England has commissioned useful advice on this. We have not named specific facilities at this stage because of the political sensitivity of asset transfer and active negotiations between local authorities and volunteer groups. There is no standard model of the balance between local authority and volunteer responsibilities however the general picture is a move towards volunteer management and delivery.

In general, advantages of asset transfer include:

  • Facilities have stayed open.
  • Improved links with the local community - making services more responsive to local needs.
  • Developing volunteering, with its rewards for the volunteers and the community.
  • Reduced costs to the local authority and in running the facilities.

Challenges include:

  • The uneven distribution of voluntary capacity means asset transfer may be limited to more advantaged areas.
  • The pace of budget cuts may outstrip the speed at which volunteer groups can be developed and support services for volunteers have themselves been cut.
  • The political difficulties of accepting volunteers replacing paid employees.
  • The influence of local politics on deciding which facilities to support.
  • The loss of government’s ability to plan strategically.
  • The potential loss of core skills and compromise of standards.
  • Are transfers sustainable economically and in terms of volunteer enthusiasm?
  • The need for a co-operative relationship of trust between local authorities and volunteer groups.

This exploratory research has raised the issues local authority managers and volunteers need to be aware of. The process of asset transfer will accelerate as budget cuts continue and could result in a transformation of local leisure services.