Industry leader issues call to arms at Quest & NBS conference

The sport and leisure industry must fundamentally change and become a serious contributor to the public health agenda if it is to survive the challenges of austerity, a leading industry figure has warned.

Martyn Allison, chair of the Quest board and former national advisor for culture and sport with the Improvement and Development Agency (IDeA), told 280 delegates at the Quest & NBS Conference in Loughborough on 26 February: “Health reform is the biggest opportunity this sector has ever had, but it comes at the very same moment that we’re facing the biggest challenge of austerity.”

Referencing NHS England’s Five Year Forward View – which argues that “the future health of millions of children, the sustainability of the NHS, and the economic prosperity of Britain all now depend on a radical upgrade in prevention and public health” – he said that to survive and grow, the industry must start seeing itself primarily as a provider of health and wellbeing rather than as a provider of sport and leisure.

“To receive a subsidy to run a leisure service will be a thing of the past,” he said. “When subsidy remains it will be targeted on individuals and communities with specific needs and tightly linked to the achievement of specific ends – principally in the arena of improving health and addressing health inequality, ill health and potential ill health.”

But in order to be taken seriously by the health sector, the industry must offer both value for money and evidence-based health benefits, he said. “Simply saying we can get more people more active is not good enough.”

He added that at present the sector was considered “not fit for purpose” by commissioners, who see it as being too facility-focused and more interested in “getting the active more active than the inactive active”. Other perceptions are that the sector is more interested in meeting demand than need and lacks evidence of its impact.

This can partly be attributed to the disappearance of dedicated leisure officers from local councils, combined with the growth of trusts and contractors, creating distance between the sector and key decision-makers. “We’re not being seen in the right places,” he said.

To rise to the challenge, the industry must adopt a new business model, which combines a more efficient, subsidy-free universal service with needs-focused health improvement provision for both communities and individuals. “You’ve got to be everything you have been and better, and more.”

“We have to become part of this transformation of public services. We can’t sit on the sidelines and wait until somebody else has reorganised it all,” he continued. The gold dust of the Olympics was gone, he said: the new gold dust was public health reform, but “unless we fundamentally change and come to terms with our role within it, we will miss that opportunity.”

Quest, he added, could play a crucial part in facilitating that change. “It has to become an accepted vehicle of self-improvement and not just a badge of accreditation. It needs to become a kitemark of service effectiveness by measuring more of what we achieve and less of how we do it. And if we do this, we could make Quest the quality assurance mark for commissioners.”

The scheme has already started on this journey with the launch last year of a compulsory Community Outcomes module, and will continue with the introduction later this year of a number of new modules linking sport, physical activity and health. But the changes will not be at the expense of Quest’s core values.

Quest operations director Caroline Constantine said: “While Quest completely supports Martyn’s view that the industry must adapt to the challenges ahead, operators should not panic. Quest is not going to turn into a health-related accreditation overnight.

“The integration of more physical activity participation and health-related modules will be gradual and seamless. Quest will not give up its key objectives of ensuring leisure centres and sports development teams are operating in a safe, clean and friendly manner.”

To receive a copy of Martyn Allison’s full paper on how health reform will affect the leisure industry, please email

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For further information contact:
Rhianon Howells at Big Fish Public Relations
Tel: 01727 834629
Mob: 07967 551142

Editor’s notes:
Quest is the UK quality scheme for sport and leisure. Managed by Right Directions in partnership with Leisure-net Solutions, it is a tool for continuous improvement, designed primarily for the management of leisure facilities and leisure development. Quest defines industry standards and good practice, and encourages their ongoing development and delivery within a customer-focused management framework.
The National Benchmarking Service (NBS) provides critical data on the performance of your leisure facility. Leisure-net Solutions, in partnership with Sport Industry Research Centre (SIRC) at Sheffield Hallam University, works on behalf of Sport England to provide a seamless, rigorous and valuable collection and analysis of participation, financial and customer satisfaction data. For more information, visit

Abigail Harris About the author
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