Nottingham City Council boosts swimming revenue following NBS
- News Kelly Joyce
Taking part in Sport England’s National Benchmarking Survey (NBS) has helped Nottingham City Council identify opportunities to significantly boost its swimming revenue while meeting the needs of the local community.
Working with Leisure-net, Nottingham City Council took five of its sites - Clifton Leisure Centre, John Carroll Leisure Centre, Ken Martin Leisure Centre, Southglade Leisure Centre and Victoria Leisure Centre – through the NBS earlier this year.
“The NBS isn’t new to us, but it was the first time we had used it on a number of our facilities. Local authorities tend to be data rich, but information poor. We have lots of detail, but we don’t always use it well. The interrogation the NBS provided made us think about how we can change our services moving forward,” says John Wileman, Head of Sport, Leisure and Business Management at Nottingham City Council.
The council runs eight sites, all of which are either new or have been refurbished or redeveloped in the last 11 years. All venues have the same membership offer. Benchmarking the sites against their near neighbours, as well as nationally, was a reality check.
“The NBS feedback was particularly useful to frontline managers, as their centres were compared to other sites, and although we have a rigorous performance monitoring regime this sometimes doesn’t allow you to look across the services. Some of our managers got a bit of a shock because the results showed they weren’t performing as well as they thought. They are a pretty competitive bunch, and no one wants to be among the lowest performing centres, so the benchmarking element has proved a good motivator,” he says.
The ability to share learnings from centres that are doing well allowed the council to analyse areas of underperformance. It then identified realistic benchmarks in the private sector and looked at their offers and programmes for inspiration on how to make improvements.
“We are very good at building facilities, but not so good at programming them. Following the results, we’ve done a full pricing and programming review of our weaker sites,” says Wileman.
Swimming provision is one example of where the council has made changes following the NBS. The efficiency report, which covered a wide range of metrics including a comparison of swimming income per square meter of pool space or swim lesson income, provided real insight.
“Swimming lessons are the lifeblood of our pools and a key income generator for us. Being able to compare their performance, both internally and externally, was extremely valuable. In fact, the research showed our performance was lower than our competitors in terms of income or usage capacity and in some cases both.”
In response, as one example, the council has introduced swimming lessons in a small pool at one of its sites on Sunday mornings. This has added around 40 extra class spaces and £10,000 to its bottom line.
NBS is only one part of the journey to becoming more commercially aware for Nottingham City Council. The local authority is putting its sites through Sport England’s quality assurance mark Quest; the centres which have undergone the process have achieved a Very Good, close to Excellent rating. The council is also working with Proinsight to conduct monthly mystery shopper exercises to gain insight into the customer journey at its centres.
In addition, the council has adopted a new approach to budgeting following the results of the NBS.
“Our budgets used to be based on the previous year’s performance, but we are now setting more realistic budgets that reflect the marketplace and our facilities. We are also using the NBS findings us to demonstrate the value for money of the service to the council and how well we perform against other operators,” says Wileman.
“We have been a member of APSE benchmarking for a number of years, but the NBS has given us a different level of comparison, especially when linked to the comparison with private sector operators and trusts. It has been a valuable exercise in terms of business intelligence and getting a better understanding of our operation.”