Evolution of public services: The case of UK leisure centres in the late 20th century

Alex G. Gillett*, Kevin D. Tennent

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter focusses on entrepreneurship and policies of public services in England, specifically leisure centre provision in the UK during the late twentieth century. The central role played by local authorities in sport provision was complimented by an increasing cadre of leisure sector professionals and with increasing architectural interest in the provision of leisure. The institutional context was framed by the Sports Development Council (SDC) after 1965 together with the broader action of local authorities who aimed to provide their ratepayers with access to improved sport and leisure services. The resulting leisure centres were perhaps a way to signal the prestige of local authorities but were expensive investments. The capability of local authorities was boosted by the local government reforms of the 1970s, which merged districts, pooling their resources. The possibility of support from private capital and after 1973 from the European Economic Community (EEC) also provided new opportunities for the organizational form. Eventually, there was a shift in emphasis from the provision of organized sport to that of more individualized and commercialized "leisure" as a product. Whether or not this achieved the long-term aims of central government, to improve access to sport and to tackle urban challenges, remains questionable. However, the story of leisure provision in the UK remains one of remarkable public sector entrepreneurship within an institutional context.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCollective Entrepreneurship in the Contemporary European Services Industries
Subtitle of host publicationA Long Term Approach
EditorsPaloma Fernández Pérez, E. San Román
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781801179522
ISBN (Print)9781801179508
Publication statusPublished - 11 Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 by Emerald Publishing Limited. All rights reserved.


  • Leisure centres
  • Leisure management
  • Policy
  • Public services
  • Sport
  • United kingdom

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