Trusts: GLL / Better


Focus on GLL / Better (Greenwich Leisure Limited)

Please note that GLL changes its trading name to “Better” in 2016.

This is a name that observers of public libraries are increasingly seeing.  As its name suggests, GLL is strongest in running leisure centres, currently running over one hundred of them in London and Southeast England.  It is now, though, making serious moves into the public library field and could end up within a year running the library services of three authorities.  As a statement of intent, it has appointed the well-respected Diana Edmonds MBE, ex Haringey libraries chief and establisher previously of Instant Library Ltd, as the head of its new Libraries Division.  It currently runs library services in Greenwich and Wandsworth. In April 2016, it took over 15 libraries in Lincolnshire and in February 2017, it was announced that they would be taking over Dudley. It is currently (March 2017) believed to be in the running to run Bromley libraries.

The biggest in the UK is Greenwich Leisure Limited, with an annual turnover of £115m. Launched in 1993, it now manages 110 centres, mainly in London, and was responsible for managing some Olympic venues including the Aquatics Centre and the Copper Box arena.

The company is increasingly operating outside the capital, with facilities in York and Oxfordshire. It is now expanding into managing libraries: it already runs 15; another 10 come on stream in April.

“GLL aims to make community services and spaces better for everyone,” says Mark Sesnan, its managing director. “This means providing access to quality community leisure and fitness facilities at a price everyone can afford.” Guardian, March 2013.

GLL is a social enterprise, not a private company, and is registered as a charity.  This means that, “Any financial surpluses we generate are reinvested to provide long-term benefits for our customers, employees and the communities where we operate.”. It is “guided by a board of trustees, which is appointed on an annual basis at the general meeting. The board has representation from a number of stakeholders including customers, council, and the workforce.”. It also has green credentials and was the subject of a positive case study by the MLA.   Despite this, the move to give contracts to GLL has caused some fear amongst trade unionists and questions were also asked about its non-library Greenwich Leisure contract.

Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL) is arguably one of the biggest social enterprise success stories within local government. The leisure services firm was originally part of Greenwich council, east London, but became a staff and community-owned mutual during Conservative government cuts in the early 90s. It now employs more than 4,000 staff throughout London and the south of England, and is branching out into library services, too, having taken on Greenwich’s libraries earlier this year. It’s something that Mark Sesnan, GLL’s chief executive, admits he’d never considered even two years ago. “Organisations like GLL are seeking to expand into new service areas, and… local authorities are looking at different ways to provide services to protect them while reducing overheads and sharing costs.”

Despite trade union concern over the transfer, Sesnan argues that library opening hours, staff numbers and terms and conditions remain the same. GLL is able to run a cheaper and better library service than the council because “we don’t carry a massive overhead”, says Sesnan, “[unlike] every service a local authority has which carries a large part of the overall administration costs… We get some tax advantages; we don’t pay rates on the buildings, for example, because we’re a charity; we can be more flexible in the way we deploy staff; we have better purchasing arrangements than the local authority has.” In such cases, social enterprise seems able to literally deliver more for less.” Guardian 9/11/11

In November 2012, GLL were awarded the contract for Wandsworth libraries in a competitive tendering process in association with Croydon.  Croydon, on the other hand, decided to go with John Laing Intergrated Services (15/11/12).

“The current situation is verychallenging and requires librarians to think on their feet. It is important that we use whatever we can to make libraries more costeffective without destroying their intrinsic social value.” Diana Edmonds, the Head of Libraries, Greenwich Leisure Limited quoted in Protecting Library Services.

“Even some of the biggest social enterprises are yet to crack the revenue model. London-based GLL took on its first library contract with Greenwich council in April last year, and has just been awarded the Wandsworth Libraries contract. Mark Sesnan, MD of GLL, says that it’s still “early days. What we’ve got to decide is what we want the library service to look like for the next 30 years, and how that should be delivered… But in Greenwich we’ve made sure no libraries have closed, we’ve kept the opening hours the same, we’ve kept staff pay and conditions, and our guarantee is that things will be as good as they were before if not better.” Guardian, April 2013.

In October 2015, it was announced that GLL would take over three threatened libraries in Lambeth (Carnegie, Minet and Tate South), making them self service (with no permanent staff) as part of “healthy living centres”.

  • #1 written by geoff
    about 4 years ago

    Dear GLL
    I understand that you are responsible for the overall running of the Witney Leisure Centre,Oxon? If so,you should be aware of the poor standard of service they offer particularly the standard of Gym staff,insufficient maintenance of equipment, and the management. Apparently we are getting a new gym,but us,thepublic,have not seen any artist’s impressions of what it may look like,despite itsintended completion in December 2012. Also,the public have not been asked for our views on what the new gym should look like and equipment it should contain, Please advise. Many thanks.

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