Trusts: GLL / Better

Focus on GLL / Better (Greenwich Leisure Limited)

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

As its name suggests, GLL (Greenwich Leisure Limited) began running leisure centres, with a network across the UK.  It is now also the largest manager of public libraries in the UK. It currently runs library services in Greenwich, Wandsworth, Lincolnshire (In April 2016, it took over 15 libraries in Lincolnshire), Bromley ( took them over in November 2017) and Dudley ( in February 2017, it was announced that they would be taking over Dudley, which they did in December 2017).

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”.

Unite wrote this leaflet against GLL in Bromley (June 2017): Unite the Union response to consultation on the commissioning of Bromley Library Service – Unite. “We aim to show throughout this report that the safest and best place for a library service is to remain within the public sector. Our stance is not limited to protecting jobs, pay and conditions. These are, of course, central to our aims as a trade union. However, this goes hand in hand with our strong commitment to defend public services. Not only do our members work in public services – they also use and rely on them. Therefore, we have an interest in making sure that public services have a long term future. ” In July 2017, it was confirmed GLL will take over contract for ten years.

  • GLL Libraries – visits and issues sustained – GLL. “Library use was up in London and Lincolnshire in a year that also saw GLL add two new library contracts to its growing portfolio, in a vote of confidence in the brand’s ethos to keep libraries open and get more people using them.” … “The CIPFA statistics come on the back of good news for Lincolnshire libraries which confirmed 1.76 million visits were made to the county’s libraries in the 12 months to April 2017 since GLL took over the service – up 1 per cent. Lincolnshire libraries issues since April 2017 are up 23 per cent over the previous year.” … “GLL now manage 113 libraries across Bromley, Dudley, Greenwich, Lincolnshire and Wandsworth.” (December 2017).
  • #1 written by geoff
    about 11 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.

  • #2 written by Kate Ley
    about 6 years ago

    Northamptonshire County Council is planning to close 15 local libraries. These are desperately needed, serving rural communities and small towns. Is there any help we can get to join, or form a trust?

  • #3 written by Kate Ley
    about 6 years ago

    Would GLL/Better consider putting in a bid to run Northamptonshire County Council libraries? At the moment there is a consultation which is going to result in closing 15 of them. Most are a value for money service to small towns and rural communities. Last week our library had over 1000 visitors for example. The Council have asked for interested bids as part of the consultation on their website.

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