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8 Feb 2021 | 9:09

The Chief Executive of Sport England has described how there needs to be “a very different discussion” with local authorities about the role that sport can play in communities. 

Tim Hollingsworth says one of the key drivers of the funding body’s new 10-year strategy ‘Uniting the Movement’, which was launched last week, will be to challenge and, where necessary, change the perception of sport as a “siloed package” for local government and policy-makers, and maximise its contribution across other sectors such as health, education and reducing anti-social behaviour. 

Speaking at a virtual meeting of the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group) for Sport, co-ordinated by the Sport & Recreation Alliance, the Sport England CEO said: “One of the challenges for the delivery of sport before was if sport was seen as a siloed package that the local authority has a budget for. 

“When that budget runs out, it stops and that very often is the biggest barrier to a broad range of activities being available.

COMMUNITIES

“If you start to embed the benefit of sport and physical activity within a local authority and its wider ambition – so if you really do connect it to health, to education, to transport, in many cases tackling anti-social behaviour, or some of the other problems that are faced in those local environments – then you can suddenly have a very different discussion with local authorities about the role that sport can play in their communities. Suddenly it becomes a much better basis for sustained investment and engagement.” 

Because of the huge demands on central and local government in the wake of the pandemic, public funding is “incredibly scarce, relative to need” according to Tim. 

Evidence drawn from the Coalition’s submission to the current House of Lords Select Committee inquiry into sport and recreation shows that the current level of public funding for sport has been significantly reduced by austerity measures and resultant cuts to local government budgets. Sport and recreation is not a statutory function for local government. In an environment in which “councils have increasingly focused on services required for them to meet their statutory duties” ⁽¹⁾, the amount budgeted to be spent on sport and recreation (including leisure centres and sports pitches) by English councils in 2019/20 was 70% lower this year than in 2009–10 ⁽²⁾. Charging for services through sales, fees and charges (SFC) has been the primary strategy used to fill shortfall, further commercialising service provision.

Because of this, the Coalition has previously committed to helping its growing network of supporters access “all avenues of funding and support”. 

Tim explained: “I am slightly wary of just saying we should just be increasing the sport budgets of local authorities, because they are as challenged by the current environment as anyone else – but we absolutely can make a better case within the local authority sector.” 

He added: “We will be investing against purpose and our priorities, where we will think we can have the most impact with our public money. Public money is incredibly scarce relative to need and we have to make sure that we get the best results from it.” 

EVIDENCE

As the nation seeks to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, the Sport for Development Coalition’s new ‘Adapt, Support, Respond’ initiative will aim to help to make the case for funding – through public and other sources – by collating evidence of the sector’s collective impact. 

The initiative will support the aims of Sport England’s new strategy which, according to Tim (pictured below with Coalition chair Andy Reed), aims to demonstrate a “higher purpose” for sport and physical activity in the lives of individuals and communities. 

He said: “With Uniting the Movement, we tried to set out the purpose of our ambition – why it matters, that it isn’t just about sport and physical activity for its own sake, but it’s about that higher purpose, really engaging people’s individual health and wellbeing, connecting our communities and creating the environments that we ought to live in.

Tim Hollingsworth with Coalition chair Andy Reed

“It could be, and should be seen as genuinely cross governmental. I’m genuinely enthusiastic that we play our part in that.” 

This was some of the learning taken from Sport England’s 12 Local Delivery Pilots over the last four years, the CEO explained. 

“The premise was: what we can we do to make sport and physical activity impact on people’s lives more effectively than it currently does? 

“It took a different way of working, which was to turn the telescope around and not say ‘here’s sport, now deliver it’ but ‘what role can sport and physical activity play in your wider ambition?’ I think we will be very focused on that in the next decade and, at that at the end of the strategic period, I am really hopeful that sense of embedded consciousness of the role that sport can play in wider public policy delivery, is much improved.” 

References. 
⁽¹⁾ Harris, T., Hodge, L., and Philipps, D., (2020). English local government funding: trends and challenges in 2019 and beyond, Institute of Fiscal Studies, Online. https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/English-local-government-funding-trends-and-challenges-in-2019-and-beyond-IFS-Report-166.pdf 
⁽²⁾ Harris, T., Hodge, L., and Philipps, D., (2020). English local government funding: trends and challenges in 2019 and beyond, Institute of Fiscal Studies, Online. https://www.ifs.org.uk/uploads/English-local-government-funding-trends-and-challenges-in-2019-and-beyond-IFS-Report-166.pdf