Following the Government Spending Review, Paul Cluett, Managing Director at Alliance, shares his thoughts on the situation.
Whilst the recent Spending Review announcements by George Osborne were, on the face of it, favourable to the Sports sector with UK Sports receiving a 29% boost to assist elite sports men and women build on the successes of London 2012, at the grass roots, things may not be quite so bright.
Local Authorities will be having to make tough choices about how, and indeed if, they deliver sport, leisure and physical activity services to their local communities. As Graeme McDonald, director of Solace stated “Without more fundamental change to how local services are paid for and provided, the support individuals and communities receive will be drastically curtailed.”
There is a real opportunity to seize the moment. In the municipal leisure sector we have been guilty of accepting a polarised view as to what sports centres should be, often resulting in high levels of revenue subsidy. Coupled with an historic lack of ongoing investment in ageing infrastructure, the result is a toxic mix of expensive and unsustainable facilities which don’t resonate with the physical, social and health needs of the communities they serve.
Whether services are delivered directly, by a Trust or a Contractor, the crucial ingredient for them all is the range of activities they offer. Despite the relaxation on the removal of tax credits, there is no question that over the next few years, those in society who are most vulnerable, will be facing increasing financial challenges with the implementation of the Universal Credit. This means that the need to offer activities that attract all members of society to participate in physical activity has never been greater. Indeed, if we are to encourage hard to reach groups to be active, we must look at the choice of facilities along with the pricing strategies to ensure that we get it right.
To coin a phrase, “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. Let us now consider how we can innovatively transform leisure assets to provide relevant activity opportunities to all sections of society in an affordable and sustainable way. If we don’t, the probable consequence could well be a dramatic reduction in local authority leisure provision.