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Chair’s Opinion

Richard Hunt

Richard Hunt, Chair of CLOA provides an insight into the impact of the cuts, and makes some compelling suggestions as to how the sector best brings about joined up local solutions in an article for Sports Management Magazine.

Question from Sports Management:

What has been the impact of the cuts, and how do we best bring about joined up local solutions?

The speed and severity of the cuts have been unprecedented. CLOA impact survey earlier this year indicated that a third of authorities were planning savings of 30% across culture and sport services over two financial years, with sports development and leisure facility operations taking the brunt of the savings, albeit largely attached to plans for transformation of provision.

The scale of the savings has prompted some soul searching over the relative merit of the services traditionally supported. Ultimately leaders in the Local Authorities need to be very clear about what their leisure centres are there to do and how they fit in the dynamic mixed economy that they operate.

Unsurprisingly, asset rationalisation continues to occupy local authority leisure reviews and there are examples of council’s who have closed, reduced hours or part or wholly transferred their stock and still maintained levels of throughput. Ironically though for the leisure centre sector, the drive for efficiencies could result in a significant squeeze on less efficient off peak hours, at the very time where there is capacity to drive up participation in key groups and address health inequality.

Creating a joined up approach for community sport at any time is important, but in the current economic climate it is essential. At a time when public spending is set to reduce by a further 0.9% in real terms in 2015/16 and 2016/17, the impact for sport will be significant. Shared approaches will be critical to maintaining a local sporting infrastructure and many authorities are already illustrating this through asset transfer to community sports clubs, joint facility sports hubs, and a focus on enhancing sustainable community use of school sports facilities.

There are two strands to ‘joining up’ from a local authority perspective – across the community sports sector itself, and as indicated earlier for councils the broader shared agendas with partners in public health, crime reduction partnerships, children’s services and adult care commissioners.

Within the community sports sector, CSPs have to play a key role in joining up the sector- this is one of their core purposes. The best CSP performance is generally built upon good relationship management with local authorities, and an understanding of these agendas and pressures.

Local authority leadership is however the critical factor in facilitating a joint local approach and maximising the investment placed in CSPs. Local authority leadership increasingly is about shaping the market for community sport and leisure provision.

Despite the gloomy economic picture the sector does have some windows of opportunity. The transition of public health responsibilities to local government and health reforms, present the opportunity to significantly raise the profile, and investment in sport and physical activity. Local leadership will mean working collectively with key sector players in our sport and physical activity networks to make this case. We have the data, and local profiles, and we have strategic opportunities for positioning (JSNA’s, annual public health reports and of course the developing health and well-being structures).

The other opportunity rests with the sector itself taking action. The details of DCMS / Sport England’s strategy for youth and community sport were unveiled in January. We know from recent articles from the Secretary of State, and Active People survey that the system of current national investment hasn’t produced the planned increased participation figures for sport. The new strategy highlights NGB Whole Sport Plans contractually built around ‘payment by results’ extended to reach down to 14 year olds, a greater connection to secondary schools emphasized for school club links and community use, and local activation funding accompanying broader capital programmes for facilities.

More detail will follow, and Sport England have been listening and working with CLOA to refine the funding programmes.  The reality is however that this ambition will succeeds or fail at the local level, under local leadership.

CLOA’s message to Sport England has been clear. We need to see a higher proportion of NGB funding reaching local level (rather than 46 organisational infrastructures and programmes) and secondly in the evolution of Whole Sports Plans, NGBs have to be ready to engage local councils in meaningful strategic planning around joint commissioning and investment locally, understanding and appreciating the role of local authorities particularly in relation to harder target markets, and the financial challenges facing the services provided.

On the other side of the equation as local strategic leaders we need to have clarity and vision around our sporting legacy plans post 2012, encompassing the range of players. In facing up to the economic challenges we need to be clear about what is needed and how our services can support reducing health inequalities, improve educational attainment and social cohesion.

As we reshape services and focus on what will have the most impact, we will all require strong leadership to help shape the future of the wider sport offer in the communities that we serve. CLOA’s role will continue to facilitate support to sector leaders through advocacy, sharing innovation and improvement and shaping thinking around sector transformation.

Richard Hunt, Chair of CLOA
richard.hunt@suffolk.gov.uk

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