The shadow home secretary Andy Burnham has warned that government cuts to grassroots sport due to be announced next week will be “the final nail hammered into the coffin of the legacy of London 2012”.
Those in the sport sector are steeling themselves before a Comprehensive Spending Review that is expected to impose cuts of 25-40% across non-protected departments in Whitehall. The budgets of Sport England, which invests £300m a year directly into grassroots sport, and UK Sport, which is investing £543m in elite athletes over the current Olympic cycle, could to an extent be protected because the majority of their funding comes from the national lottery rather than the exchequer.
Given a rough 75/25 split of Lottery and exchequer funding, a cut of 30% to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport budget would mean roughly 10% being cut from the budgets for elite and grassroots sport. There is speculation this could be further backfilled by diverting money from the Big Lottery Fund, which in itself would prove controversial.
But Burnham said cuts of up to 40% to local authority budgets would have a profound effect on grassroots sport. “We’re going to see councils cut by probably 40% over the next five years. It could even be higher but that’s a reasonable planning assumption on the government’s own estimates,” he said, speaking at the Substance National Conference in London. “Yes, the Sport England budget might be protected through the lottery but that’s much smaller by comparison. Then any other departments will target any sport-related or prevention-related programmes as they target any other cuts that come through. That’s the reality for the next five years.”
Cuts to local authority budgets have already hit funding for facilities and sports programmes since 2010, with 2013 Guardian research showing some local authorities had already slashed budgets by up to 40%. Sport and recreation budgets tend to be disproportionately affected as it is one of few discretionary spending areas.
Flatlining sports participation figures, cuts to local council facilities and fears over school sport have led to questions over the promised legacy from the London 2012 Olympics. The former Olympics minister Tessa Jowell said in July the legacy had been squandered by her “wicked and negligent” successors.
Burnham said that both inside and outside government he had been frustrated in his attempts to force Whitehall to take a more integrated approach to sport and physical activity across departments including health and education. “These cuts will be devastating for sport. Whitehall doesn’t prioritise sport and physical activity. Within the individual departments, not one of them see it as one of their main responsibilities,” he said.
“It’s the orphan policy, nobody wants to know and nobody wants to take responsibility. In tough times, it’s the default setting – you cut it first.”
The sports minister, Tracey Crouch, is waiting until after the Comprehensive Spending Review to publish her grassroots sport review. Following that Sport England is likely to publish a new strategy, with sports governing bodies fearing it will reflect a change of approach that reduces money available to them in favour of other providers. A total of almost £1bn has been invested through 46 national governing bodies since 2009 but only five sports have increased once-a-week participation figures. Since the Olympics, Sport England’s own figures show 700,000 fewer adults are playing sport at least once a month.
Burnham also called for “a much more ambitious approach to sport in school particularly primary school” and called on the Premier League to divert more of its broadcasting income to the grassroots.
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