How will the Government’s about turn on a key legacy promise affect athletic clubs?

Background. For 6 years the DCMS and its quangoes UK Sport and Sport England have relentlessly pursued the quest for increased participation in sport. Sport England has produced numerous costly studies to show they have been on target to meet a key Olympic bid pledge of 1 million more sportspersons by 2012.

On Jan 10th 2012 Jeremy Hunt, Secretary for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, confirmed the scrapping of a central legacy promise to increase sports participation to be replaced by a new initiative aimed at encouraging young people to remain in sport. He said;

“The one million target was not going to be delivered whichever Government was in Power, so we have acknowledged that a top-down, target-driven approach was not going to work. If we don’t deliver significant increases in the number of people in sport at 16, 18 and 24 then this (new) policy will have failed.”

Sport England will be responsible for delivering the new policy despite failing to hit previous targets. The Governing bodies of those sports receiving future Grant Aid and Lottery Funding will face financial penalties if they fail to deliver the new scheme’s targets.

The Detail. Instead of a target driven approach the new focus will be on building links between schools and local sports clubs in an attempt to arrest an alarming drop in participation once children leave school. Under the new policy 4000 secondary schools will host “community clubs” intended to foster closer links between schools and local clubs. Establishing the network of clubs will be a key requirement of national governing bodies, which will share around £450million in funding to boost participation from 2013 to 2017. It is claimed that 60% of this money (£270million) will be spent on new school-club links

Is this new money? One of the first priorities of the Coalition was to cut budgets. The DCMS budget of around £1.6billion per year is the smallest of all Government Departments. Nonetheless cuts have been made. On the 20th October 2010 Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education published a letter sent to the Youth Sport Trust. In it he stated :

“Over the next year my Department will work closely with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to develop a model to assist an Olympic-style approach to school sport….I have concluded that the existing network of school sport partnerships is neither affordable nor likely to be the best way to help schools achieve their potential in improving competitive sport.”

“I have no plans to commission further work from the Youth Sport Trust beyond March 2011″

The annual savings from scrapping School sports partnerships have been detailed in an earlier ABAC report (Ref 1). To summarise: £260 million a year has been saved by cutting 450 Partnership Development Managers and 225 Competition managers. Offsetting this saving is a new grant paid directly to schools totalling £65 million per year up to 2013. So for the next 2 years these changes will produce an overall saving of £195 million per annum and thereafter £260 million per annum.

But there are more savings to come. The DCMS has announced plans to amalgamate UK Sport, Sport England and the Youth Sport Trust. Furthermore monies for the Olympic legacy programme will reduce to zero in 2014. The potential effect of these changes may be assessed from details of the DCMS department spending on pay for staff implementing and operating its funded programmes. Direct and indirect payroll funding is listed in the latest DCMS Accounts. (Ref 2).

          2009-2010 Outturn                      £570,000,000

          2010-2011 Estimated Outturn      £565,967,000 (a)

          2011-2012 Plans                        £172,159,000 (b)

          2012-2013 Plans                        £154,351,000

          2013-2014 Plans                        £132,751,000

So from now on payroll support for funded bodies and DCMS staff will fall by £393,808,000 per annum (a) – (b).

Therefore the current planned savings over the next year on direct support for staff funded by DCMS will be £195million + £ 393million = £588 million per annum total.

As the new initiative is scheduled to cost £450 million per annum it is clear that the new plan can be implemented only if planned expenditure is increased above present target levels.

How will the new scheme be managed? Once again it appears the main recipients of the new money will be participating schools to enable them to establish new community clubs. But as most children leave school between 16 and 18 years of age the retention of older athletes will inevitably fall to existing athletic clubs. It is unclear how clubs will be incentivised to fulfil this role. It is crucial that only small amounts of money are used for the monitoring and operation of the new scheme and that the major expenditure should be for paying coaches. If not we will see once again an increasing non productive bureaucracy.

At present it seems that County Sports Partnerships will be the favoured route for implementing this new initiative. But as usual this plan has been revealed without the detailed planning required to ensure its efficacy.

There is no doubt that athletic clubs should be involved in the process of establishing this new plan. Experience shows that if it is left to the NGB the clubs will not have a say in formulating operating procedures to arrive at the best possible way of proceeding.

It is worth noting at this point that the success of the scheme will depend on proper monitoring of participating numbers. Sadly UKA has a poor history of accurately recording statistics relating to athletics and Sport England is equally guilty of massaging figures as witnessed by its discredited “Active People” and “Satisfaction” surveys.

Concluding Remarks. Government’s funding of sport works on four year cycles. When programmes are submitted via Sport England, to UK Sport and then to the DCMS, targets (Key Performance Indicators KPI’s) are set, which effectively establish how each sport operates during the funding period. In many historic cases the targets have proved to be unrealistic and unattainable. This is because plans are produced by NGB’s and approved by the fund providers without reference to the clubs supporting the core body of each sport.

With regard to this initiative there is time for track and field clubs to have an input right now while the details are being finalised. It will be of no help if the details are worked out behind closed doors and then imposed on sport.

Government does not have a good record of consulting before implementing policies. That is why we have seen so many expensive failures (particularly in sport) and subsequent shifting of ground. It is not good enough to brush aside failures and to move on without redress. It is time that those organisations who fail are penalised. This of course is what is promised but in reality never happens. Disaster may follow disaster but still the same faces survive. None more so than in athletics.

ABAC Comments

While it may be easy for politicians now to dismiss past participation targets as unattainable let us not forget that this one objective –forced on sport by Sport England – has contributed to the demise of competitive athletics. It is not good enough to put this down to bad luck. It was predicted. Indeed ABAC was responsible for a clubs backed petition calling for a reduction in participation funding and targets. This and several other initiatives have been ignored by the sporting quangoes. (Ref 3,4,5).

It must also be recognised that that many NGB’s have set themselves up as Limited Companies and as such are not subject to the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. They are mainly secretive and as clubs have no powers over decisions and plans they do as they please to the detriment of sport. This top down management style, so favoured by the post 1997 Labour Governments is one that is now decried by the Coalition. Let us hope there will be some actual changes and that recent statements have some substance.

To avoid a repeat of past failings and to put the new scheme on a proper footing ABAC is preparing a club centred plan which it will place before its members. It will be up to track and field clubs to decide if the ABAC plan gains enough support for it to be put to the DCMS. In the meantime we shall inform the Powers that be they should not conclude details without consulting the key stakeholders – The Clubs.


1. ABAC article 16 July 2011. “Volunteer coaches required to support latest school sports plans.”
2. DCMS Consolidated Accounts 2010-2011
3. ABAC link 17 Dec 2007 to Minister of Sport’s response to ABAC’s Participation Petition
4. ABAC article 5 Dec 2007. “Sport England about turn”. New 4 year plan with increased participation targets.
5. ABAC 17 July 2007. Club Petition to Minister of Sport concerning athletics funding and governance.

Category: Governance