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19.10.15

Councils call for devolution of sports budget to tackle obesity crisis

The LGA is calling on Whitehall to devolve the nationally fragmented sports budget to help tackle the growing issue of inactivity and obesity in England.

In a new submission to the government, which is currently designing a new sports strategy, the LGA – representing 370 councils – said it was imperative that national funding, spread throughout various departments and agencies, is devolved to local authorities and partners.

The latest figures that show the number of people over 16 taking part in sport at least once a week has dropped by 400,000. The LGA is therefore demanding greater control over how councils invest in fighting the looming obesity crisis – especially in face of cuts to the public health budget, which could see the sports cash pool decrease by 35%.

It wants the government to bring together funds across multiple departments to cut bureaucracy and duplication, allowing councils to team up with partners to invest in more innovative, specialised approaches that meet local needs.

Funding of nearly half a billion pounds is currently awarded by Sport England, the governing body, to national sports bodies to boost participation in activities – but only six sports out of 46 have shown a significant rise in participation rates.

Cllr Ian Stephens, chairman of the LGA’s culture, tourism and sport board, said: “We are in the midst of a full-blown obesity crisis which is being exacerbated by plunging levels of grassroots sports participation. This is creating a lost generation of obese kids and putting the NHS under enormous pressure.

“Councils are best-placed to reach those who play sport or want to start doing so, as most sport takes place in swimming pools, leisure centres, parks and open spaces owned or managed by local authorities. However, they are being hamstrung by a national funding system which is not fit for purpose.

“Councils need the opportunity to spend this sports funding in the most effective way – on the parks, playing fields and facilities where it can best reach the most people to get active and feel healthier.”

He added that councils already have a great track record of teaming up with sports to boost local participation, and claimed this opportunity should be available to all local authorities.

“The Premier League’s recent announcement of investment in school sport is helpful but funding is also needed for the other, less wealthy sports so that as many people as possible can benefit,” he continued.

According to the LGA, councils have already managed to boost participation in several sports through localised focus, including by increasing the number of people riding bikes at least once a week by more than 100,000 since 2012.

(Top image c. Ryan McVay)

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