The Government published its draft Finance Bill 2017 earlier this week, which contains details of the proposed Soft Drinks Industry Levy (SDIL), otherwise known as the ‘sugar tax’. Its publication coincided with new evidence that suggests soft drinks companies are already proactively cutting sugar content in their products before the levy is due to take hold in April 2018.
Health charities and campaigners are rightly welcoming this good news, but it raises a question for the sport and recreation sector regarding its role in tackling childhood obesity – this is because a significant proportion of the funds raised from the levy have been earmarked to go towards doubling the existing Primary PE and Sport Premium to £320 million a year.
If Government’s projected tax revenues fall short due to soft drinks companies avoiding taxation by reducing sugar content; it will be interesting to see if Ministers continue with their commitment to policy plans unveiled in former Chancellor George Osborne’s Budget 2016. Plans which also included giving 25% of secondary schools the opportunity to extend their school day for activities such as sport.
This area of Government policy has notoriously been used as a political football (no pun intended), so any increased uncertainty and disruption is not what the sector needs – particularly as Government finances continue to be tightened. The additional funding uncertainty from falling National Lottery ticket sales (which fund UK Sport, Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund) means making the planning of long term strategy very difficult. This is on top of an unpredictable year of national and global politics, demonstrating more than ever the importance of the sector identifying alternative revenue streams and the ability to diversify incomes.
In addition to making sure that the sector is invested in, it is also important to make sure that the Primary PE and Sport Premium system is fit for purpose. In part, this means ensuring that teachers are properly qualified, have the right skills, and adequate access to resources. A 2014 Ofsted report highlighted 22 cases of good practice but also identified the need for clearer guidance to schools on how best to spend funding and the importance of good specialist PE knowledge for teachers of the subject. It is important that we continue to call upon Ministers to continue the sharing or good practice and to provide improved guidance on how funding should be used when first allocated to make sure all investment is effective.
But maybe it is time we think bigger and beyond schools and the sugar tax. Maybe investment should be used more widely to get the sector working together to build physical activity into the daily lives of children and young people and working to make sure it features in cross-departmental strategies (from Health, DCMS and DfE, to DEFRA, DfT and DCLG) . Ultimately, we need a population-scale behaviour change that gets the next generation moving, and it will be our role to convince Government that the sport and recreation sector is best placed to deliver this fundamental transformation.