“A more productive, sustainable and responsible sport sector”

Rob Tate, Governance Officer, picks out three key development areas to come out of Sport England's Towards an Active Future strategy.

The big story from the launch of Sport England’s new strategy - “Towards an active nation” - was the ring fencing of £250 million to get the inactive active; a quarter of the organisation’s investment over the next funding cycle. Looking for more bang from the public buck, Sport England are moving their investment away from the already active core market, focusing instead on helping more people meet the Chief Medical Officer's 150 minute per week activity target. To support this change, they're encouraging National Governing Bodies to become more business-like, in the hope that sports organisations acting as businesses will be better governed, more sustainable and less reliant on the public purse (and they're probably right).

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There’s a whole strand of the new strategy dedicated to “A more productive, sustainable and responsible sector”, much of which is as we expected. Even before the publication of this strategy it was clear that income diversification was going to be a hot topic. Likewise, we’ve been pushing the good governance agenda for nearly five years now (including the launch of the Voluntary Code of Good Governance way back in 2011) and sports organisations have become increasingly aware of the need to create greater diversity throughout the workforce. The question to be asked now is how we as a sector can make all of this a reality. From the strategy it’s apparent that; while Sport England will do all they can to support the change; much of the burden will be on NGBs themselves to take action.

Below, we've looked at three areas for development, actions that need to be taken and the questions that remain to be answered:

1.         Income diversification and commercial revenue generation

The tightening of public purse strings has been a constant backdrop to decision making in recent years, and even the autumn budget’s announcement of increased funding for sport didn’t improve the outlook. Sport England’s new focus on the inactive diverts funding away from the core market, and puts greater pressure on NGBs to find alternative sources of funding. To do this without significantly increasing costs for participants NGBs will need to find new ways of generating income from the private sector, as well as taking advantage of efficiencies to cut operating costs.

On the first point, Sport England has stated it will revise its commercial framework to help sports organisations identify new sources of private sector revenue, though we don’t quite know what this will look like yet. It would be wise for NGBs to ensure they have access to commercial revenue generating experience of their own also. Regardless of the funding climate, diversifying income streams helps mitigate the risk of a funding shortfall.

Sport England have also stated their wish to build cost efficiencies into long-term funding plans. They’re keen for NGBs to take advantage of opportunities to share backroom services also, and the Sport and Recreation Alliance is working with Sport England to develop a model for shared services and bulk procurement in the sector. Leading by example, Sport England will be taking advantage of their own opportunities to save costs by working more closely with UK Sport, as recommended by both bodies’ triennial funding reviews.

2.         Increasing workforce diversity

Diversity is another topic mentioned in the strategic overview, with Sport England calling for increased diversity in leadership as well as the development of a diverse and productive workforce across the sector. Unfortunately this is the extent of the coverage within the strategy document, leaving us with more than a few questions about how to achieve these aims. There is an important role here for Sport England, but we’ll also of course need to look to organisations like Women in Sport and Sporting Equals to continue to lead the way on these issues.

One thing that is mentioned within the strategy is a perception that staff in sports organisations lack the skills needed to deliver the new strategy. It isn’t mentioned, but one of the actions in the new government strategy – “Sporting Future” – was for Sport England to create a workforce strategy and work with CIMSPA towards greater professionalism in the sector and a clear skills framework. We’ll wait to see what comes out of this. In the meantime, NGBs should continue (or start) to carry out skills-based recruiting for staff and board members, based on their strategic needs.

3.         Improving standards of governance

Last but not least, the strategy contains multiple references to the benefits of good governance, and how important it is for organisations to prove they’re capable of managing public money effectively. Guidance on what this looks like is limited , as Sport England are working with UK Sport to create a combined code of governance for the UK sport sector, which will be launched later this year. Compliance with this code will be mandatory for all bodies receiving public funding.

We aren’t sure what exactly will be included in the code, but the recently launched “Charter for Sports Governance” gives some ideas. We can expect the new code to cover similar ground to the Voluntary Code of Good Governance, but with a stricter stance and more in-depth guidance. We also expect stronger guidance on gender diversity (building on the current “Advisory” target of 25%) and similar guidance on ethnic diversity at board level.

Whilst we wait for the launch of the new code, it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on good governance practices through the Voluntary Code of Good Governance and our online Governance Library.