Party Conferences 2023: What did they mean for the sport, recreation and physical activity sector?

Party Conferences wrap-up article ()

‘The sport and physical activity sector could be a critical player in the economic renewal of Britain, if party leaders work with our sector to unlock barriers for everyone to be more active’ says Lisa Wainwright, CEO of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, at the culmination of conference recess 2023.

The Alliance team, alongside members and sector partners, this year attended three major Party Conferences – representing our members and promoting the cross-sector ambition to make the UK the most active nation in Europe.

With a lot at stake and a real opportunity to shape party policy priorities for upcoming manifestos, 2023 conference season was a critical event to be involved in political debate and make a case to politicians the power of our sector.

Following a busy month taking sport to Bournemouth, Manchester, and Liverpool, our Head of Public Affairs and Communications, Molly Hartill shares some thoughts:

With a general election looming, this year’s conferences had a lot riding on them, with all parties challenged with the question: what does a future Britain with your party in government look like?

The Alliance and our sector partners had a further question – will your party unlock the full potential of sport, recreation and physical activity, to support public health, empower communities and drive economic growth.

Our latest research demonstrated the UK is significantly more inactive than its closest European neighbours, sitting a lowly joint 11th out of 15. Yet our research also showed that our sector – getting people to participate in sport, recreation and physical activity - saves the NHS £9.5bn yearly, and that’s in spite of receiving the lowest proportional amount of government funding compared to European neighbours. With £1bn extra to be saved every year through prevention of ill health, as well as  a huge £70bn to be gained in uplifting our nation’s wellbeing, leaders need to be bold now and work with us to increase activity levels, truly support the NHS and power the economy.

Conference pledges and discussion in fringes were overall promising, and although the level of ambition our sector is calling for is not yet being realised, there is positive movement towards making our ambitions a reality. Our main take-aways:

  • Prevention as a priority – prevention was coined ‘number one’ priority for their parties by both Wes Streeting (Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary) and Daisy Cooper (Liberal Democrat Deputy Leader and Spokesperson for Health). Recognising the need to look at health differently was made clear by Labour, who have promised big reform to cut waiting lists, majoring on making sure people don’t get ill in the first place. As these plans develop, it is vital we see physical activity as a key tool to support these plans.
  • ‘Give power back and put communities in control. That’s mission government’ – words stated by Leader of the opposition Keir Starmer, making clear Labour’s intention to expand devolution and give more power to local areas and people. While support to develop ’more houses, more transport, more skills’ resonated across the three parties with all leaders alluding to ensuring communities are given the best chances to thrive. We know the role our sector can play in supporting all these areas, being a fundamental piece of the social fabric of local communities.
  • Rebuilding our economy – Growing our economy comes out as the top goal for all parties – understandably, given the need to address cost of living challenges as well the myriad issues around housing, amongst others. Party leaders need to be recognise the role our sector can play in boosting economic growth if more people were more active, thus making huge savings and driving income  to re-invest in other places.

Sport and physical activity can play a big role in the economic renewal of the nation, but the sector must be given the recognition and support to do so. Going forward, when parties consider what a healthier, happier and more prosperous future looks like and how to achieve it, they must ensure making it easier for all to be active is at the heart of this. We look forward to working with leaders and teams from all parties to make this a reality, and ensure in future it is easier for all individuals in the UK to access sport and recreation, and be more physically active.

To find out more about our campaign or research, or to speak to the team, please contact Molly on

The sport sector at conferences – in pictures

Harry Jones Lib Dem Conference ()


Beach volleyball at Lib Dem Conference ()

At the Liberal Democrat conference, Volleyball England, with England player Harry Jones (pictured), hosted a ‘give-it-a-go’ session a stone’s throw away from the conference door.


Conservative Conference tennis ()


Conservative Conference StreetGames ()

In Manchester for the Conservative Party conference, the LTA hosted a morning tennis session National Tennis Centre and StreetGames hosted a conversation between Sport Minister Stuart Andrew and Adrian Chiles. The FA also hosted their annual MP versus the Lobby football match and the EFL held a panel on the power of football in northern communities.


Labour Conference group photo ()

In Liverpool the Fabian Society hosted us for a panel with Kim Leadbeater MP followed by a dance fitness class with the ISTD, the LTA and the FA did the same activities as the previous weekend, while England Athletics, London Marathon Events and the Great Run organised a Daily Mile on the final day of conference.