Providing sport services should be a legal requirement for local authorities

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Our Policy Officer, Max Nicholls, urges government to make investment in sport services mandatory for local authorities to help unlock barriers to participation and improve the sport and recreation delivery system.

As outlined in our General Election Manifesto, the Sport and Recreation Alliance is calling for local authorities to play a central role in providing sport and recreation services in their communities.

We believe the best way to make sure all communities can enjoy the health and social benefits of taking part in sport and physical activity, is for investment to be made compulsory for local authorities.

Currently, they must provide essential services for their residents. However, sport and recreation facilities and the delivery of community sports services are not a requirement.

Given the pressure on budgets faced by many councils, funding has often been overlooked due to difficult decisions about where and how to invest limited resources.

A recent report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on English council funding and spending showed that expenditure on cultural and leisure services had been cut by almost 45% between 2010 and 2018.

Further evidence suggests statutory services have been protected from the worst of recent cuts, with optional services being hit the hardest.

To improve this outlook, local authorities must be provided with dedicated central government funding, including the reversal of the £700m cut to the public health grant.

They have extensive knowledge of their communities and are best placed to make sure investment is directed into the right services, in the right places.

Despite not being required to do so, local authorities have typically invested around £1bn per year into sport and leisure.

This highlights the appetite among councils to take the lead in this area and it is crucial any future government provides them with the necessary resources to continue and expand this work.

Local authorities have responsibility across a wide range of areas which play a crucial role in shaping local communities, including children’s services, early years provision, education, transport, public health and planning.

Putting sport and physical activity on a statutory footing will allow it to be promoted across all these areas in a more consistent way.

This election provides an opportunity for any future government to deliver an overhaul of the current system and during this period, we encourage members to highlight to local candidates the benefits of community sports and the role of local authorities in providing it.

There will also be an opportunity to question politicians from the three main parties on their intentions for community sport at the joint Sport and Recreation Alliance and ukactive hustings on 4 December at the Oval.

By properly resourcing local authorities and requiring them to invest in sports, we can make sure all communities enjoy the health and social benefits of participating in sport and physical activity.

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