Government's Sport Strategy

Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation

The Government sports and physical activity strategy, A Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation (DCMS, 2015) not only put social outcomes at the heart of the public funding of sport but made the commitment to a more joined-up approach to delivery and funding for sport and physical activity, putting in place the structures needed to make this happen. It recognised that:

If this new strategy is to work effectively, all parts of government must work more closely together towards clear, shared outcomes. There is universal agreement across all Whitehall departments about this, and a shared commitment to delivering it.

The strategy impressively not only had the then Prime Minster, David Cameron's full support but individual departmental minister who introduced relevant chapters – something unheard of in a government strategy for sport. The report went further, to state that:

To support this strategy a new and more joined-up approach to delivery and funding needs to be taken across government. We will put in place the structures needed to make this happen, including a formal annual progress report to Parliament and a cross government ministerial group which will meet regularly to drive implementation.

Since then a number of other government reports have stated the importance of joined-up, cross government working including: The Childhood Obesity Plan in August 2016; the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (DFT, 2017), and A Green Future (DEFRA, 2018).

This approach was also supported by the recently published, Off the Scales Obesity Report (Centre for Social Justice, 2017). The authors of this report, including the Working Group Chair, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, were deeply impressed by the results of a new approach to tackle obesity in Amsterdam where the Deputy Mayor lead an innovative cross-political and joined up approach to the problem:

The Amsterdam Healthy Weight Programme, which is a politically led, joined-up, whole-systems approach aimed at ending childhood obesity in Amsterdam by 2033… an example of how political leadership and cross-party, cross-departmental and cross-sector commitment can bring fragmented systems together, by putting in place a common goal and inspiring collective action.

The authors, however, were acutely aware of the lack of progress in England. In her foreword Baroness Jenkin highlighted that ….there is no silver bullet to end childhood obesity. It requires robust and persuasive political leadership; cross-party and cross-sector commitment; a long-term vision; a whole-systems and targeted approach; and consistent monitoring and evaluation. To this end, one of the reports core recommendations, included:

Government leadership and commitment: The first step the Government, and specifically the Prime Minister, must take to end childhood obesity is to commit to doing so, secure the cross-party, cross-departmental and cross-sector commitment to support this and set out a bold, long-term, target-led, non-partisan strategy. The Government should focus on area-based targeting: start in areas with the highest proportion of childhood obesity and then roll out interventions proportionate to an area's childhood obesity rates.

And the report goes further in suggesting a new mechanism to encourage this approach:

Physical activity strategy in both the Department for Education and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport must be joined up and have the ambition of tackling childhood obesity as core to its values. However, a strategy for physical activity must also relate to transport, infrastructure projects, and the role the third sector plays in community sports.

The Government should introduce a Department of Public Health and Prevention (DPHP) led by a Secretary of State for Public Health and Prevention. The Secretary of State's prime responsibility would be to lead Public Health England, deliver effective cross-departmental public health policies and ultimately reduce the NHS England budget and burden by investing in effective prevention.

While the political landscape remains in some turmoil as a result of Brexit, and the subsequent political events, England is two years into the implementation of the new sports strategy. While the plan has long-term objectives, many argue there is little evidence of any joined up, cross government approach, despite there being some evidence of this approach amongst the sector.

As the sports strategy recommended, a number of new bodies should be created to ensure joined up and cross department policy developed and delivered: The Sports Business Council has met four times since its creation in 2017 and minutes from that body can be found here; The Inter-Ministerial Group on Healthy Living, co-chaired by the Secretaries of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Health and Social Care to drive implementation, met for the first time in early 2018. Its work is less transparent however, with "information relating to the proceedings of Inter-Ministerial Groups, including minutes of their proceedings, is not disclosed to encourage full and frank dialogue in such meetings".

So what is the answer to affect truly joined up government on crucial, if not critical, public policy issues? In January 2018 we hosted a roundtable discussion with leaders from many sectors to explore what we could learn from the Welsh example of legislating to deliver joined up government. In 2015, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 and the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 were passed. Intended toimprove the social, economic, environmental and cultural well-being of Wales by providing a vision based around seven well-being goals, they attempted to create a genuine joined-up government around physical activity, wellbeing and sport. A note from this meeting can be found here and a briefing paper for that meeting can be found here.

As well as researching the history of joined-up, cross government working, a term first used by New Labour when they came to power in 1997, we will be continuing to assess how the government and its bodies are delivering their aims in the sports strategy by asking a number of key questions including:

  • Does the CSJ call for the Prime Minister to lead in key areas such as tackling physical activity and obesity, and creating a new Department of Public Health and Prevention led by a Secretary of State for Public Health and Prevention provide a fresh new approach?
  • Is the Inter-Ministerial Group on Healthy Living going to deliver by driving implementation effectively and how can we measure this?
  • Should all departments be simply required to undertake impact assessments on every policy on sport and physical activity?
  • Should the current Prime Minister, Theresa May, make a similar commitment to a joined up, cross government approach that her predecessor did to ensure that it is delivered successfully?
  • What other solutions could we advocate to government to ensure better joined-up approach?
  • How can the sector work with departments now to ensure they put physical activity at the heart of their work?
  • Was Matthew Syed in his Times article on the 28th February 2018 right when he argued that Sport England has wasted billions of pounds and should be disbanded?