A happy new year for culture and sport?

Duncan Wood-Allum looks ahead to a new year and suggests that there might be something to give grounds for hope.

Duncan Wood-Allum: raising spirits

Many leaders in the culture and sport sector were telling me that it was ‘tough out there’ back in early 2008. Budget pressures, internal transformation and reorganisation, and the ongoing challenge of keeping ageing assets operational was enough to dampen the enthusiasm of any wizened service head as they looked forward to this year.

Given what has happened to the economy over the last year, things could be seen as looking even gloomier for your services into 2009. To deepen this gloom, the amount of ‘free capital’ available will increasingly become more limited and ‘top-up funding’ appears to be the order of the day for the foreseeable future from traditional sources of capital funding.

We know that national governing bodies of sport, Sport England, the Football Foundation, English Heritage and the Big Lottery Fund are likely to be imposing even stricter conditions on applicants to optimise their limited capital funds, so with a limited pot of money available the hoops will get smaller and higher for new projects.

For the foreseeable future the majority of capital funding for new sport, leisure and culture developments will have to come from core programmes and cut-price prudential borrowing where ‘invest to save’ can be justified. Internal competition for resources will continue to be exceptionally tough and you should expect no significant capital investments from the private sector until at least 2010.

Looking at existing facilities, reduced customer spend and throughput pose a real risk to operational budgets next year, particularly for those older facilities. New sources of revenue support will need to be explored and for many culture and sport departments the quest for new funding partners will become a battle for survival. Relevance, impact and sustainability will increasingly become three critical success factors for future culture and sport services.

However, please don’t cancel the New Year’s Eve party just yet. There are plenty of opportunities to help raise your spirits.

Major capital programmes – in particular, educational spending – will continue to gather momentum and present opportunities to those authorities who have got their act together. Building Schools for the Future (BSF) and educational investment presents a blank canvas of opportunity for those authorities in later waves and the potential role of the local educational partnerships could present some real opportunities for service and asset transformation. Those who are starting to explore delivering outcome-based programmes in health are also starting to see some real opportunities to deliver to a slightly broader agenda through local area agreements.

Councils who are prepared to take a complementary approach to culture and sport investment will be well-placed to benefit from joining up with these established major capital schemes and programmes. And those who are prepared to bring along their own capital will be far more likely to succeed in joining up.

The nation is waking up to the fact that the window of opportunity for creation of a legacy in 2012 is rapidly diminishing. Bold decisions are needed to ensure that legacy can be capitalised on. Given that London’s physical Olympic legacy will not be up and running fully until 2015, there is still time. On our travels we are not surprised by the milestone of 2012 driving many a town hall’s decision-making right now. This is to be encouraged as long as corners are not cut and decisions are based on strategic need. The potential benefits from the new Community Infrastructure Levy and the government’s commitment to deliver significant levels of new housing over the next fifteen years should also provide some funding opportunities for new community facilities in the future.

Looking ahead, co-location and joint services shall become the new ‘given’ in our sector. Stand-alone provision will become synonymous with ‘unsustainable’ and the feasibility studies for such will stay firmly on the shelf, slowly gathering dust. 

2009 is a year that provides you with plenty to get your teeth into. We believe government will respond positively to new ideas, approaches and innovation; just look at authorities such as Warrington Borough Council, who are progressing community sports hub innovation, and Birmingham City Council, who are seeking to develop a number of new facilities in the city in time for 2012.

To summarise, innovation, new partnerships, bold approaches to commissioning and clear strategic thinking on service transformation present some real opportunities for those who ‘dare to be different.’

If you are dreading what lies ahead take another look at 2009. This could be your year after all.


Duncan Wood-Allum is director of consulting at Capita Symonds. Capita Symonds are working with both Birmingham and Warrington on their new facilities.


The Leisure Review, February 2009

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“Major capital programmes – in particular, educational spending – will continue to gather momentum and present opportunities to those authorities who have got their act together.”

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