Edition number 36; dateline 29 October 2010
It's all gone quiet over here
And so the die is cast. Amid all the cheering and waving of order papers as the Tories and the majority of the Lib Dems made great show of celebrating an unnecessary and vindictive dismantling of the state, at least we now know the circumstances in which the sport, leisure and culture sector is expected to operate. We can put to one side the facile economic interpretation of the national debt, try to forget that a fiscal crisis wholly caused by the private sector requires a solution to be delivered by the public sector, and ignore the creeping realisation that this redrawing of the notions of the welfare state accompanied by the dehumanisation of whole swathes of British society, all policies unmentioned in any manifesto or even spoken of by anyone standing for election, equates to an electoral coup d’etat by the Bullingdon Club. While the government does its best to keep its ill-considered (if it was considered at all) march against the notions of civility and social equity on the road, let us focus on what the sport, leisure and culture sector can do to serve our constituents, the individuals and communities that use our facilities, our services and our expertise to develop and enrich their experiences of life and how it can be lived.
However, in doing this one cannot help but notice that it has all gone quiet over here. While the Con-Dem coalition goes about its chilling business of making this a nation where the rich can feel comfortable unencumbered by any responsibility for, or (if the housing policy is not scuppered by that arch-socialist Boris Johnson) sight of, anyone who happens to be less well-off than themselves, there has been little reaction from the sport, leisure and culture itself. There has been some noise from the high-profile leaders of the arts world and some thoughtful and intelligent commentary on the likely effect of the slashing of local authority revenues in the national press but from the wider, community-based sector there has been little beyond local grumbling. Where, one wonders, has been the concerted efforts of the professional bodies that purport to represent their members working in these areas? What have the representative organisations and the groupings of such institutions had to say about such things? Why has there been no coherent warning of the immediate and long-term impact from those leading what we might term the grassroots of leisure service provision were ‘grassroots’ not a term likely to cause sniggering and rolling of eyes on the benches of parliament?
The regular reader of The Leisure Review will know that leadership of the sector has been something of an ongoing concern for this journal for some time. We have hosted summits specifically to discuss it. We have had round-table debates at which it is regularly cited. We publish articles that refer to it, explain why it is essential, offer guidance on how to do it, lament its absence and wonder from where it will come with increasing regularity. In this issue we take another step in this direction but a step that will surely resonate somewhere within the sport, leisure and culture coterie. We chart the demise and impact of the slashing of funding for school sport and physical education with contributions from the Youth Sport Trust and, less wittingly, the secretary of state for education. Perhaps of even more significance for the sector in its entirety is the article by Martyn Allison, the individual who has done as much as (in fact undoubtedly more than) anyone else to fight the sport, leisure and culture sector’s corner within the square ring of central and local government. For many years Martyn has been quietly persuading, gently cajoling, sensitively encouraging the sector to get its act together in anticipation of the coming storm. With that storm now arrived, he is using the pages of The Leisure Review to issue a challenge that leaves the reader in no doubt as to the perilous state into which the sector has fallen and the dangers that the sector faces without a strong and immediate show of leadership. Anyone who knows Martyn or has heard him speak will recognise many of the points he is making but they might not be familiar with the tone, a tone that says, “I bloody told you to get your act together and why you needed to sort yourselves out. Now stand up and start fighting.”
It is imperative that the sport, leisure and culture sector finds its voice and uses it to speak clearly on behalf of the many professionals working within the sector who make such a huge contribution – culturally and economically – to everyone in the country. Where should we look? At The Leisure Review we have committed our scarce resources to hosting The Leisure Review symposium in an effort to provide a forum in which this voice might be discovered and once discovered heard. What can you do? Joining us at this event would be a start or, if you just cannot stir yourself for yet another fight, make it possible for whomever you think might be the next leading light from your corner of the sector to get there.
When the government slashes public sector funding, blames the poorest in society for the failings of the richest, cheerfully consigns the cultural life of the nation to history and then announces that it is going to spend £200 million on building new roads it is not a time for levity. It is a time for action.
letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial