Edition number 37; dateline 3 December 2010
For hire: The Leisure Review crystal ball
If nothing else, the outcry over the cutting of central government funding for the school sport partnerships (SSPs) has served to put community sport across the news pages of the national press and the prime minister’s apparent back pedalling on the subject at a recent PM’s questions served to keep the subject in the news a little while longer. It might just have been a bit of sports-related rhetoric designed to attract attention before he flew off in a vain and venal attempt to persuade the criminals, fraudsters and embezzlers of FIFA to bring their peripatetic tax haven to the UK. It might, as the PM has claimed, be an example of the government listening to reasoned argument on matters of policy. It might also illustrate that this government has some major problems.
For all the outcry expressed over the cutting of funding for the SSPs, the sport, leisure and culture sector has not always been unanimous in its enthusiasm for every aspect of the system. There has been plenty of debate, not least in the pages of The Leisure Review and the TLR salons whenever they have been convened, about the efficiencies and effectiveness of the aims, the structure and the political status of SSP machine. However, while there have been some genuine concerns and caveats about SSPs (views that a government looking to undermine the system before axing it might have tapped into had it been better informed) there has always been a general consensus that SSPs were generally doing the job they were being asked to do and improving the lot of sport for school-age participants. There is also the collective memory that the overseers of SSPs, the Youth Sport Trust, was an organisation founded by a Tory supporter under a Tory government with the clear intention of outflanking, if not fatally undermining, the role of quangos such as Sport England that some on the nuttier political fringes saw as a barrier to traditional, competitive sport.
The axing of funding for SSPs suggests that the ConDem government has not done its homework, does not know its history and is not interested in anything other than cutting – perhaps more accurately hacking or slashing – at what they see as the hideous structure of a devilish state. It suggests that we have a government that is not interested in the process of governing nor the requirements of good government. It is a government only interested in the imposition of an amorphous ideology in pursuit of the limited interests of those committed to the ways of wealth, business and an ill-defined concept of tradition. There are other examples of policy initiatives – Secretary Gove’s barely coherent education reforms, the hasty reinvention of the National Health Service, the bonfire of the quangos – that add fuel to this argument. It seems that while waiting for office Mr Cameron and his colleagues have not taken the time to consider what government is for nor, having obtained office, taken the time to find out how it actually works. Further examples of policy back pedalling will appear unless and until the ConDem government decide that they actually want to govern for a purpose beyond that of an anarchic desire to smash the state.
Gazing into The Leisure Review crystal ball (which sits on the shelf next to our copy of The Little Baron’s Olympic Almanac), we foresee a lengthy period of cutting and axing in the name of efficient governance, a time during which the sport, leisure and culture sector will suffer budgetary bleeding and structural re-engineering. This will be followed by a short period during which civil servants, local government leaders and commentators admitted to the PM’s inner circle explain that in order to address the problems of economic, social and cultural decay that have become all too evident in every aspect of daily life as a result of the cuts the government has to reinvest in some aspects of the public realm and the public good. Having reluctantly agreed that “something must be done”, there will then follow a period in which government officials quietly try to rebuild some aspects of the nation’s sport, leisure and culture sector without attracting blame for the damage done to it a short while ago. Don’t worry if you haven’t got a crystal ball, a history book that covers British politics of the 1980s and 1990s will show you how it happened the last time.
PS: As we head into the festive season marking the end of 2010 it would be remiss of me if I did not issue a heartfelt thanks on behalf of everyone at The Leisure Review to everyone that finds their way to the many and varied pages of this magazine. Thanks to everyone who reads, comments and contributes in their many and varied ways. You may have noticed from the front-page panel that the November issue of TLR was read by over 9,000 people, which means we have doubled our readership over the course of the year. It suggests to us that there are still plenty of people who care about the sport, leisure and culture sector so we'll carry on doing what we do. Let us know what you might like to see and we'll see if we can oblige.
letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial