Edition number 47; dateline 1 November 2011
Looking on the bright side of an alternative universe
It goes without saying that these are tough times for anyone working in or around the sport, leisure and culture sector. Everywhere one turns there are budget cuts, the retrenchment of aspiration and desperate measures to maintain the semblance of community services. Many are in despair at the damage they can see being done to individuals, families and communities as services disappear; still more are fighting the feelings of helplessness and resignation as core elements of sport, leisure and culture provision with tried and tested, documented and evidenced impacts are wiped from the schedule. With service cuts saving money in the immediate short term, experienced leisure professionals are left to wonder what the opportunity costs might be as the services that improve, transform and save lives are written off.
All this is would be galling enough without the context of a bizarre national debate which seems to have been entirely fictionalised. While people working in the community leisure sector are no doubt still being challenged to “provide the evidence”, others seem able – even encouraged – to stand in front of cameras, microphones or despatch boxes and provide detailed accounts of an alternative universe in which risible statements are presented as fact and accepted as such into the public record with little by way of challenge and often with the ringing endorsement of grown men and women who not only should know better but actually probably do.
Statements to the effect that there is no alternative to the government’s economic policy or that “we’re all in this together” have become the background noise of an alternative universe, a sort of excremental tinnitus that comes with a privately educated accent, but in recent weeks we have been able to add some remarkable auditory highlights. For example, talk of the euro crisis “threatening the UK’s fragile economic recovery” when there is no economic recovery. Or London boroughs being obliged to explain that they are improving their library services by closing half their libraries. Or Paul Walsh, chief exec of booze peddlers Diageo, explaining that no one with any business acumen or skill will consider working in the UK because they might have to pay 50% in tax on some of their earnings even as Russian billionaires walk the streets of London, the city in which they have chosen to live, on their way to take part in the British legal tradition of a trial overseen by an independent judiciary. Or the officers of St Paul’s Cathedral, one of the buildings that has become an emblem of the British nation by dint of its overblown embellishments and its longevity against the apparent odds, explaining that the best way they can support the entirely peaceable and reasonable objectives of a group of the world’s politest protestors is to call the police. Or – perhaps the most egregious example of public-spirited mendacity – the government’s plans to raise the motorway speed limit from 70mph to 80mph on the grounds that this would bring economic benefits to the value of £100 million per year. And the transport secretary Philip Hammond offered this wholly invented figure with a straight face.
We have covered most of the issues underlying these fictions – the value of political economics, the cost of local services, the role of historic culture, the damaging levels of taxation, departmental projections of financial benefit – on numerous occasions in the pages of The Leisure Review but when the reality is so obviously at odds with the official version and the contribution of the sport, leisure and culture sector is widely ignored, and just as likely to be ridiculed, one worries what the future might hold.
letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial