Edition number 52; dateline 2 May 2012
Defending and challenging the DCMS
Whenever the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is on the front page it rarely heralds good news for the sport, leisure and culture sector. This time the department and its secretary of state are immersed in a legal and political quagmire that began as a phone-hacking scandal, developed into the Leveson inquiry and will end in the ignominy of prison or resignation for some as it has already for others. It is increasingly unlikely that the current secretary of state, who deemed his role to be compatible with that of cheerleader for News Corp, will be able to escape such a fate, although at present it seems more likely to be at the resignation end of the punishment scale rather than the chokey end.
Whatever one thinks of Mr Hunt and his political predilections, it is hard to imagine that he will have a great many within the leisure sector lamenting his current difficulties. He has hardly been at the forefront of the campaign to raise the profile of the leisure sector as a recognised and coherent force for social, cultural or economic good. As he prepares to leave office, or perhaps braces himself be escorted out of it, he largely leaves the reputation and status of his department as he found it. The DCMS is generally derided within Whitehall as a ministerial backwater with little influence and tiny budgets. Still perceived by some as a good place for potential stars of the future to learn the ropes of leading a department, it has all too often been the ministerial equivalent of the black spot, the political hospital pass. Hunt, so recently spoken of as a FLOP (future leader of the party) seems destined to have his name added to the list of the hopeful for whom the government’s own leisure department proved to be the final resting place of their political ambitions.
It is also telling that rumours of the department itself being added to the list marked ‘savings’ failed to make even the inside pages of most of the national news output. That the abolition of the DCMS in the lull of the post-Games glow has been mooted is yet another indication of how casually the sport, leisure and culture sector is dismissed by government. Yet it seems to have few defenders. The Sport and Recreation Alliance (what we are only just learning to call the erstwhile CCPR) issued a statement seeking clarification and lamenting the sentiment, which is more than the department itself seems to have managed, immersed as it is in a political maelstrom that it has helped to create.
What the DCMS seems never to have grasped, and hence never successfully conveyed to the central policy machine, is that leisure should be a serious business for government. The economic expertise within the current ConDem coalition is clearly second to virtually every other administration that has ever taken office but even a Treasury headed by George Osborne should be able to grasp that the UK is a post-industrial service-led economy, one in which the movement of people, ideas, creativity and cultural experience carries great weight and even greater potential; it is also an industry sector in which the UK can be legitimately placed towards the very top of the world rankings. It is hard to think in terms of positives when one considers the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease but it did at least illustrate the scale of the leisure sector; the tourism industry alone was estimated to have lost £3 billion, which is only one portion of the sector as a whole but a portion that dwarfed the economic value of the farming industry. We are in the midst of a super-scale bank holiday season but the coverage of these additional jubilee-related “days off” are always reported in terms of the losses incurred by UK industry (£2.3 billion a bank holiday, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research) rather than the huge opportunity they represent to the leisure sector. It should not be beyond the skills of a government department to get on the front foot and counter such negativity with positive stories of economic activity in its own field.
The DCMS needs to survive as a voice for the sport, leisure and culture sector within government but in order to fulfil this role effectively it needs to find a greater understanding of the sector it represents. The potential impact of the leisure sector on health and education should make the DCMS one of the most influential departments but one cannot help but look at the squandering of the opportunity provided by the legacy of London 2012 as an example of the poverty of aspiration, imagination and dynamism. The department needs to connect with the sport, leisure and culture sector, comprehend the scale of the potential within it and then come out fighting.
Putting the many legitimate and important criticisms of London 2012 aside for a moment, it is indisputable that the London Olympics has been a huge and hugely impressive achievement in terms of project management. The Leisure Review hopes that it will not be an epitaph for the department that delivered it.
letter from the editor
The Leisure Review editorial