Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Abolish Sport England

In my essay in Liberalism - Something to Shout About, published last year, I argued that putting more emphasis on organised sport was not the answer to rising childhood obesity. This posting gives a flavour of my arguments.

In an article in today's Times Matthew Syed argues along similar lines. The whole article is worth reading, but here are three choice quotations:

Will spending more public money on sport help to tackle obesity? No chance. Gerry Sutcliffe, the new Sports Minister, will soon discover one of Whitehall’s best-kept secrets: sporting participation has not budged since 1994 despite an extra £3 billion of investment through the lottery and millions more from the taxpayer.

We should not make the mistake of supposing that the London Olympics will provide a miracle cure. The 2012 Games, which are likely to cost £9.3 billion, will do nothing for participation if previous Olympics are anything to go by. So without a significant change in policy under Gordon Brown we are likely to end up spending many more millions of public cash without participation budging from its current level of 20 per cent.

The quango jungle in British sport is a scandal. Why on earth we are paying through the nose for bureaucrats to funnel money from A to B is a mystery understood only by those in the inner sanctum of what passes for sports policy in the UK. Why not abolish Sport England – and Sport Scotland, Sports Council Wales, Sport Northern Ireland – and give the cash straight to the governing bodies and other end users? A simple annual audit could be conducted to ensure that public money is not being wasted.

This last point is just the sort of policy the Liberal Democrats should be putting forward. Cut back on central government and give the money to those who know best how to use it.

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