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Leisure Management - Advice for the new CEO of Sport England

Talking Point

Advice for the new CEO of Sport England

Sport England CEO Jennie Price steps down from her role in October, following 11 years at the helm. We asked sports sector leaders for their opinions and ideas on what the focus of the organisation should be under new CEO Tim Hollingsworth

The new CEO of Sport England will be tasked with getting kids more active © shutterstock/wavebreakmedia

Emma Boggis CEO Sports and Recreation Alliance


Emma Boggis

I think it’s really important that the next CEO of Sport England does three key things.

Firstly, I hope they will champion and celebrate the wonderful work delivered by the sport and recreation sector, which is absolutely critical to Sport England delivering its strategy: Towards An Active Nation. The small paid workforce and the much bigger army of volunteers need to be valued, supported and encouraged so that more people, from more diverse backgrounds, are encouraged to work and volunteer in the sector.

We were delighted that Sport England committed a significant investment over four years into supporting volunteers, but two years in and quite a lot of that money doesn’t appear to have been committed yet, so we are keen to know more about the organisation’s plans in this area.

Secondly, I would encourage Sport England to grow its links with other government departments so that the value of all investments into the sector – and Sport England’s knowledge and expertise – can be maximised.

For example, while we were pleased to see the revision of the Sport England remit down to age five, it came with a clear statement that Sport England was responsible for investment outside of the school curriculum. However, Sport England are investing money in specialist teacher training. That may well be needed, but I’m not sure it should be Sport England funding when the Department for Education is taking money out of the system through changes to the Healthy Pupil Capital Programme.

"Volunteers in sport need to be valued, supported and encouraged so that more people get involved"

Mark Sesnan Managing director GLL


Mark Sesnan

It’s important for Sport England’s new leadership to restore clarity in terms of its main aim: providing ‘sport and physical activity for a healthy nation’ by giving transparent industry leadership through a clear, segmented offer. It should support sport and competition, the sports and physical activity infrastructure and the delivery mechanisms – operators, local authorities, clubs and volunteers.

There needs to be clarity and simplicity about what the agenda is. Sport England, as well as the wider industry, would benefit from allying closely and directly with the Department of Health, so that there is only one shared government agenda on healthy and active lifestyles.

It’s also crucial that Sport England engages and collaborates with existing organisations, and does not overlook the knowledge, experience and resources that exist within successful bodies across the UK.

For example, a clear working partnership with ukactive would allow operators to be engaged at the centre of the activity agenda, while County Sport Partnerships would also be at their most productive when remaining in the hands of local authorities.

In identifying the right parties with which to engage, social enterprises can play a key role in ensuring that the needs of sport, activity and health are not compromised in favour of a financial ‘race to the bottom’. To do so, social enterprises should be structured to ensure reinvestment into facilities and services, not to fuel private profit.

At a time where there is plenty of cause for optimism in sport and physical activity sectors, Sport England can flourish as an industry leader and make a huge impact to lives across the UK, if it correctly engages with operators, industry bodies and the government to fully utilise the resources the UK has at its disposal.

"There needs to be a clarity and simplicity about what the agenda is"


© shutterstock/ Vladimir Vasiltvich

Sport England needs a clear agenda for supporting sport and activity

Ben Beevers Associate director Everyone Active


Ben Beevers

The advice I would give to Jennie Price’s successor is three-old. Firstly, I believe they need to unite the industry under common objectives and encourage greater collaboration. Secondly, I would advise them to ensure that sports and activity providers are working smarter and sharing information to achieve a greater impact. Lastly, they need to guide the development of new centres and services to bring maximum benefits to communities.

I feel that an opportunity is being missing to share information that will lead to a better understanding of the industry. I would urge the incoming head of Sport England to encourage providers to work smarter together, pooling their insights into a shared resource that highlights key issues and helps us better understand what is needed to tackle them.

Finally, if recent calls for new activity hubs are to be answered, or current leisure centres are going to continue meeting the needs of growing communities, we need to remove the politicised elements of any investment decision and base it solely on the requirements of that area. Sport England, acting as an impartial advisor, can offer nation-wide insights to community-based organisations, who can transform them into effective local action plans.

In short, my overall advice would be for the new head of Sport England to spearhead a more insightful and collaborative approach between operators and industry influencers, helping us all to better utilise the fantastic information available.

"Sport England need to guide the development of new centres and services"

Andy Sutch Member of Sportsgroup and industry veteran who worked for Sport England for more than 20 years


Andy Sutch

I’d highlight to the new CEO that Sport England should focus on helping to create a better economic, political and social environment in which to sustain and grow sports and physical activity. Do that, and you’ll increase participation.

Funding of publicly-provided sport is crucial. At Sportsgroup, we recently undertook a review of local government investment in sport and recreation for the period since 2012, across all the English local authorities. The review was undertaken against a wide range of other indicators, particularly Sport England’s Active People Survey (APS) and its more recent Active Lives Survey.

The study showed that in the period since 2012, local government expenditure – based on returns to the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government – has fallen from around £2bn per year to below £1bn. The cuts in funding have affected people’s opportunities to take part in sport and physical activity. During that period, only 47 English local authorities out of the 420 or so saw real increases in participation (based on APS).

The delivery of adequate physical activity within schools must also remain a high priority, not only for the direct improvement to the health of young people but to establish behaviours that ensure engagement later in life. Recent figures from Public Health England suggest that one in five children at the end of key stage 2 are severely obese.

A final implication of reduced expenditure by local government will be on the continued maintenance of open space and grass playing fields, which are essential for community wellness – something that all-weather pitches cannot replace. ,null

"The delivery of adequate physical activity within schools must remain a high priority"


© shutterstock/Pressmaster

Healthy behaviours can be established at a young age

John Steele Chair of English Institute of Sport and former CEO of UK Sport


John Steele

Congratulations and welcome! In my view, what you achieve in this role will be dictated by your ability to define a clear raison d’être for Sport England and then to stick to it. You will need to quickly decide whether the organisation you lead is about activity and health or sporting opportunity.

The government’s Sporting Future – A New Strategy for an Active Nation will partly dictate what your agenda must be, but you are also there to challenge and change as well as implement – and that’s why you have a royal charter.

You must find a way of balancing Sport England’s contribution to the health of the nation with its duty to develop the health of sport. You have an exciting opportunity to make a difference in a wonderful area of public life. So don’t shy away from the hard calls and – above all – enjoy!

"You must balance contributing to the health of the nation with your duty to develop the health of sport"

John Treharne Founder and CEO of The Gym Group and former chair of Squash England


John Treharne

I think one thing that Jennie Price did a particularly good job on was to raise the profile of grassroots sport. In the past, when people spoke about sport, it usually meant the elite side of things. There is now a real understanding of the importance of grassroots sport and its benefits – and that it does need funding.

I’m also a fan of Sport England’s new Towards An Active Nation strategy – and the shift from focusing simply on participation to public funding being available for any activity providers who deliver results. I think the new CEO would do well to ensure Sport England continues on that path and looks to support participation across all physical activity sectors, working very closely with both private and public operators.

They might also want to look at how the low-cost gym sector has been a major driver of getting people more active. As we know, the cost of activities can be a major barrier in getting people from the lower socioeconomic groups more active.

Also, I think it will be increasingly important to embrace tech when looking to get young people active. Some sports might be seen as rather old fashioned in terms of how they are run and administered. To get non-sporty youngsters interested in activities might be more easier if they are made to look and feel ‘modern’. I think that is where sports could learn a lot from the commercial sector.

"It will be increasingly important to embrace tech when looking to get young people active"


© shutterstock/wavebreakmedia

Low cost gym operators are helping more people get active, says Treharne

Anything to add?
If you have a different opinion or new views to add to the debate, send your letters to stepheaves@leisuremedia.com

Originally published in Sports Management 2018 issue 3
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