Leicester played host to this year’s Local Government Association (LGA) Annual Culture, Tourism and Sport Conference, welcoming councillors from across the nation to discuss methods of investing in physical activity and sporting provision in a climate of shrinking budgets.
Sir Peter Soulsby – the mayor of Leicester – welcomed delegates by giving a snapshot of how the East Midlands city had used sport, culture and heritage as a way of restoring its civic pride after a number of major local industries, such as textiles and typewriter manufacturing, were hit by accelerating globalisation and technology.
“In the last part of the 20th century Leicester suffered from a collective inferiority complex. Leicester lost its confidence and its purpose,” he said. “We recognised that we needed to reclaim Leicester, its pride in itself and its confidence in its future.”
Soulsby, who became mayor in 2011, pointed to the city’s “unique combination of sporting excellence and the council’s willingness to invest in sport”.
“I don’t think there are many towns and cities in the UK that have a Premier League football team, a rugby team like the Leicester Tigers, a county cricket team that has aspirations under new leadership and an excellent basketball team in the Leicester Riders,” Soulsby explained.
The latter two have received council money in a bid to improve their facilities. Part of the £6m (US$8.5m, €7.8m) for the new Leicester Riders’ Community Sports Arena came from the council, while £1m (US$1.4m, €1.3m) was set aside to improve Leicestershire County Cricket Club’s Grace Road ground.
But the conference reflected on much more than the development of facilities and civic pride, as physical activity was put forward as a means to achieving a more cohesive society, better health prospects and a stronger economy.
Councillors were taken on a tour of the recently-built £8m (US$11.1m, €10.2m) Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Leisure Centre on the site of De Montfort University, where they were addressed by a number of speakers, including Harborough District Council leader Blake Pain, local teacher Mike Scully and former England basketball player Karl Brown.
The former explained his local authority’s strategy of offering local youngsters the chance to lead physical activity programmes which help them to prepare for work and education, helping to contribute to a “thriving economy”.
Scully and Brown brought students from the local Robert Smyth Academy – which came second in the National Sports Leadership Academy of the Year – and Gateway College respectively. Both institutes are supported by the local authority and offer students a ‘sports leadership pathway’ in which they learn skills such as organisation, public speaking and time management in the prism of physical activity.
A panel debate featuring Sport England chief executive Jennie Price followed. Price was joined by VisitEngland chair Penelope Viscountess Cobham CBE, Arts Council England chair Sir Peter Bazalgette, Historic England chair Sir Laurie Magnus and National Archives chief executive Jeff James.
Price used the government’s Sporting Future strategy as the basis of her talk, and detailed the measures organisations will need to meet in order to win public funding for sport and physical activity.
She highlighted a focus on getting underrepresented groups active, and said that a larger proportion of funding would be spent on encouraging people who were not active to participate in some kind of physical activity. Price added that local government input was crucial in finding out how to reach these groups.
One local authority that did demonstrate the power of sport from an economic point of view was Staffordshire County Council, which launched its Sportshire initiative in 2012 to attract sporting events to the county in order to bring in visitors, create jobs and encourage inbound investment.
Talking about the initiative, Staffordshire commissioner for Tourism and the Cultural County Janene Cox revealed that the local authority spent £30,000 (US$41,708, €38,278) launching the scheme, but winning the chance to host an Ironman event and the UK Corporate Games in 2015 generated £5.4m (US$7.5m, €6.9m) in economic impact.
“We had an increasing health bill, lack of aspiration and low numbers of people doing physical activity,” she said. “We talked to the DCMS and the Treasury, and built a relationship with Sport England. We’re two years into Sportshire and we’ve encouraged residents to take part in physical activity and provided business opportunities for local people.”
The final keynote talk was presented by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, who encouraged local authorities to create partnerships with brands to maintain good levels of physical activity provision amid extensive local government budget cuts.
Grey-Thompson conceded that although “times are tough”, she was “confident that there is a growing role for local government to play in creating healthy, active lives”. l (See more on page 14)