The House of Lords National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee was appointed in October 2020 to “consider the effectiveness of current sport and recreation policies and initiatives, and the case for ‘a national plan for sport and recreation’”. The committee was reappointed at the start of the 2021–22 parliamentary session.

On 10 December 2021, the committee published its report, ‘A national plan for sport, health and wellbeing’. The report looked at a wide range of issues, including:

  • how to increase physical activity, including amongst young people
  • how to increase participation in sport amongst underrepresented groups, including women and girls, disabled people and people from ethnic minority communities
  • whether existing sport and recreation funding structures were effective in getting money to where it could have the most impact

A member of the committee, Lord Moynihan (Conservative), is scheduled to lead a debate on the report in the House of Lords on 9 February 2023.

1. What were the committee’s findings?

In its report, the committee expressed concern at the high levels of physical inactivity at grassroots level, particularly amongst women, disabled people, elderly people, ethnic minorities, those with long-term health conditions and people from “less affluent” backgrounds. The committee said that this was a problem that had “perpetuated over decades and successive governments”. It also argued that “numerous underwhelming” attempts to boost activity rates and improve physical and mental health and wellbeing across the population have “not been as successful as hoped”.

Additionally, the committee found that the Covid-19 pandemic had “clearly demonstrated” the scale and immediacy of the challenge to “turn the tide on high rates of inactivity”. The committee’s report stated that during the period of national and tiered restrictions, from May 2020 to May 2021, there was a 0.7 million decrease (1.9%) in the number of adults classified as active and a 1.0 million (2.0%) increase in the number of adults classified as inactive.

2. What recommendations did the committee make?

2.1 National plan for sport, health and wellbeing

To tackle inactivity across the population, the committee’s overarching recommendation for the government was to develop a new “ambitious” national plan for sport, health and wellbeing, and a new approach within the government to deliver it. The national plan would cover sport and recreation, in addition to a cross-section of policy areas, including health, education and planning.

Discussing the implementation of a new plan, the committee proposed that a new ministerial post for sport, health and wellbeing be established. The ministerial post would sit within the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and would have responsibility for sport policy, which would move from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). The new ministerial role would also be tasked with chairing a regular strategic forum of central and local government and other stakeholders to discuss the formation and implementation of the national plan.

The committee recommended that funding for sport should “coalesce around the national plan”. It called on the government to look at New Zealand’s wellbeing budget model “for inspiration” on coordinating departmental agendas and budgets around delivering a shared programme of work. Under New Zealand’s wellbeing budget, a set of indicators are used to determine the government’s annual budget and measure success. In addition, the committee called on the government to review the tax environment for the sport and recreation sector, including for sports clubs, to create a “more favourable tax regime”. The committee argued that this would encourage self-sufficiency and reduce dependency in the sector on public funding.

2.2 Other recommendations

The committee also made several recommendations covering duty of care, education, facilities and safeguarding. These recommendations called on the government to:

  • Introduce a statutory requirement for local authorities to provide and maintain “adequate” facilities for sport and physical activity. The committee argued that this would need to be backed up with “adequate financial support” from HM Treasury.
  • Designate physical education (PE) as a core national curriculum subject to ensure that it received “adequate time and resource”. The committee stated that it believed the physical literacy of children should be “valued as highly” as literacy and numeracy.
  • Create a robust approach to duty of care and safeguarding in grassroots and elite sport. The committee recommended that the government implemented the “priority recommendations” in Baroness Grey-Thompson’s independent review on ‘Duty of care in sport’, published in 2017, which included creating an independent sports ombudsman. In addition, the committee called for greater monitoring and robust enforcement of duty of care and safeguarding standards by Sport England and UK Sport. This would include the imposition of financial sanctions against public bodies which failed to demonstrate that their safeguarding and duty of care policies were being implemented effectively.
  • Consult and work with the sport and recreation sector to introduce mandatory reporting in sport and recreation settings, “given the potential for abuse in sport”.

In a press release accompanying the report’s publication, the chair of the committee, Lord Willis of Knaresborough (Liberal Democrat), stated that members of the committee would be exploring whether they could propose amendments to the then Health and Care Bill 2021–22 to “deliver the changes we think are needed on this vital issue”. More information about this can be found in section 4.1 of this briefing.

3. How did the government respond?

The Boris Johnson government published its response to the committee’s report on 11 February 2022. The government said that it was “strongly committed” to increasing participation and activity levels across the population as well as ensuring that everyone had “access to opportunities to get active”.

3.1 National plan for sport, health and wellbeing

In its response, the government stated that it agreed with the committee’s overarching recommendation calling for a new national plan for sport, health and wellbeing to be published. Additionally, it agreed that sport, health and wellbeing were “closely linked” and that any government strategy should “reflect those links”. Therefore, the government said that it was in the process of developing a new sports strategy and was working across departments to do this. It stated that the strategy would build on the progress that had been made since the publication of the former government strategy, ‘Sporting future’, in 2015. As part of its strategy for cross-government collaboration, the government noted that it had established the health promotion taskforce in March 2021 to “drive a cross-government effort to improve the nation’s health”.

However, the government disagreed with the committee’s proposal to create a new ministerial post for sport, health and wellbeing and move responsibility for sports policy from DCMS to DHSC. It argued that government departments, including DCMS, DHSC and the Department for Education, worked together on sport, health and wellbeing policies and believed that it was “right to focus on delivery through these means rather than a machinery of government change that expends energy on setting up new structures”.

Turning to the committee’s recommendations on reviewing the tax environment for the sector and introducing a statutory requirement for local authorities to maintain facilities, the government stated that it did not agree outright with the recommendations but would consider them further as part of its sports strategy. The government also said that new duties for the local government sector would need to be considered on a case-by-case basis and would need to undergo a “full new burdens assessment”.

In January 2023, the government led by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak committed to publishing a new sports strategy later this year.

3.2 Other recommendations

Responding to some of the committee’s other recommendations, the government either said that it disagreed with them or that further consideration was required:

  • Designate PE as a core national curriculum subject in schools: The government agreed with the committee that physical literacy should be a “key principle” for any national plan for sport, but it said that it did not plan to designate PE as a core subject. It argued that PE was already compulsory at all four national curriculum key stages and that there was a statutory requirement on Ofsted inspectors to consider how schools support pupils’ personal development and help them to know how to keep physically and mentally healthy.
  • Create a robust approach to duty of care and safeguarding in grassroots and elite sport: The government also agreed with the committee that sport needed to have robust safeguarding and duty of care policies in place but argued that further consideration was needed on creating an independent ombudsman before a decision could be made. It stated that as part of its work on a revised sports strategy, it would be working with Sport England and UK Sport to explore options for more independence in complaint handling and dispute resolution processes. The government also noted that since the independent review on the duty of care in sport was published, it had made progress in strengthening the framework of sports governance within the existing structures of the sector. For example, the government said that through the terms and conditions of their funding agreements, all funded sports were required to meet several conditions relating to safeguarding and duty of care.
  • Introduce mandatory reporting in sport and recreation settings to tackle abuse: Whilst the government agreed with the committee on the importance of keeping children and young people safe in all settings, it said that it disagreed with this recommendation. The government said that this was because it had previously looked at mandatory reporting and had consulted on the issue as part of the ‘Reporting and acting on child abuse and neglect’ consultation in 2016, which “did not make the case for mandatory reporting in England”. Addressing its response to the 2016 consultation, the government stated that the responses received, and other evidence considered, did not provide clear evidence to show that a mandatory reporting duty would help keep children safe. Instead, the government said in response to the committee that it believed that the most effective means of tackling the issue was through improved information sharing, supported by better multi-agency working, better assessments and decision making, and better working with children at all stages of their engagement with the safeguarding system.

4. What recent developments have there been in sport and recreation?

4.1 Proposed amendments to Health and Care Act 2022

During the bill’s progression in the House of Lords in the 2021–22 parliamentary session, members of the committee tabled amendments (which were ultimately not made to the bill) seeking to implement some of the recommendations in the report. The amendments would have inserted a new clause to re-establish the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities on a statutory footing, to become the Office for Health Promotion. As part of its duties, the new Office for Health Promotion would have been tasked with publishing a national plan for sport, health and wellbeing.

The amendment was not moved during the bill’s committee stage on 9 February 2022.

However, the amendment was moved by Lord Moynihan during report stage in the House of Lords on 16 March 2022. During report stage, Lord Moynihan thanked the then parliamentary under-secretary at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Lord Kamall, for meeting with those on the committee who had tabled the amendment and stated that he was “pleased” that the minister had “underlined his commitment to many of the recommendations we made”. Moving the amendment, Lord Moynihan sought clarity from the minister about the government’s health promotion taskforce, asking whether the prime minister would be chairing the taskforce and if it would be accountable to parliament.

Responding to the member, Lord Kamall restated that the government agreed with the committee’s overarching recommendation regarding developing a national plan. He also confirmed that the government would be setting out its strategy later in the year. Discussing the taskforce, Lord Kamall stated that it was launched by the prime minister and that it would be chaired by the secretary of state for health and social care. The minister also said that he would write to Lord Moynihan detailing how the taskforce would be accountable to parliament.

Following the debate, the amendment was withdrawn.

4.2 Funding for the multi-sport grassroots facilities programme

In the 2021 spring budget, the then chancellor of the exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced £25mn of funding for UK grassroots community sports facilities for 2021–22. In the 2021 autumn budget, Mr Sunak announced a further investment of £205mn over three years (2022–25).

In March 2022, the government reported that a provisional 116 projects across England (totalling £39mn) would benefit from the funding, which would be used to improve football facilities. The press release noted that the funding would be combined with contributions from the Football Association, the Premier League, clubs and local partners. As part of the funding, Scotland would receive a total of £2mn, Wales would receive £1.3mn and Northern Ireland would receive £700,000.

In January 2023, the government confirmed the allocation of a £230mn uplift by 2025 for the investment in football facilities across the UK. As part of the uplift, England would receive an additional £168mn and Scotland would receive £18.1mn, with Wales receiving £12.6mn and Northern Ireland receiving £6.29mn.

4.3 Funding from the budget for the 2022 Commonwealth Games

In October 2022, the Liz Truss government announced that it would be investing approximately £60mn of underspend from the budget for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022 in the West Midlands. It argued that this funding would be used to “enhance the legacy of the brilliant Commonwealth Games”. The government stated that amongst several objectives, the fund would aim to increase access to sport and culture.

4.4 Other measures to improve participation

Other measures introduced by the government to improve sport and recreation participation amongst the population include:

5. Read more

Cover image by AnnRos on Pixabay.