A BASIS Opinion Piece by Dom Goggins. The Chancellor’s Budget can help sport to survive and bounce back in the short term, but is a missed opportunity to help sport to build back better in the long term.
A Budget To Build Back Better?
Budgets come with a fanfare, designed to give the government of the day a big political boost as well as send clear economic signals. The remarkable context as the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, took to the dispatch box on Wednesday is so widely understood it does not need summarising here, but the fanfare and political thrust remained as clear as ever.
This budget had three specific areas of focus. First, getting through the remaining stages of the COVID-19 crisis. Second, restarting the UK economy. Third, building the economy of the future – or building back better.
Across these themes there were some nuggets for BASIS, our members, and our wide network of affiliates across the sport sector. My overall assessment, unpacked below, is of a budget that can help sport to survive and bounce back in the short term, but lacks the foresight to help sport to build back better in the long term.
There is no question that sport, with revenues wiped out and finances decimated by a year of lockdown and restrictions, has benefited from the furlough scheme. With Sport England figures showing 365,000 people in employed in the sport sector, the further extension of furlough until September will help to save jobs that continue to be viable in the long term.
An additional £300m recovery package to help major spectator sports and governing bodies unlock the doors and resume full activities is welcome, irrespective of the fact that overall losses across sport undoubtedly dwarf that figure.
Added to this, specific commitments to support the Women’s UEFA European Championships & a 2030 FIFA World Cup bid offer a boost, as does the additional £25m for grassroots facilities.
Beyond sport specifically, the third broad theme of the Chancellor’s statement rested on meeting climate change commitments and pursuing net zero emissions as the key strategy to rebuild the economy. In this, the Chancellor claimed to build on promises made by the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, published in November.
There is no question the green commitments made at the highest levels of government are positive – especially in the year the UK hosts the vital UN climate summit, COP26. But do they stack up?
There is plenty of analysis about whether the policy matches the rhetoric. It’s not our job to judge that here – people can make their own minds up. But where green commitments and sustainability meet sport, it does become our job.
Having analysed Budget 2021, my reflection is that the Chancellor has been put through on goal with only the keeper to beat, and he’s put it wide. There are two main reasons.
The first is the economic reality. In order to reduce the need for further borrowing and bring public finances off an emergency footing, the budget earmarks £4bn per year in public spending cuts. These cuts will not fall evenly – health, education and defence budgets are protected. They will fall on unprotected budgets, with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport an obvious target. This is highly likely to have a real-terms impact on sport.
The second – more subtle but arguably more significant – is the absence of a link between the funding made available for sport, and the broader theme of building back better.
None of the £300m to help sport unlock comes with even a suggestion, let alone a requirement, that beneficiaries should look to use these funds to unlock their doors in a more sustainable way – the basics of which we covered extensively in our webinar series.
None of the £25m to build community facilities comes with a requirement to deliver environmental benefits – a basic tenet of a society and economy on the path to Net Zero. Nor does the finance set aside for major events come with the commitment to make UK-hosted global tournaments the most environmentally friendly ever.
Beyond that, there is no picture for how different sectors – including sport – can play their part in the net zero effort. Can sport access the new £12bn National Infrastructure Bank tasked with enabling the low carbon transition? There is little clarity.
These may seem like peripheral points to a Chancellor grappling with an economic crisis on this scale, or to a sector that has been on the brink, but they are basic components of a comprehensive, government-backed national strategy to achieve net zero with the urgency dictated by science, politics, and the law of the land.
Our Build Back Better consultation, which ran from the first lockdown throughout 2020, is almost ready to report. The full results will be published in the coming weeks, but it reveals in stark terms a sector that yearns to become more sustainable but often lacks the expertise, resource, coordination and – critically – policy direction to do achieve that in a comprehensive way.
This Budget was a chance to change that, but it hasn’t.
Dom Goggins is Senior Adviser to the Parliamentary Renewable & Sustainable Energy Group and BASIS Communications Director