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Archive for August 22nd, 2017

The following is a guest post by Mayor John Biggs who wants to put his side of the argument on the youth sport funding row. It follows two previous guest posts (here and here) by Chris Dunne of the Tower Hamlets Youth Sports Foundation whose future is under threat due to funding problems.

This guest post is interesting because whether you agree with the mayor or not, you can see a logical and reasoned approach to decision-making – an insight never seen with his predecessor, Lutfur Rahman.

Doesn’t mean he’s right, though.

For those desperate for more politics, gossip, accusations of sexism and just general bitching, as well as the serious policy issues like this, take heart – I will report back soon.

 

By Mayor John Biggs

Tower Hamlets mayorI should start by welcoming Ted back to the world of Tower Hamlets politics: your absence has been noticed and it is good to see you return to the fold. In a healthy democracy people should always feel able to question, quiz and disagree with decisions politicians make, I have no doubt you will do all three and keep us on our toes.

I know you ran a post from Tower Hamlets Youth and Sports Foundation (THYSF) and I wanted to set out my case for the decision the Council has made as a right of reply.

The 2012 Games promised a lot and whilst the Olympics have delivered some incredible economic regeneration results it’s fair to say the sports legacy from the Games has fallen below expectations.

This is in no small part due to decisions by the Coalition Government to slash funding to school sports and abolish the ring-fenced funding given to School Sport Partnerships like the Tower Hamlets Youth Sports Foundation.

Contrary to some assertions Tower Hamlets Council is not cutting the THYSF. It is not a council-funded service but we have provided them with emergency funding when they faced budget challenges. In fact over the past year we have provided around £150,000 to help cover their deficit..

The problem facing THYSF is that they have always been primarily funded by the schools they provide services to; aside from the small amount of funding the council gets from Sport England which we gave to THYSF to support their programmes.

As Chris Dunne rightly stated in his first article Michael Gove’s scrapping of funding for Sports Partnerships made this model far harder to work. The decision over following years to squeeze school budgets tighter and tighter made things more problematic for THYSF as school funding has reduced.

As a result the THYSF ended the 2016/17 year with a deficit of around £150k.

Valuing the service THYSF provides, the council agreed to underwrite those costs but asked that THYSF produce a business plan that addressed the financial concerns and demonstrated that THYSF can cover all its expenditure from the income it receives, whether by way of the agreements, called SLAs, with the schools to provide services, or from community activities from which additional income can be raised.

In addition to the financial support provided by the council, we offered officer support to better understand the challenges facing THYSF.

This work forecast a further deficit of up to £190k later this year and highlighted the overall challenge facing THYSF, that its costs are fixed, staffing etc, but its income fluctuates significantly.

Furthermore, the analysis found that school subscriptions have been falling for the past three years which has resulted in reducing income at the same time as there has been an increase in the charity’s cost base.

governance-sub_01

Chris Dunne, of the Tower Hamlets Youth Sport Foundation

In 2012 I understand there were 87 schools buying into THYSF services. In 2017 there are only around 37 with Service agreements with THYSF. That has hit THYSF’s income despite costs staying broadly stable. I appreciate that THYSF dispute these figures and may have others paying for some of their services via other means, but clearly they are facing an existential crisis because of reduced income.

I cannot speak for why schools chose to withdraw from THYSF however it is clear Government cuts have made school budgets far tighter over that time.

Whilst THYSF are not a council service, we have supported them by covering their deficit last year.

The Council has not withdrawn any of its existing funding sources, nor were we proposing to. In fact we have given THYSF more money than ever over the past year to give them time to come up with a new business plan.

Currently the organisation’s staff are formally employed by Langdon Park School. Given the increasing concerns about THYSF’s finances the school no longer wish to host them as they could end up liable for any deficit.

Sadly, we are left with limited options.

Why doesn’t the Council just fund THYSF?

The answer put forward by some that the council just take over THYSF and make them a council department is fraught with risk for taxpayers – it would mean assimilating a service with staffing costs in the region of £600,000-650,000 a year. It would mean adopting a service for which funding does not exist in our budgets and it would not be fair on existing employees who are facing tough choices and restructures.

Central Government cuts mean we have to save 1 in every 6 pounds we currently spend – that’s £58m over this and the coming years with yet more cuts looming on the horizon.

It may be easy for other political groups to play politics about this issue; however my administration has had to clear up the mismanagement of the past at the same time as facing devastating cuts from Central Government.

There is also an urban myth circulating that the council spends £3.8m on sports already and all we need to do is reallocate some of that. This just simply is not true. The actual budget for our sports team is around £1.1m which achieves excellent value for money providing services such as:

  • Our weekly Disability Sport Programme enabling 10,000 mainly young people with disabilities participate in activities at Mile End Park Leisure Centre.
  • Community programmes in the borough’s parks including a free health & fitness programme targeting approximately 2,000 inactive people, the majority of which have been women and girls.
  • Our Summer Sports Programme in Parks, leisure centres and the community which last year saw over 13,000 people take part in a diverse range of sports and activities for young people ranging from athletics and BMX/cycling to canoeing and kayaking.
  • Programmes like the Young@Heart for the Over 50’s, The Women and Girls Swim Programme, Sport4Women and Disability sport programme, free swimming on Fridays and Saturdays and under 16 swimming for just £1. These all make sporting activities accessible and affordable for residents of all ages.
  • On top of that our Sports team has generated over £4 million in external funding from organisations such as London Marathon Trust, Sport England, The Premier League and FA Facilities Fund. Without this work, the improvements to the borough’s sporting infrastructure, particularly those in our parks, would cease. The Stepney Green Astro-turf, the refurbishment of the borough’s tennis courts, the replacement of the astro-turf at John Orwell Sports Centre and Mile End Stadium, the resurfacing of the athletics track at Mile End Stadium. All were made possible by the council’s investment in sports.

Much of this work would be at risk if we cut funding from the current service in order to reallocate it to THYSF. These are improvements which benefit the whole community including our young people.

What we are planning to do

THYSF’s future is in their own hands. The council has supported them for a year to give them extra time but we cannot do so forever as we just do not have the funds, much like the schools who are choosing to no longer buy their services.

Like any organisation THYSF must produce a plan which balances its income with its costs. They have to do so now as Langdon Park School have decided to  end the relationship with THYSF.  The Foundation either have to choose to employ its staff directly or to close.

It is clear that Government cuts have made it far harder for schools to afford the THYSF service; particularly if similar organisations offer it for less money. That is a decision for schools. It is a challenge that is facing schools across the country.

I have said all along that we would support THYSF to step out on their own should they wish to set up as a new social enterprise. They would still need a solid business plan and the council would probably commission them to run some of the services they offer. That is why the council is funding a consultant to work with THYSF to help them work up this kind of proposal. What we cannot do is take their organisation into the council without the finances to pay for it.

Should THYSF close, the council will use the funding we receive from Sport England, which we currently give to THYSF, to help us step-in and support the running of the inter-borough and School Games. Similarly, we will continue to support the borough’s participation in the London Youth Games, as we are committed to ensuring young people do not lose out on these opportunities.

We would also ensure schools are offered a core package of sports by other high-quality providers including specialist cricket, hockey, cycling, football and other sports in conjunction with national sport governing bodies and organisations like Middlesex Cricket, England Hockey and professional football clubs who run these programmes in many other areas. It is however important that we act quickly, to ensure our young people have continuing support in the new school year.

I have considered the information that THYSF have sent through and wrote to Chris on 3rd August setting out the support we have offered at each stage of the process. Whilst I sympathise with THYSF’s position, it simply isn’t the case that without them there would be no sport provision for young people. We have worked with them to support and underwrite their costs over the past year.

I also understand why in times of financial challenges Langdon Park School view their current position of directly employing all the THYSF staff as unsustainable. I would be more than happy to see THYSF spin themselves off as a charitable enterprise, and I have been clear the council would support that. What I cannot do is cut other vital services the council provides in order to save a model which has hit financial challenges and will continue to do so, as a result of schools choosing to pull out from funding the organisation.

Chris is entirely right that, with a few sad exceptions, politicians don’t go into public life to ‘do bad things for their electors.’ This is a tricky situation and not one which is anywhere near as simple as some have tried to make out but like Chris I believe in the power of sports to transform lives. That is why whatever happens to THYSF we will continue to ensure that young people in our borough have the opportunities to participate in high quality sports and inter-borough and London-wide games.

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