The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in its 2015 report on the impact of public spending cuts on local government and poorer communities, says deep cuts have already led to a 27% reduction in spending power in England between 2010/11 and 2014/15 and the Local Government Association calculates that councils will have lost 64% of their grant funding between 2010 and 2020.
Sports, cultural and leisure services are likely to come off worse than other frontline services as they are seen as less essential and more of a luxury ‘add-on’.
But this is, as we all know, a shortsighted view. Various reports detail the positive benefits of exercise and fresh air – not just in seemingly unquantifiable pluses such as happiness and physical wellbeing – but in monetary terms too. The impact of a poor physical, mental and social state has obvious financial implications on the public purse – such as the NHS and social services – adding even more pressure to our already overburdened system.
A 2000-page Government-commissioned report from 2011, for example, the National Ecosystem Assessment, designed to help planners decide whether the economic gains caused by destroying areas of green space would be offset and increased by the buildings being put in their place, concluded that nature is worth billions of pounds a year to the UK.
A further report, published in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, shows that walking and cycling through the countryside leads to a speedy improvement in mood. The 2010 study, by researchers at Essex University, found that just five minutes of green exercise produced the largest positive effect.
Researchers Dr Jo Barton and Professor Jules Pretty, who analysed 1250 people to reach their conclusions, suggest green exercise should be developed for therapy and that it can help stem the growth in obesity.
But if we accept the current austerity measures as a must, then authorities have to tailor their limited budgets accordingly. Outsourcing services to one-stop-shop operations, thus benefiting from economies of scale and eliminating the markup added by companies using subcontractors will go some way towards reducing unnecessary outgoings, as will keeping on top of maintenance before equipment is too costly to repair or replace. In the play and leisure arena this could mean repairing play equipment instead of leaving it to disintegrate.
Some of the more savvy councils and community groups are tapping into commercial funding schemes aimed at promoting community cohesion to boost their depleted coffers. This is an excellent way of sourcing and ring fencing money for specific community benefits – such as new play areas. Tesco, for example is donating the 5 pences it collects from carrier bags towards such initiatives – and is donating £11.7m to schemes up and down the country. While local projects shouldn’t have to rely on the income generated by the private sector, it makes sense to take the proffered cash if no public funding is available under the current regime.