Funding fears for Scottish sport

Laura Muir and Eilish McColgan are proof positive that funding for sport will deliver. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Laura Muir and Eilish McColgan are proof positive that funding for sport will deliver. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images
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Scottish sport faces a scramble to attract outside investment to avoid a flurry of programme cutbacks and job cuts after the full extent of Scottish Government cutbacks were unveiled. Scotland on Sunday has learnt that £2 million has been stripped from the funds collectively issued annually to the 50 national governing bodies who are expected to find out details of their allocations by Sportscotland by the end of next week.

Other than a handful of small grants which have been maintained, it is understood every sport will see their cash reduced at a time when there is uncertainty surrounding the revenues coming through the National Lottery. Ticket sales, according to government research, are projected to decline in the years ahead due to decaying interest from the public, further reducing the £27m that is presently earmarked for projects in Scotland.

Although the final budgets for Sportscotland for the coming year are yet to be signed off, it is thought its pot will be lessened by 20 per cent. The short-term implications are numerous, with one chief executive of a prominent sport describing the shift in policy – and resources – away from sport and into public health initiatives as “brutal”. And, they added: “One of the questions now is whether this has bottomed out or is there more to come next year? Lottery funding is on the decline. And while UK Sport has managed to get the UK government to underwrite its funds, the Scottish Government hasn’t done anything similar up here.”

Ironically, officials from UK Sport, led by CEO Liz Nicholl, held talks with various sports in Edinburgh on Tuesday where the issue of funding security was a hot topic. Although the high-performance agency has been battered by the way it has pursued an exclusive medals-first policy and for its handling of British Cycling’s internal audit into an alleged culture of bullying, it has succeeded in obtaining fiscal guarantees from the Treasury up to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.

Effectively Sportscotland, and by extension the sports it serves, are now on year-by-year deals with grave consequences for forward planning. While support in the lead-up to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia is not likely to be curtailed, if it were not for the availability of what is described as “a small reserve” in the Lottery cash already allocated north of the Border, the expected retrenchment might be deeper in the coming 12 months.

“Sportscotland is facing a challenging financial settlement with reductions in both National Lottery and Scottish Government investment and we will do everything we can to mitigate the impact on the partners we invest in and to continue adding value to the sport sector in Scotland,” a spokesperson said.

“Sportscotland will prioritise and adjust the level of investment into Scottish governing bodies of sport based on the amount of resource available aligned to our outcomes that support Scottish Government priorities. Where possible cuts have been concentrated on programme investment rather than investment in staff to help safeguard jobs in the sector.”

The agency, sources say, also expects its own staff numbers will need to be reduced despite public sector protection from compulsory redundancies. And even though two flagship schemes – Community Sports Hubs and the Active Schools initiative – have had their existing budgets ring fenced and protected, even that decision has been described as “unsustainable” beyond 2018 if there is no U-turn in approach from Holyrood’s sports minister Aileen Campbell.

Some sports have already had to quickly react and rejig. Scottish Athletics’ highly-regarded jogscotland initiative – aiming at encouraging non-club runners to take exercise – is to lose its previous £100,000 annual funding from next month although some of the shortfall will be met by a tie-up with mental health charity SAMH. While the likes of Scottish Cycling will be ever more grateful for the reported £200,000 slice it will get from the sport’s new sponsorship deal with HSBC.

Sportscotland, led by its chair Mel Young, is expected to lobby the administration to restore some of the monies removed while a number of vocal critics are pushing their heads above the parapet to vocally counter the shift once the dust has settled next month.

“There are 900,000 members of sports clubs in Scotland which is a lot of votes,” said another chief executive. “But there just seems to be a misunderstanding completely here of what sport delivers in terms of health and societal benefits. Generating Olympians is a small part. But it’s mainly about getting kids and adults active.”

Campbell defended the allocation of funds yesterday while conceding public investment is now being pushed into other areas of emphasis. “Having successfully delivered the Commonwealth Games, we are now focusing on protecting or raising investment in areas intended to decrease health inequality and improve life chances, and the small reduction in the sport budget allows us to support those priorities,” she said.