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Opinion: Andy Reed - "The battle of the sugar levy is far from over"

In his first column for Sports Management, the director of Sports Think Tank and former MP, gives his view on the “welcome measures” announced by chancellor George Osborne during the last Budget

by Andy Reed | Published in Sports Management 02 May 2016 issue 119
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Andy Reed
Andy Reed

Like so many of you I‘m slightly overwhelmed by the number of hot topics hitting the sector at the moment. There’s a new government sport strategy with a Sport England strategy to follow this month. We had a Budget with a series of sports measures in it just a few weeks ago, and sport itself is all too often hitting the front and back pages due to corruption, cheating and drug scandals appearing on a weekly basis. I’m told by reliable sources there’s lots more to come.

Over the coming months in this column I want to highlight what happens in policy making In sport. The old quote reinvigorated by The West Wing about the two things in life you never want to see being made – sausages and legislation – is disturbing because of its accuracy. Having spent two years inside the Treasury, budgets are always fascinating to me. They are a heady mixture of economics and politics.

The chancellor came into the March Budget riding high with one eye on his leadership bid. While the political classes and media concentrated on the big stories of the day there is always a group of us scanning for the fine detail from the hundreds of pages of documents released after the chancellor sits down. We’re looking to see which of the many sports bids, tax breaks and changes have made it into the Budget each year.

Thankfully this year – perhaps with an eye on pleasing as many lobbies as possible ahead of a leadership bid – there was a series of welcome measures, the progress of which will be watched through parliament with interest.

For many the biggest surprise was the sugar levy and its £520m link to school sport, PE & physical activity. Sources close to the Department of Health had told me in February that they were not giving in to the anti-sugar tax lobby and commitments were being made to school sport the School Games. Much of this is because Jeremy Hunt served as culture secretary at the DCMS during the Olympics. He realised the legacy of those games would be lost with cuts in school sport, and with it his own contribution to legacy. This is why the DoH has increasingly been involved in joined up funding.

My hope is that we as a sector will genuinely work together to decide how this new money could be used most effectively. But I fear “how do we get our hands on the money” will have been the first response.

I would genuinely like to change this culture in our sector.

Even though I knew something was coming I was still taken by surprise at the scale of the measures announced. Governments hate hypothecation – raising taxes and allocating to specific spend so these linked tax and spend announcements are rare. It is also very brave for a Tory government to risk accusations of promoting a ‘Nanny State’ by acting in this way. I’m delighted they are taking on the sugar problem.

Indeed a poll after the Budget showed overwhelming support on the Labour benches for the levy and overwhelming opposition on the Tory benches. So the battle of the sugar levy is far from over. There is a long parliamentary process to come and with the chancellor diminished after the Budget by Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation we will need to see how this policy looks at the end of the Finance Bill.

Other measures included a longer school day, every school to become an academy by 2022, £1.5m for child prosthetics, £500k for the Tour of Yorkshire, supporting a bid for the Rugby League World Cup and a consultation on changing the corporation tax system for grassroots sport. I will return to some of these over time as they play out inside and outside of Westminster. But a busy year of change is ahead for us all.

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