Autumn Statement: some good news, but austerity still looms large

Posted by Carey Davies on 05/12/2014
Good news for Mountain Rescue: now able to claim back VAT. Photo: Elfyn Jones.

The Autumn Statement contained good news for Mountain Rescue, the England Coastal Path and green space mapping – but as austerity continues, could sport funding be for the chop?

Three big and welcome announcements concerning the outdoors came in the Autumn Statement, but there is uncertainty over the future of sport funding.

Search and rescue

The first positive news was that after years of campaigning, search and rescue charities, including Mountain Rescue, will finally be able to claim refunds on VAT.

In a statement, Mountain Rescue England and Wales (MREW) and the British Cave Rescue Council (BCRC) said they were “delighted and grateful.”

Mike France, Chairman of MREW, said: “It is great to have the recognition in central government of the valuable work done by volunteer rescue services and also of the generosity of our many supporters.”

However, Mike sounded a cautious note regarding the possible administrative costs, saying: “The latest announcement looks encouraging but we’ve still to see the details of how much admin will be needed from our already stretched volunteers and also how we can ensure that this refund and other support from central government has a positive impact for all the fifty-plus teams across England and Wales.”

England Coast Path

There was also encouraging news for coastal walkers and climbers in England. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced £5 million would be spent to bring the completion date for the England Coast Path forward a whole 10 years, to 2020.

The Coastal Path is not simply a walking route – it will also involve creating an ‘access margin’ on the seaward side of the path, allowing climbers to freely access cliffs and walkers to reach previously inaccessible places.

The government has previously been criticised – including by the BMC – for appearing to let the Coastal Path slip down the priority list.

The announcement was warmly welcome by both Natural England and the Ramblers, who have campaigned hard for the path to be kept as a priority project.

Green spaces map

Also announced was a new “green space map” setting out areas of publicly-accessible green space and countryside in digital form.

To be created by Ordnance Survey, the new map will be freely available on the internet and could make it much easier for people to find the open spaces near them.

This government’s relaxation of planning laws, coupled with the increasing demand for housing has led to the loss or threatening of many green spaces, but the map is still welcome for its potential to boost recreation.

Justin Cook, senior policy officer at Ramblers, said: “We have never had all areas that people can walk in and enjoy together. Hopefully it means more people can find green space near where they live and incorporate it into their daily lives.”

Sport funding for the chop?

But despite these welcome announcements, the backdrop to the statement remains the ongoing pressures caused by squeezed budgets and austerity.

The Autumn Statement sets out a plan for at least £10 billion in further cuts by 2017 to 2018 and up to £15 to 20 billion by 2019 2020 (for comparison, £14.3 billion in cuts were made over the last four and a half years of this government).

In a blog for the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Leigh Thompson warned there could be cuts in store for sport. Noting that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) got off relatively lightly in the 2013 Spending Review, he wonders if the 2015 Spending Review could be a more difficult one for sport due to the pressure to maintain levels of spending on ‘core’ public services.

In particular, he warned of the danger to National Governing Bodies (NGBs) – like the BMC.

He wrote: “While the outcome of the Spending Review is difficult to foresee with any certainty, one area that might come under scrutiny is Whole Sport Plans. These plans set out the funding 46 NGBs will receive from Sport England between 2013 to 2017 in return for, amongst other things, driving up participation in their respective sports. Over the 2013 to 2017 period more than £400m will be allocated through Whole Sport Plans.

“Beyond 2017 therefore, it is possible that funding for Whole Sport Plans could be reduced, focussed on fewer sports or – in the worst case scenario – eliminated altogether as part of wider spending reductions across DCMS.”

The BMC received just under £3 million from Sport England in the 2013 to 2017 bid. 

BMC CEO Dave Turnbull said: “Sport England funding has become increasingly important to the BMC over the past five years, we now rely on it to support much of our work including our regional operations, climbing competitions and many aspects of Mountain Training.

“It would be a major blow if Sport England were to pull out. Climbing and hill walking are genuine lifelong activities which can contribute enormously to the health and wellbeing of the nation.”



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