Although more people have been involved in sport since 2005, the Department did not meet its targets to increase participation by priority groups by March 2008. However, a new strategy and better funding arrangements are positive developments that offer the prospect of improved value for money.

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The NAO has reported that, while adult participation in sport over the three-year period to March 2008 increased by 520,000, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport did not meet its targets to increase participation by priority groups. However, the NAO judges that the new strategy to increase participation in sport adopted since 2008 and the associated funding assessment process for individual sports are positive developments that offer the prospect of improved value for money.

For the three-year period to March 2008, Sport England, the Department’s delivery body for sports participation, spent £660 million to promote sport and physical activity. However, the Department lacked adequate oversight of progress towards its targets and Sport England lacked a focus on increasing participation amongst priority groups by the targeted amount. In consequence, a positive conclusion by the NAO on value for money up to 2008 was not possible.

As part of a new approach, the Department has set Sport England a new target, to be achieved by March 2013, of increasing by one million the number of people aged 16 and above doing three 30 minute sessions of moderate intensity sport a week. One year into the five-year delivery period an additional 115,000 people were participating in sport, against the initial delivery plan forecast of 160,000 additional participants.

Sport England’s new approach has a number of known risks to delivery. It is heavily dependent on a small number of sporting national governing bodies delivering 60 per cent of the increase in participation expected through governing bodies, and on key assumptions about how the activities it funds will lead to more frequent participation. Moreover, it expects the bulk of the additional participants to be delivered towards the end of the four-year target period.

As agreed with the Department, Sport England’s strategy is to invest in a range of sports, rather than focusing on just those that can increase participation at the lowest cost. Funding allocations to individual sports may represent value for money but this is less clear when comparing sports. Sport England does not have criteria against which it can assess the trade-offs involved in funding participation in different sports.

"Getting more people involved in sport is no easy task. In setting the one million by 2013 target, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport has given Sport England a clear objective. The new strategy, funding process for individual sports, and performance management arrangements between the Department and Sport England and between Sport England and its funded bodies are a marked improvement on what went before.

"However, there remain risks to Sport England's achieving the one million target. The Department and Sport England also need to do more to demonstrate the value for money of its distribution of funds between different sports."

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office


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