Driven by an ideological hatred of all things public, Michael Gove has taken the axe to the national network of successfully functioning School Sports Partnerships. By statistical or anecdotal evidence, the SSP’s established under Labour’s watch, have been a success. More kids at school are playing more sport than we’ve seen for many a year. Some kind of genuine claim to an Olympic legacy might even be made. But Gove cannot accept that some things are better planned and delivered by the public hand. He pretends that local is always better. What he really means is that private is always better.


Just as the Tories are busy selling off schools, hospitals, and social services to the corporate sector, so sport and leisure must go the same way. Under the cover of local choice, sports provision will be picked off by the profiteers. As we speak, the first NHS hospital has been fully sold to a private company. Schools are being cajoled into the same direction under the mantra of choice. Sports and leisure provision will be close behind, but before that can take place the Government must dismantle the existing system.

The scam is glaringly transparent. There is, in fact, nothing particularly centralised about the 450 SSP’s other than the funding comes via the national exchequer. As for the nuts and bolts of each partnership, they are rightfully decided at local level. Some are better than others depending on a host of local factors; the commitment of the local authority personnel, the ambitions of the local clubs, and enthusiasm of the local schools. This is what you would expect from a network of local partnerships. Generally speaking though, the feedback has been very positive. But Gove is having none of it.

Don’t believe for a moment though that all was well under Blair and Brown. They too were transfixed by the supposed miracle of the market. They too were keen to sell off any public assets that they could find a buyer for. It was Labour that introduced the private sector into state health, education and transport. It was Labour that allowed for the private running of sports centres. It was Labour that tried to sell off the Royal Mail. It was Labour that introduced the concept of PFI into all aspects of social provision. All that Gove and Co are doing is speeding up the process. The only surprise is the speed at which the Tories are travelling. Blitzkrieg might be a useful term in this respect.

Where is the opposition to this wanton act of vandalism? The press have made rumblings. The Sunday Observer 21/11/10 went as far as to make it the main story on its front page. ‘Cabinet split over plan to slash sport in schools’. Toby Helm did a good job of exposure inside the same edition. The story is adequately summed up by his headline: ‘It’s tragic for the kids in this country. This was about sport for all children’. Even the footballer David James was moved to decry the cuts in his weekly column arguing; ‘Crazy cuts will leave a terrible legacy for children’.

The Guardian has run a couple of robust articles. Inside the Education Guardian 16/11/10 Denis Campbell says, ‘The move to slash £162m annual funding will harm children’s health and bring new job losses.’ Even The Telegraph 16/11/10 managed some vague, convoluted criticism.

But outside of the press the big guns remain muted. What has Ed Milliband had to say on the matter? Silence. What of the British trade unions? They’ve been on their knees for years. What has Sebastian Coe got to say for himself? Mealy mouthed platitudes. What of Nick Clegg, the liberal conscience of the coalition, got to say? The same acquiescing response as he offered concerning University fees! And what of the Prime Minister himself? Same old bumph about the ‘Big Society’, and how the Labour created deficit meant that unpleasant choices have to be made.

Well, here’s some advice to Mr Cameron, from a soon to be out of work SSP coach: close down the tax havens, block the bank bonuses and raise the corporation tax across the EU and there will be more than enough money for all the social programmes. But of course, that misses the point altogether. The whole charade about budget deficits and austerity is just a fig leaf for a massive assault on publicly funded provision. This lot of ideologically driven old Etonian millionaires will not be satisfied until every nut and bolt in the country is in the grasp of their mates in the private sector; libraries, sports centres, schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons. They want the lot and they won’t rest until every last public utility and service is in the private domain. There is a ideological war raging but the social democrats are still slumbering. The SSP’s are just one of the early casualties.

End JPK Copyright 21/11/10

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