Exclusive: How north-south divide hits Yorkshire’s sports clubs

Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland

Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland

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SPORTS clubs nurturing the talent of the future could be missing out on millions of pounds as investment is funnelled to other parts of the country.

New figures are said to reveal a clear North/South divide when it comes to modernising grassroots sports clubs, while Yorkshire has lagged behind for the past twenty years when it comes to National Lottery sports grants.

While the South East has had £563m handed over from the National Lottery for its clubs since 1995, Yorkshire has been awarded £376m, and falls way behind the North West, London, the East and West Midlands.

However the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said Yorkshire got a £10m grant from the Treasury for the Tour de Yorkshire, and there are a range of other funds available through Sport England for grassroots clubs, including a pot of cash especially for deprived communities.

Figures obtained by Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland show that the Government’s specific Inspired Facilities fund, which pays for things like new floodlights, club house repairs and improving pitches, has handed over £20m to the South East and just £10m to Yorkshire since 2012.

The Leeds North West MP said: “Grassroots sports is absolutely essential to our communities but these figures show the stark divide in how much is invested in Yorkshire compared to the South East.

“Yorkshire has an extremely proud sporting heritage and it cannot be right that the South East not only gets significantly more than any other UK region, but twice as much as Yorkshire.

“Ministers must seriously look at this divide and whether funds are being fairly distributed.”

It is understood that Sport England add up their lottery awards by geographical area so the data can be skewed when a specific addess is handed funds, but their sports clubs are run across regional borders.

For example a rugby club may be rolling out girls lessons across the North of England, but if the registration address is in Leeds, then only Yorkshire and the Humber will be listed as having got the money.

However the recent flooding which has ruined pitches across the region leaves Yorkshire at even more of a disadvantage, Leeds Rhinos Chief Executive, Gary Hetherington has said.

The rugby league club’s training facilities are now out of action for six months as the pitches need to be re-turfed.

While Sport England pledged a £400,000 Emergency Flood Relief Fund at the start of the year to repair damaged clubs across the country, Mr Hetherington said it’s going to take more than fixing facilities to put Yorkshire on a par with the rest of the country.

He said: “Many community sports clubs are going to be decimated. Money is obviously one source of protection for them, but that’s not everything.

“Because if a club can’t find an alternative venue, that money isn’t going to solve the problem.

“We need more sports facilities, 3G all-weather flood-lit pitches is what we need and I think Leeds has got fewer 3G pitches than most other cities.

“And we’ve got a much greater demand for sport considering the size of our population. There’s more sport played in Leeds and the communities in Yorkshire than anywhere else in the country, whether that’s football, rugby league and union or cricket.”

Mr Mulholland had asked John Whittingdale MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, what grassroots sports funding the Government provides and how it has been divided up to each English region in the last three years.

Sports minister Tracey Crouch replied on his behalf that the Government gives two kinds of grants - the Inspired Facilities and the Protecting Playing Fields Award.

Yorkshire received £3,188,099m to improve 60 play fields since 2012, and £10,631,886m for 199 different venues to make improvements through the Inspired Facilities fund.

While the South East received fewer playing field grants than Yorkshire, they have been given £20,737,195m to help 391 clubs improved their facilities.

Sports Minister Ms Crouch said: “It is the duty of sports clubs to maintain, budget for and carry out maintenance on their facilities.

“However, Government recognises that renovated spaces in which to play sport can make a significant difference, and increase participation.

“Through Sport England’s Inspired Facilities fund, Government has invested over £110 million of National Lottery funding to renovate and modernise over 2000 sport clubs.”

“Since 2010, Sport England has invested £129,977 in 13 grassroots sports projects in Leeds North West. This includes an Inspired Facilities investment of £37,833 in Otley Sailing Club to improve both the clubhouse facilities and access to the jetty for disabled sailors.”

However National Lottery funding puts Yorkshire fifth in the 10 British regions, and despite having similar population sizes to the East Midlands and the West Midlands of five million, both regions received far more funding than Yorkshire since 1995.

The East Midlands received £552m and the West Midlands received £421m, compared to Yorkshire’s £376m.

Mr Mulholland said: “Yorkshire is a strong sporting region and it cannot be allowed to fall behind most of the country when it comes to promoting grassroots sport and developing our future talent.”

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