Sport schemes to tackle obesity merged as council tightens belt

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A COUNCIL-run project which aims to encourage people to take up sport in some of Yorkshire’s most unhealthy communities could be merged with another in a neighbouring area to save the taxpayer money.

The move would see the merger of South and West Yorkshire’s two county sports partnerships in a strategic alliance.

Both South Yorkshire Sport (SYS) and West Yorkshire Sport (WYS) were set up a decade ago to improve levels of participation in sports and fitness activity with the hope of reducing levels of obesity and associated poor health.

Yorkshire has among some of the highest levels of obesity in the country around one in three youngsters obese or overweight amid fears the growing toll will have a huge impact on health services in years to come.

In West Yorkshire, the partnership was run by Kirklees Council until last year, when it became a limited company with charitable status, meaning that local authority bosses were no longer responsible for its successes or failures.

Now Barnsley Council, which runs South Yorkshire Sport on behalf of Doncaster, Sheffield and Rotherham councils, wants to hand over its liabilities to the West Yorkshire firm, including the seven staff currently employed.

The move requires the approval of Barnsley Council’s ruling cabinet, which meets next week, although it is unlikely that the merger will be blocked as members are looking to make savings to meet Westminster-imposed cuts.

In a report to cabinet members, finance chiefs say SYS is now almost entirely funded by Sport England after all four South Yorkshire councils withdrew grant funding which had paid for salaries and other costs.

Since then, the partnership has been handing around £14,000 a year to Barnsley Council for finance and other support, a sum which does not cover its actual costs, leaving council taxpayers to fund the rest.

The report adds: “Over the last two years, the SYS board has been considering creating an independent company although little progress has been made, leading to the council extending its ‘hosting’ arrangements.

“Following research and consultation it has been decided that the preferred way forward would be for SYS to form a strategic alliance with WYS by transferring staff and resources into the West Yorkshire Sport Company.

“The board of WYS have agreed in principle to the alliance being formed subject to satisfactory conclusion being made on governance structures and details within a transfer agreement.”

Staff have been told that they will be transferred under their current terms and conditions of employment to the West Yorkshire firm under national regulations.

Council bosses are also keen to stress that work which is currently ongoing in South Yorkshire will not be threatened, and cash which has been granted for such projects will not be diverted into West Yorkshire schemes.

“It is hoped that the transfer could take place by October 1, which is when Barnsley Council’s current hosting agreement comes to an end, but finance officers also admit that this deadline may be “ambitious”.

They have also drawn up contingency plans which could see the taxpayer continuing to fund the SYS partnership until December.

The report says; “The proposed strategic alliance between SYS and WYS is on the understanding that SYS maintains its own identity in the sub-region and 
that all resources restricted to South Yorkshire, will be used by SYS.

“Joint working between the two teams will be exploited wherever possible to ensure maximum efficiencies and improvements in quality of services are made.

“Sport England, the principle funder of SYS, is encouraging other community sports partnerships in the country to look at alternative hosting arrangements. Sport England considers strategic alliances between partnerships highly credible.”