Coalition backtracks on primary school sports cuts

The Schools Sports Partnership will no longer be scrapped, but will still have its funding reduced.

The coalition's ill-conceived plan to scrap the School Sport Partnership has been partially reversed. Elements of the SSP will remain until at least the 2012 Olympics, after Michael Gove attempted to scrap the scheme back in November.

But the news is not all good.

The programme will still suffer heavy cuts: central funding will be reduced and staff will be sacked.

The compromise comes after pressure from high-profile athletes, such as the diver Tom Daley and the former heptathlete Denise Lewis, who criticised the scrapping of the scheme.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt (that's Hunt, Jim Naughtie), lobbied from within cabinet against scrapping the SSP. He argued that cutting the scheme before the Olympics would damage the idea that London 2012 would increase public participation in sports.

Though not quite a U-turn (it could perhaps be labelled an R-turn, with the coalition heading off in a new, slightly less damaging direction), the coalition's handling of the SSP has been less than exemplary.

David Cameron had previously labelled the scheme a "complete failure". In one of the Prime Minister's less fine moments at the despatch box, he said:

The number of schools offering rugby [sic – Cameron meant Rugby Union], hockey, netball and gymnastics actually fell under the previous government.

What Cameron failed to mention was that this negligible drop (of between 1 and 5 per cent) was more than compensated for by a huge uptake in less orthodox sports that did not involve chasing a ball around a field.

As Des Kelly pointed out in his fine demolition of Gove's plan to scrap the SSP:

Cameron . . . blithely ignored the fact that the number of state schools offering Rugby League, football, athletics, cricket, tennis, basketball, cycling, golf, badminton, table tennis, volleyball, canoeing, archery, fitness classes, mountaineering, rowing, sailing, judo, karate, boxing, lacrosse, squash, equestrian sports, triathlon and even skateboarding, dance and orienteering had gone up.

In other words – no doubt thanks to a very dodgy brief – Cameron gave an extremely misleading impression of the SSP.

Before the SSP, each state school offered 14 sports on average – now they offer 19. So what if people play a bit less Rugby Union? The important thing was that the SSP worked: kids did more sport and got to try new things.

That the scheme will be reduced is not a good thing. But a limited SSP is better than no SSP at all.

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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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