Investment in Sport and leisure provision could be earning three times what it costs, besides any health and social benefits it brings, according to a consultant’s report.
The study by RSM consultants says over £10 million is either saved or generated for the local economy by sport and leisure and that every £1 invested in such a way generates more than triple that amount in social and economic benefit.
The 92-page £15,000 report, commissioned by Shetland Recreational Trust and the SIC, with one-third funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is aimed at proving the value of sports investment at a time when across the board budget cuts are looming.
The “hugely positive impact” quantified in the Social Return On Investment (SROI) study may be only part of the return as only 60 to 70 per cent of SRT and 38 to 48 per cent of the council’s sport and leisure service activities were assessed.
Recreational trust chairman Bryan Leask said: “The founders of Shetland’s network of first-class leisure facilities, who set out their vision more than 30 years ago, would have been delighted with the findings of this study.
“It shows that the value of the annual investment in leisure across the islands is reaping major benefits in the form of people’s health and wellbeing.
“That means lower health and social care costs, greater productivity in the workplace for local employers and young people in gainful education or employment among many other outcomes. It is a very positive report indeed.”
Mr Leask said that it was a necessary piece of work at this time when everyone was aware of the difficult financial circumstances of public works.
“It is important that we highlight what the benefit of our sport and leisure is to the community. And it’s important that has been done by an independent company.”
SIC education and families committee vice chairman George Smith also welcomed the study. He said: Often the value and benefits of sport and leisure can be underestimated. This report demonstrates that there is a significant return on the investment locally with economi, social and health benefits all to the fore. I am pleased that the council continues to recognise this and supports sports and leisure activities throughout Shetland for all age groups.”
According to the study, “evaluated gains” of £10.062m are made across headings of general sports access and subscriptions; swimming lessons; the sport and physical activity under the Active Schools programme; outdoor education for senior school children; health specific exercise and over 50s clubs. This comes from an investment of £2.5m in the charitable trust subsidiary SRT, with the council’s sport and leisure service costing another £763,000.
According to Mr Leask involvement in sport can also lead to a reduction in undesirable activity like anti-social behaviour, changing the lives of potential offenders and making residents feel safer.
SRT general manager James Johnston said that the study, which had taken 18 months to compile, represented good value for money given its complexity and the level of expertise involved.
Mr Johnston said: “This process took a period of time and it’s obviously fairly robust. It is particularly significant that RSM are leading lights in social return on investment.
“I think we are well aware of the financial climate and we are not really expecting new investment. It’s when decisions are made about reductions in service that this report will hopefully be a useful tool in any decision making.
“Up to now we have known that sport increases health and well-being, but this is the first time this has had a value on it.”
The SIC outdoor education programme offers various activities where the primary outcomes include improved qualifications for coaches and trainers and enhanced salary potential for those gaining qualifications while secondary outcomes included improved employment opportunities and prospects.
SIC executive manager of sport and leisure Neil Watt said that young people who were “slightly more at risk” were targeted for outdoor education through involvement with schemes like the Bridges Project.
Mr Watt added: “By exposing them to challenges we try to build up their confidence. If we can convince them to take part in something risky for instance, abseiling or coasteering, that can lead to significant improvements in the confidence of the young person.
“We are trying to encourage them to develop different skills and to learn about teamwork.”
According to the SRT, NHS Shetland is also very interested in the study and with an increased emphasis on preventative healthcare, there may be room for greater co-operation between the health board and the sports bodies.
According to Mr Leask, rather than a “fire fighting position” in relation to health, it is sensible to take steps to prevent people presenting with heart and various conditions that could be staved off with exercise and activity.