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By Stephen McLoughlin, Senior Public Affairs and Policy Manager, ukactive

The Spring Budget is ordinarily one of the Government’s biggest milestones within the year. It features the Government’s financial interventions, such as tax cuts/rises and spending commitment, as well as signalling the direction of travel for the year ahead. It is usually preceded by months of speculation, and its contents pored over by analysts for days afterwards.

However, this Spring Budget has been a relatively low-key affair for two important reasons.

The first is simple – there is very little for Government to spend. Lower than expected economic growth in an already difficult financial situation has reduced the Government’s headroom on previous forecasts significantly. With departmental budgets already stretched thin, there is little room to make money available for the tax cuts the Government claims to want to introduce, and with borrowing seen as undesirable, little appetite for large-scale capital investment.

The second reason is one that looms over all politics this year: the General Election. While speculation varies on the exact date, what is clear is that any major intervention by Government would be unlikely to take effect before the nation goes to the polls. While the Conservatives will be wary of promising pre-election giveaways that they will struggle to enact if they do turn the tide and return to Government, the Labour Party will be wary of criticising any lack of spending when they may face similarly difficult choices should they find themselves in power.

And so, it seems, politics is in something of a holding pattern, the two parties keeping their respective powder dry for the upcoming electoral battle.

But despite the low expectations, this is not a Budget that should be ignored – not by the Government and not by the physical activity sector either. Back in January, ukactive made its submission to HM Treasury, urging it to utilise the potential of the sector to create long-term economic growth. And in February, ukactive Chair, Mike Farrar, opened the Active Uprising conference with a message to the Government to deploy the physical activity sector to help save the NHS and grow the economy.

Part of the reason for the lack of anticipated spending within the Budget is chronically poor productivity and subsequent stagnant economic growth. While there is no silver bullet to address this, our nation’s poor health is a major contributor.

A recent report from Policy Exchange identified several ways prioritising health within the workplace could deliver economic growth, citing interventions around business rates and expanding on tax relief schemes. It also explicitly referenced the role of the leisure sector and how Government can boost its effectiveness.

This echoes what the sector has been telling the Government for years – that the sector is ready to turbocharge the country’s economic growth if it is only given the tools to do so. Reform of business rates, VAT and other taxes, proper investment in public leisure, and closer collaboration with the NHS will all make a long-term and sustainable difference to the economic growth.

In September, ukactive and its partners in the National Sector Partners Group (NSPG) called on the Government to focus on making the UK the most active nation in Europe – an ambition we urge both parties to commit to at the General Election.

While we aren’t expecting major announcements for our sector in this week’s Budget, ukactive’s work continues to position our sector at the heart of politics in this election year for the good of the nation’s health and productivity.

ukactive members will receive an email with our full analysis of the Spring Budget, which takes place on Wednesday 7 March. To become a member, click here.