Whilst the report notes that some progress has been made in increasing participation since 2012, it also concludes that leadership and collaboration and collaboration across government to drive up levels of activity has been inconsistent, with the result that the sector’s contribution to wider policy objectives has not been maximised.
The report also highlights the detrimental effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on participation levels, especially for certain groups – including women, those from ethnically diverse communities and disabled people – who already had below-average levels of activity.
The report sets out a series of recommendations for both DCMS and Sport England for how Government and its arms-length body can more effectively act to increase participation in sport and physical activity across all demographics.
One of the recommendations is for DCMS to set out how it will lead delivery of the objectives and outcomes for sport and physical activity that it shares with other departments and to establish clear measures of success for its forthcoming strategy.
Responding to the report, leaders from the National Sector Partners Group said:
“We welcome today’s NAO report which identifies some important findings and recommendations for the future.
"As we look forward to the Commonwealth Games starting in Birmingham, it is important we reflect on the lessons from the last 10 years and seize the opportunity to do things differently in the next decade so that we recover the ground lost during the pandemic and ensure many more people can benefit from sport, recreation and physical activity.
"It is essential there is genuine joined-up working across Government to maximise the role of sport, recreation and physical activity in delivering on wider public policy goals including improved health and wellbeing, levelling up, increased educational attainment and accelerating the transition towards net zero.
"This reflects one of the key asks in the NSPG’s recent report ‘’ Unlocking the potential which identifies the role sport, recreation and physical activity can play in supporting key Government priorities and the systemic policy changes which are needed to enable the sector to realise its full potential.
"We welcome the commitment in the report that DCMS will work more collaboratively with the sector in future and we look forward to progressing the recommendations in Unlocking the Potential as soon as possible."
The NSPG includes Active Partnerships, the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, the Local Government Association, the Sport for Development Coalition, the Sport and Recreation Alliance, ukactive and the Youth Sport Trust.