Friday, June 06, 2008

Olympics Soaking Up More Cash


We order you to wiggle around a bit

Labour has always believed that bossing us about can produce a better world. And their governments have always been happy to waste huge amounts of our money on any manner of hopeless programmes based on that belief.

So it's no surprise that this morning we're given a dopey plan to get us couch potatoes swimming and walking more. The government will spend £140m of taxpayers' cash on free access to local authority swimming pools for the over 60s and the under 16s. They will spend another £7m on programmes to get us walking more. And they will spend a whole £1m - yes, a whole £1m - on subsidised access to private gyms for 16-22 year olds. Total spend: £150m.

Except of course, that's just the headline. The reality is somewhat less clearcut.

To start with, our public swimming pools are operated by local authorities, and Whitehall can't actually make local authorities provide free pool access. Hence DCMS talks only of "encouraging" them to do so.

Second, WTF makes anyone believe it's the cost of a pool visit that's the key factor stopping the potatoes taking the plunge into those often grotty pools? The key factor is almost certainly not cost, but simply that they don't want to. Sure, that £140m will get spent, but it will largely go on admin and to people who already swim - it's what's known as a deadweight cost.

Third, this isn't really about getting us to take up swimming at all, but box-ticking. It's about demonstrating to the International Olympic Committee that Britain is taking steps to deliver on that 2012 "legacy" promise. Because as you will recall, it was the grandiose promises about legacy that got us into this mess in the first place. This is all about saving face.

One final question - where's the cash actually coming from? We hope it's just a deckchair rearrangement within existing DCMS budgets. But given the record, you wouldn't want to bet on it.

Another £150m on the 2012 pyre.

PS As BOM readers will know, there's zero evidence that any of these expensive commissariat programmes for bossing us into getting fit have ever worked. The notoriously pants programme for tackling childhood obesity has cost us in excess of £1bn, but the number of fat kids round our way is higher than ever (eg see this blog).

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