The Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has published a report, entitled Sports Sustainability Fund. The report looks at how the Department for Communities (the Department), along with Sport NI administered funds to help local sports organisations weather the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Committee looked at the way that funds were allocated across the entire sports sector, as well as the apparent lack of assessment criteria as part of the allocation of monies.
Chairman of the Committee, William Humphrey MBE MLA recently said:
As a Committee we were surprised that the Department and Sport NI appeared to hand out monies to organisations that could have survived without funding or with much less funding.
The Report found that, because of the need to devise a support scheme quickly, a number of flaws in how the Sport Sustainability Fund (SSF) operated went without challenge. This was particularly evident in the way that the scheme allowed organisations to quantify their losses during COVID-19 without significant investigation or challenge. The Committee felt that the way monies were apportioned was largely determined by the amount available from the Executive, rather than based on a detailed assessment of need.
Chairman Humphrey recently commented:
We found that the objectives of the SSF, to ensure that organisations across a range of sports would survive, were certainly admirable. However, the Department and Sport NI did not devise a set of assessment criteria that they could apply to the applications they received. This flawed approach meant that some large and very profitable organisations, such as golf clubs, were awarded monies that might have been better spent on smaller, more financially precarious groups.
One of the scheme's provisions that concerned the Committee was that the SSF's business case concluded that the best way to award funding was on the basis of net losses' incurred by the organisations. This meant that monies were given on the difference between the club's profit for an average of the three years prior to COVID-19 and the profits in the COVID-19 year.
Chairman Humphrey recently said:
We were surprised that the Department and Sport NI believed that it was acceptable and value for money, to award public funds to clubs and organisations that ensured they achieved the same profit as they had in previous years.
In a year where many organisations were struggling financially, providing taxpayers' money to support the profits of sports clubs is something that should not have happened.
What is even more concerning is that neither the Department nor Sport NI appeared to realise that this underwriting of profit would be the result of the way in which the scheme was designed.
In our evidence session, large grants to financially secure golf clubs were justified by helping to maintain the region's position as a world number one golf destination. We were alarmed at this interpretation of the scheme since it was not designed as a tourism support scheme but rather a scheme to enable sporting organisations to weather the pandemic.
Chairman Humphrey concluded:
The Committee understands that the SSF was developed quickly in response to the problems created by the pandemic and the scheme, as instituted, had significant flaws. We believe that it is crucial that all Government departments learn from this and, if such programme is required in the future, that more attention is paid to ensuring a fairer distribution of funds.