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Calls for sugar levy cash for fitness initiatives to be protected

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ukactive and local councils want to see cash earmarked for boosting physical activity in schools protected after concerns were raised that money could be diverted to plug a gap in education funding.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is worried that money due to be raised from the soft drinks levy will be used to shore up a shortfall in school budgets.

In February, the previous government announced that the £415m (US$543.1m, €465.3m) levy pot would be invested in facilities to support sports, after-school activities and promote healthy eating, as part of a healthy pupils capital programme.

It also pledged to ensure that the amount schools receive would not fall below £415m (US$543.1m, €465.3m) regardless of the funds generated by the levy.

However, last week the Department for Education announced that £315m (US$412.2m, €353.2m) from this will be used to address school cash shortages, leaving £100m (US$130.9m, €112.1m) to help schoolchildren improve their fitness and get healthier.

Education Secretary of State Justine Greening told parliament that efficiencies and savings across the government’s capital budget could release £420m [US$549.7m, €470.9m]. She said: “The majority of this will be from healthy pupils capital funding - from which we will make savings of £315m [US$412.2m, €353.2m]. This reflects reductions in forecast revenue from the soft drinks industry levy.

"I will be able to channel the planned budget, which remains in place, to frontline schools, while meeting our commitment that every pound of England’s share of spending from the levy will continue to be invested in improving child health, including £100m [US$130.9m, €112.1m] in 2018-19 for healthy pupils capital.”

Local government leaders have said money being taken away from healthy and sporting initiatives could “derail” the previous Government’s childhood obesity plan, which was published in August 2016.

Cllr Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “It is vital that the soft drinks levy, which marked a significant step in the fight against obesity, is protected.

“Schemes that encourage physical activity, healthy eating and improve children’s mental and physical health, which the levy would have been used to pay for, cannot be seen as nice to do but fundamentally non-essential.”

Backing the LGA, Jack Shakespeare, head of ukactive Kids, said: “Physical inactivity is society’s silent killer and the biggest tragedy is that it’s creeping up on our children before they’ve even left the playground.

“It’s therefore vital that we protect every funding stream in the overarching budget allocated to getting kids moving and we stand alongside the LGA and other partners to hold the Government to account on this agenda.

“Our ukactive research shows that it’s vital to fund projects both inside and outside the school gates, as well as exploring ways we can open empty school facilities in the holidays to offer affordable activities and nutrition to all children as part of a whole-health approach.”

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ukactive and local councils want to see cash earmarked for boosting physical activity in schools protected after concerns were raised that money could be diverted to plug a gap in education funding.
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