A variety of the functions of local government are relevant to empowering people to use physical activity to promote well-being. Issues like equal access to leisure services and open spaces are obvious, but other factors such as the fear of crime, reliable public transport, accessibility and the quality of facilities can have a marked effect on uptake. Local government's understanding of local needs and behavioural barriers, local demography and local opportunities is key if a coherent blueprint for the future is to be developed and delivered to tackle inactivity and improve the population health of the respective localities.
Councils have the ability to help sport and activity become a habit for life in local communities. With physical inactivity costing the UK Government £8.2 billion per year and in spite of the best efforts of local authorities many public health outcomes are often not being met. It has therefore never been so critical that all areas of local government and the wider public sector work collaboratively and cross departmentally to ensure the visions developed nationally, regionally, and locally on sport and health policy are delivered upon.
Having a clear understanding of the need for activity focused facilities and infrastructures in an area is critical to maintaining and improving opportunities for participation. By involving a range of local authority departments and other parties such as national governing bodies of sport, county sports partnerships and the private sector it can provide significant long-term benefits across the entire local government environment.
The latest Sport England led “Active Lives Survey” showed that the proportion of people from lower socioeconomic groups who play sport (26%) remains much lower than those from more affluent groups (39.5%), continuing the trend of the last three years. These latest statistics also show that a carefully targeted, insight-led approach can work in increasing activity amongst certain demographics and local authorities now need to focus on these identified underrepresented groups in order to re-balance the health equity across their communities and apply preventative health measures that achieve targeted public health outcomes and reduce the financial burden faced by many public services. Sport England's "Towards an Active Nation" provides numerous investment opportunities for locally led projects which can improve health and wellbeing across local communities.
Switching more journeys to active travel will improve health, quality of life, the environment and local productivity whilst reducing costs to the public purse. An aspect of our conference will set out the many benefits of increasing physical activity through active travel and how through strong investment a rebalancing of our travel system can be achieved.
Creating Active Communities 2017 will examine the variety of opportunities both behavioural and financial that are available to local government. With millions of pounds being made available across a variety of sources to help transform areas and improve population health and wellbeing, there has never been a more pivotal time for our communities to act.