WAO Suggests ‘Wales Needs Fitness Tsar’
Moves to tackle our couch potato society are being hampered by a lack of effort among our public bodies, the Wales Audit Office warns today.
The Auditor General, Jeremy Colman, said public bodies needed to “sharpen up their efforts” if public health targets are to be met.
In a report on the Assembly’s strategy to improve Wales’ poor fitness record, the Audit Office said that despite some progress, there was little co-ordination between public bodies. And it suggested a new “fitness Tsar” should be appointed by the Assembly Government to get its anti-obesity programme moving
The report identifies too much duplication and too little co-ordination between Ministers, local councils and voluntary bodies. It says the answer is to appoint one figure with responsibility for delivering the 20-year strategy.
The strategy, Climbing Higher, was launched in January 2005 with the aim of reversing Wales’ image as a couch potato society.
Among the targets are to provide all public sector employees, and three quarters of all other employees, with access to sport facilities within a 10-minute walk of the workplace.
Ministers also want to see 90% of children taking part in 60 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on at least five days of the week by 2020.
The scale of the challenge is huge. Only one third of adults are carrying out the recommended levels of physical activity a week (at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week). And nearly half of all adults are classed as “inactive”
Meanwhile only 24% of secondary school children are meeting the 60-minutes target.
In Wales, the total cost of physical inactivity – to the health service and the economy as a whole – is around £650m per year.
The Audit Office says the 20-year Climbing Higher strategy has “acted as a catalyst” but there still needs to be more co-ordination. It also says the free swimming scheme, introduced in 2003 for children and older people, could be improved, and should have a national participation target.
“The complexity of the issue requires the involvement of a large number of organisations, increasing the risk of inefficiency and ineffectiveness,” the report says.
“This increases the potential for confusion, duplication of effort and inefficiency.”
Only 11 physical activity networks or partnerships are in existence across the 22 local authorities in Wales, the auditors find, leading them to conclude that provision across Wales is “patchy”.
In Wales 18% of adults are obese and 36% are overweight, with 22% of children and adolescents obese or overweight. In a comparison of 34 countries, only Malta and US reported higher figures.
The Audit Office says ministers should appoint a steering group and one individual to oversee “all physical activity work in Wales”.
Mr Colman said, “Public bodies need to sharpen up their efforts if they want to turn Wales into an active nation. Changing people’s behaviours is not an easy task, but a more co-ordinated approach from all organisations involved can make a difference. The Assembly Government’s strategy needs to be improved in some areas to encourage greater success at local level.”
A spokesman for the Welsh Assembly Government said that as the report was to the Audit Committee it would be inappropriate to comment until the committee had considered it.
In a statement the Sports Council for Wales said, “Two years into the process of delivering Climbing Higher, there is evidence that progress is being made and the Sports Council will continue to work in partnership with all stakeholders to help deliver increased and sustainable levels of sport and physical activity for children, young people and adults in Wales.”
Conservative health spokesman Jonathan Morgan said the report highlighted the danger of the Assembly Government introducing initiatives without properly thinking through the consequences.
“It is clear that there has not been sufficient cross-departmental working. Organisations have also been unaware who is responsible for taking the lead on key issues.”