ITV News investigation reveals grassroot sports are feeling the squeeze of council cuts

By Amy Lewis and Jonathan Mitchell

Spending on sport and leisure in the capital has been cut by almost a third over the past five years, an ITV News London investigation has discovered.

We contacted all of London's 32 borough councils and those that responded said their sport budget had fallen by an average of more than £400,000 during that period.

Newham was the venue for the 2012 Games, but there is not an Olympic-sized pot of cash to help keep people active. The council has cut £1.9 million pounds from its sport and leisure budget, a fall of 45 percent.

Royal Falcons FC, who have been based in Newham for 25 years, say many of the local teams around them have folded because it is so expensive to hire facilities, meaning they have to travel to Essex to compete. The club, which has 300 young players and pays to play on council pitches, has to raise £15,000 per year to survive.

The club's vice-chair, Nick Crickmar, told ITV, "It's hugely difficult for parents, there's a huge amount of pressure, it's forcing children and parents out of the game, and out of the area into other boroughs. Grassroots football in Newham is almost dead, it's clinging on by its fingernails, there are very few teams left in Newham".

The government wants more of us to keep active and sets targets on participation, but not on how many facilities should be offered. London Playing Fields Foundation was set up in 1890 to help protect the capital's pitches.

Its chief executive, Alex Welsh, say their job is getting harder because of the demand for more housing and the pressure on council budgets. He says, "If we are really serious about combatting obesity and knife crime isn't it illogical to get rid of the places where communities can be more active and where we can encourage young people to join teams rather than gangs".

Newham Council says its overall funding from government has been halved since 2010, adding, “This is a very new administration which has made the provision of activities to keep young people safe and unlock their potential as a top priority. The new Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, has pledged to double the number of youth hubs.

“Across London boroughs it makes little sense to look at the provision of sports pitches in isolation from the availability of facilities in neighbouring and easily accessible boroughs. In addition to the sports pitches for hire in Newham, residents have access to facilities at nearby Hackney Marshes and Wanstead Flats."

There is concern across the capital, though, that sport and leisure budgets will continue to be cut. London already has 16 percent of the country's population and just eight per cent of its pitches.