The fact that the Minister for Sport, Tracey Crouch MP, has recently launched a government consultation entitled ‘A New Strategy for Sport’ at a time when a shortage of stable staff has become a high profile subject, should send a strong message to racing.
This consultation process embraces a lot of subjects relevant to horseracing, none more so than how we recruit and retain our workforce. Part of it focuses on how sport can perform a social good in developing skills and education, providing positive opportunities and role models, both through links with schools and in local communities.
It is true that racing already has a good story to tell within these areas through the two racing schools and initiatives such as Racing Together – also, through our excellent charities such as the Injured Jockeys Fund and Racing Welfare, both of which do outstanding work in helping racing’s participants. That said, we should recognise the obvious connection between youth unemployment generally and racing’s need to fill job vacancies.
The Minister for Sport would surely be interested to hear that racing has at least 500 job vacancies for stable staff
With this consultation pressing, the Minister for Sport would surely be interested to hear that racing has at least 500 job vacancies for stable staff, while trainers report poor responses to job applications – a problem made worse since the change in immigration policy stopped the recruitment of labour from outside the EC.
As part of its story, racing would concede that, while it may have been caught out by these revelations, especially at a time when the industry is pushing to have 1,000 more horses in training, it has nevertheless long recognised the importance of attracting and retaining a good workforce, as demonstrated by the BHA setting up a Participant Welfare and Training Pillar.
While admitting that, initially, racing had only committed a minuscule budget to improve recruitment, we would tell the Minister that we have now tried to respond to the gravity of the situation by persuading the Racing Foundation to commit to spending £1 million over the next three years to help address the problem. And it would surely impress her to know these funds have come from the sale of the Tote.
But, we would acknowledge, this still fairly modest budget is only the first step. More important is getting the right strategies in place so that working in racing becomes more appealing to a greater number of young people. Some will already have horse skills but, overall, we have to introduce measures to make working in racing a viable career choice to a much greater number of school leavers.
The Minister needs to be aware that in the British Racing School and the Northern Racing College, we have two excellent institutions to train young people, but we have to find a way of increasing their intake.
We would say that, however difficult it used to be to make the case for a career in racing when low pay and working unsociable hours were constantly paraded as reasons for looking elsewhere, this is simply no longer true. And, in any case, there is a compelling argument that for young people who have a love of animals, and who possess the right temperament and attitude, racing offers a much better quality of life than, say, factory work or no work at all.
We would explain that it is difficult to attract more youngsters into racing at a time when people generally are getting heavier so the pool of potential workers is diminishing all the time. However, not everyone is too heavy and not everyone in a racing yard needs to be a work-rider. There is much to be said for training young people of an average weight in equine skills without it being necessary for them to be aspiring jockeys.
And so our meeting with the Minister would surely conclude with an agreement on the glaringly apparent mutual benefits of increasing and improving racing’s workforce while helping youth employment and the rural economy. What you might call a win-win.