Rust: we're in a better place today than beginning of 2015
BHA chief executive Nick Rust says British racing is growing to its full potential as he called on the sport to stick together to meet its challenges.
Rust was speaking on Monday at York racecourse at the first of a series of four industry roadshows taking place across Britain over the coming days.
Togetherness was a recurring theme of Rust's keynote address and he said it had helped bring a boost to racing's funding from the government's proposed levy replacement scheme close to realisation.
Rust said he was confident the scheme, which should bring in an extra £30 million to £40m in income, would be in place in April.
Updating industry figures on the progress made on the sport's strategy for growth he said: "While many of the challenges we faced at the beginning of 2015 remain, we’re in a better place today.
"Racing has come together to a large degree in the last few years, making a concerted effort towards common goals, and it is bearing fruit in a number of areas."
Those included the authorised betting partner scheme which he said had brought in at least an additional £10m in income in its first year, growing betting on British racing, near record attendances, and reversing declining trends in horse population and ownership with an additional 500 horses in training compared to 2014.
Rust added: "Our togetherness is bringing improved funding this year from the replacement levy scheme. I have no doubt the progress we have made with the government on the levy was largely due to racing speaking with one voice."
The scheme will extend the levy to betting through digital channels.
"The sport will have for the first time the opportunity to decide completely how levy income is spent," Rust said. "We have some major issues to address and will need to plan the expenditure carefully."
The secondary legislation to enact levy reform has not yet been laid, while state aid approval has also not been received, but Rust is confident the system will be in place by the April target date, although he did acknowledge there was a chance of a legal challenge.
He said: "The government announced April so I’m very confident that this will be in place for April. I’m pretty confident it will pass European state aid concerns given the amount of time and care the DCMS has taken with framing the legislation.
"The statutory instrument is expected at some point over the next few weeks. Obviously it’s very important exactly how that is laid down to make sure it has the intended effect and I know the DCMS has taken time and trouble to make sure the last i's are dotted and t's are crossed."
Rust also acknowledged there was still much to do, citing the low returns to participants at grassroots level, difficulties recruiting and retaining stable staff, growing interest in the sport and prioritising equine welfare.
He concluded: "We've come together and made some progress and we still have many challenges.
"But we now have more confidence in ourselves and more belief in our sport and its worth. British racing is growing up to its full potential. We have much we can still achieve.
"We have a great history, pedigree and sport, let's stick together and build it together. We can do this."