|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 425phasing-in of CCT to allow those involved later to learn from the experience of the councils that first operated the procedure. The new timetable requiring all local authorities in England and Wales to have implemented the CCT procedure 100 per cent. by January 1993 is both impractical and unworkable. It will create intolerable pressure for some local authorities, including my own local authority in Tameside, with the draft order bringing the tender date forward by a whole year.
The contract has also been designed in such a way that escalating costs of administration--in combination with the new timetable--will defeat the very object of the tendering exercise. Pressure of time will adversely affect the safety of sports and leisure facilities such as swimming baths, as health and safety specifications must be comprehensive to protect the consumer.
The situation is reaching crisis point, largely because of the legislation that the Government are introducing. I could list many examples of the concerns felt by sports people and sports organisations. Instead, let me give one. I recently attended a forum at which many teachers expressed concern about the way in which physical education is being threatened as a result of the introduction of the national curriculum. It is almost certain that, because of the pressure of time, physical education will lose out to other worthwhile subjects such as maths and science at a time when the situation, especially in primary schools, is becoming critical. It seems ironic that the current disposal rate of so-called surplus playing fields-- 800 were up for grabs last year--even in inner-city areas so desperately short of open spaces means that soon no fields will be available, even for private management to exploit. It is therefore clear that the order is yet another half-baked measure of a type that is becoming characteristic of the Department of the Environment. It was a vain hope on the part of many of my colleagues and I that the new Secretary of State would have a clearer understanding of the problems of sport, but no such luck. He should have listened to the views expressed following the Green Paper exercise when 95 per cent. of those consulted rejected the Government's whole approach.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) referred to the third volume of the contractors' audit commissioned by Manchester city council entitled "The Price of Winning" which was published last week. It shows how unlikely it is that hundreds of companies will eagerly queue up to take over the 1,500 sports halls, 1,000 swimming pools, 250,000 soccer pitches, 100,000 cricket pitches, golf courses, tennis courts and parachute centres that are up for grabs. History tells us that when sports facilities are privatised the outcome can hardly be considered an unqualified success. Reference has been made to Wandsworth. That jewel in the Government's crown, that pioneer of privatisation, tried to put the Latchmere centre pools out to tender in 1983, but not one bid was received. The Sobell centre in Islington was brought into the public sector by
Column 426the council because, even with subsidies of £250,000, the trust established to run it, involving firms such as Mecca, could not make the centre pay.
Some people in sport have said that within five years we will see little difference between the good management in the public sector and that in the private sector. A more likely scenario would be a repeat of what has happened to other privatised council services. Last week's audit study found that the lower paid suffer. Where CCT has been introduced, 90 per cent. of the 1,400 jobs lost were manual jobs and 70 per cent. of those jobs were filled by women at very low wages.
Given that councils will continue to own the sports centres and retain discretionary powers over pricing, the only possible way to make savings for the new private sector managers--who will undoubtedly arrange higher salaries for themselves because that is what has happened over the past few years--will be through cutting wages, cutting staff numbers and lowering safety standards. As a Member sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees, I deprecate any move that makes lower-paid workers earn even lower wages, and I also deprecate the lowering of safety standards. Even if private sector companies bother to bid, how will the companies that win tenders hope to make a profit without cutting pay rates, staffing levels or corners in safety provision?
Much play has been made by the Government--and the Minister did this again today--that local councils will supposedly be able to continue to determine admission prices and opening hours at sports facilities. When the Minister replies, will he comment on the point made by the former Under-Secretary of State, who said that local authorities will be permitted
"to delegate their discretionary charging powers to contractors who manage sports facilities". [ Official Report, 2 March 1989 ; Vol. 148, c. 283. ]
This order will have a serious effect on sports like swimming which is particularly expensive to operate. It is highly significant that many of the failures of CCT have involved swimming pools. There is particular concern among physical education teachers and the Amateur Swimming Association that in future children will have less opportunity to learn to swim under supervision. Even without this legislation, it is a sad fact that one in five men and one in three women cannot swim, and on average 800 people are drowned every year. We have already heard about Westminster. The Otter swimming club in Westminster is one of the country's most consistently successful clubs, but it has lost three subsidised hours of swimming a week because prices for pool hire have risen. In my constituency, the Hyde Seal amateur swimming club, which was once the world champion club, is alarmed by the threat that this order poses for the sport. Organisations representing disadvantaged groups such as the disabled have expressed strong fears. Those who need encouragement to pursue sport and leisure activities--that includes the disabled--are certainly not at the forefront of the Government's thinking.
The goal of achieving high quality and widely accessible services will be replaced by the need to meet financial targets. In short, the Government should realise that private contractors cannot compete with local authorities in developing certain management facilities. Local authorities have much more intimate knowledge of local needs and conditions. The private sector, motivated by profit or by cost-effectiveness, is unlikely to have the same
Column 427positive approach to encouraging mass participation through subsidisation. If the Government genuinely believe in a sport-for-all policy, they must withdraw this nonsensical order. More and more sportsmen and women are asking, "What have the Government got against sport and recreation?"
The Government's sports policy--if that is not a contradiction in terms--is completely bankrupt. The order is just another example of the way in which they are discriminating against sporting activity in this country. It is desperately sad that the Government seem unable to grasp the fact that sport is of immense benefit to our society and an integral factor in improving the quality of life.
Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North) : I promised the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) that, if he caught your eye tonight, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would say nice things about him because of my savage attack on him during the debate on the Football Spectators Bill. After the nonsense that hon. Members have heard, I must desist from the accolades I was about to pay him. At least we heard some words of knowledge from him about sport, which is rather more than I can say about his hon. Friend the Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said that this is a privatisation matter. That is nonsense. Some Conservative Members almost wish that it were. Many of us would like most sports centres and facilities to be taken out of local authority hands and sold to the private sector, which would be of immense benefit. However, that is not what the order states. It states that the facilities are not for sale. The motion merely asks the House to approve the order, which says to the ratepayers of this country that we believe that sports centres and leisure facilities should be considered in terms of the money that they are spending--taxpayers' money--to make absolutely certain that that money is spent correctly and wisely.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) has said, the siren voices among the Opposition have no concern for ratepayers' money. They think that there is a bottomless pit and they will not even consider sports facilities in terms of their management capability and the opportunities that they offer. It is nonsense for the Opposition to say that the order excludes any form of public benefit. Many examples could be given--they can be given if need be, but it would take until tomorrow morning to do so--of facilities that have had private input. They have brought immense benefit to those who genuinely believe in and want to participate in sport. The benefit has been afforded not only to participants but to hard-pressed ratepayers.
Of course, Opposition Members do not worry about ratepayers. They exclude them from the debate. Opposition Members say that the order will exclude the disabled and those in our society who are most disadvantaged. Again that is nonsense. The order gives
Column 428councils, so beloved by Opposition Members, the opportunity to say to those who manage their facilities--I sincerely hope that many private firms will manage facilities--"We still want an input. We still want to give some subsidy to make sure that those very people are given opportunities."
That is the tragedy of the speech by the hon. Member for Dagenham. He came fresh into the debate, advised as he was at the very last minute by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) for whom Conservative Members have great affection because he knows what he is talking about. Sadly, he may not catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Member for Dagenham did not understand the order, but that is no surprise in one who has so suddenly come on to the scene.
Mr. Colvin rose--
Mr. Colvin : I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because I must spring to the defence of the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). I thought that he made the case convincingly for greater flexibility in the provision of the services for which local government currently tenders, but surely, the one way to obtain the flexibility that he wants is to put these services out to tender?
Mr. Carlisle : Of course it is. My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I am afraid that the hon. Member for Dagenham was obviously so new to it tonight that he did not understand the full implications of the two years' discussion.
The order will bring a sharper perspective to the management of leisure and sports facilities. It will also bring vast opportunities to those young people who are training now and attempting to enter sports facility management but who are currently unable to find any opportunities. If the private sector is allowed in, as I believe and hope that it will be-- although many town halls will obviously try to frustrate that--it will enable a complete new career structure to emerge. The Audit Commission has said that, in all the other services that have been put out to tender, a saving of 20 per cent. is available, and that will increase the opportunities available to those young people.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : May I take the hon. Gentleman away from the aspects of profits and into the aspects of safety? Does he share my concern about some of the terms of the order? Although local authorities will be able to set the programme for the safety aspects of sports centres, the order does not make clear the influence that the local authority can exercise over the contractors' ability to comply with health and safety legislation. Does he agree that when costs are cut to make greater profits, safety becomes an issue and the public's safety is put at risk?
Mr. Carlisle : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. He must understand that whoever takes on the management of these facilities must remain within the law and the strictures that the Health and Safety Executive imposes upon those leisure facilities. Just because a facility passes into private hands, that does not mean that it becomes outside the law. Opposition Members seem to feel that those who might tender--indeed, people are queueing
Column 429up to tender for these facilities--will have to keep within the rules and the legislation that has been laid down by the House. But what really grates on the Opposition is that that will bring a new professional approach to leisure and sports facilities. Opposition Members must understand--and in their heart of hearts they must agree--that that does not exist in the majority of sports centres today. Of course there are the exceptions which my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) mentioned in the rather Mad Hatter style that he brings to the House-- [Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] I do not agree with all that he says but in terms of improving the management of those facilities, those in the private sector can bring a breath of fresh air--
Mr. Pike rose --
The order at last brings the ratepayers of this country
Mr. Madden : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Do you agree that it is outrageous for the hon. Gentleman to attack the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) in his absence in such a way? Is it in order to call into question the sanity of the hon. Member for Macclesfield?
Mr. Carlisle : My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield and myself are the closest personal friends ; we have a deep affection for each other and I know that when he reads the Official Report in the morning-- [Interruption.] Perhaps my hon. Friend has ventured out of the Chamber because he does not want to be embarrassed by the vote at 12 o'clock--I do not know.
In conclusion, Conservative Members find it extra-ordinary to wonder about exactly what the Opposition are frightened of. They are frightened of another body looking at the facilities that are run by both Labour and Conservative councils and saying to them, "The facility that you are offering your ratepayers could be improved." Of course, "improvement" is not a word that the Opposition like. It is the availability--
Mr. Allen McKay rose --
The order presents an opportunity for many young people in this country to have new facilities and new opportunities. As has been said, in places such as Basingstoke, which is to privatise, or put into the private sector, its swimming facilities, there will be longer hours and greater variety in the services that are offered. It is that type of variety and opportunity that sticks in the throats of Opposition Members and that is why we support the order.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East) : I should like to take this opportunity to raise a point of particular constituency interest before turning to some more general observations. I shall try to be as brief as possible because many hon. Members wish to speak.
Column 430I do not know whether, when the Under- Secretary of State for Scotland, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), attended St. Andrews university, he played golf. If he did not, I hope that he is aware that the golf courses there, particularly Old Course, are managed by trustees appointed under the St. Andrews Links Order Confirmation Act 1974. The local authority owns the golf courses but has no part in their management. Indeed, by legislation the House has provided otherwise.
I understand that the order can apply only to what are described as defined authorities which are defined in section 1 of the principal Act. It seems that the order cannot apply to the golf courses at St. Andrews, particularly to Old Course which is of world renown. I observe from the assenting nods of the Minister for Sport and the hon. Member for Stirling that that is the case. In the light of that silent undertaking, which will undoubtedly be repeated verbally when the Under-Secretary replies, I can pass on to more general observations.
The debate has revealed a sharp division in philosophy about the way in which public facilities should be managed. I am most interested in the anxiety of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) to ensure that ratepayers get value for money. If he were to conduct an opinion poll among ratepayers in an area with a substantial number of public sporting facilities, he would find that the vast majority are perfectly satisfied with the management of the facilities. They would undoubtedly regard it as doctrinaire and unnecessary that the policy of privatisation should be applied to such facilities.
In his introduction to the order, the Minister did not promise us one more international sportsman as a result of the order passing into law, or a broadening of the base of the pyramid of participation which is the essential feature of the development of sport and recreation.
The Minister for Sport should have opposed these measures root and branch. He should not be here signifying his acquiescence to them. His job is to be the sports representative in Government, not the Government representative in sport.
All these proposals have been universally condemned by sporting bodies that know something about the management of facilities. The proposals undermine the national strategy which the Scottish Sports Council is endeavouring to implement in its programme Sport 2000. They are opposed by the Central Council of Physical Recreation. Mr. Peter Lawson recently pointed out that the average deficit on running a swimming pool is £200,000 a year. How is a pool to be run profitably unless one makes some concessions in safety and staffing? The curious legal relationship which will exist between the local authority and the management company may well mean that the local authority will continue to have the legal responsibility for safety, but not the means of discharging it because the management company has been interposed between it and the people who use the facility. These facilities were built with public money and with a public purpose. They were never designed to be run by management companies in any element of their activities. When did we last hear of private enterprise building a
Column 431track such as the international standard running track at Gateshead which has had such a profound effect on sport and social conditions? How many Olympic swimming pools have been built by private money? Not one.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : The hon. and learned Gentleman has mentioned Gateshead. I would have done so if there had been time and if I had caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Gateshead has been successful because staff of all departments can be used when major events are taking place at the stadium. That flexibility will be lost if the order is agreed to. Flexibility is an extremely important factor, and Conservative Members are ignorant of it.
The Minister seems not to understand--I speak of track and field athletics, which I profess to know something about--that the majority of the fine atheletes who represent the United Kingdom in such events as the European cup enjoy their first taste of sport at public facilities which are provided by public funds. Their Olympic aspirations, unlike the Minister's and my own, were not nurtured in the cloisters of universities. The days of Corinthian sportsmen have long since gone. Public facilities make the most significant of all contributions to sport. The order will do nothing for sportsmen of the next generation, and that is why the Government stand condemned. We shall vote against the order.
Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing) : The House will have noticed the remarkable contrast between my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, who gave way generously to those who wished to intervene, and the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), who did not give way at all. I am not surprised, because my hon. Friend, like myself, is an ex-Olympic athlete and is not worried about competition.
I wish to make a brief constituency contribition on timing, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will clarify the matter for me. He will know from the strong representations which I have made on behalf of my constituents that Worthing is to host the world bowls championships and that it is anxious that there should be appropriate preparations to ensure that the greens are of an exceptionally high standard. That being so, the timing of the implementation of the order is important. A change of management ahead of the championships would create a considerable problem. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that it is important that the facilities at an international event should be of the highest possible standard. I understand that the order will accommodate the representation that I am making and that the existing management will be able to proceed to prepare facilities for the world bowls championships without interruption.
Column 43211.33 pm
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : It must be made clear that local authorities in Wales and throughout Britain are appalled by the scale of the task that will face them, and that is what the Minister seems to have disregarded. A heavy burden will be placed on local authorities by the inefficiency and the cost penalty for local services that the Government are introducing. The timescale for the introduction of the measure is worrying when we consider the leisure centres, pools, bowling greens and other facilities that will be involved. The proposals are predictable and contain nothing that is new. The Government have listened to no one and they have learnt nothing.
I can say on behalf of Welsh Members that the measure is rejected wholeheartedly in Wales, where local authorities recognise the manpower burden that is being imposed on them by a political party whose record of providing sports and leisure facilities has been appalling. Why has the Secretary of State for Wales been so silent? Why has he allowed this piece of dogma to be imposed on Wales? I do not wish it to be imposed on England or Scotland either, but in Wales there are many local councils that have spent years trying to provide decent facilities for their communities, and there is no reason for this piece of inefficiency to be imposed upon them.
The Minister tried to say that the order was not about preventing sports and leisure facilities from being provided in future, but that was meaningless in view of the straitjacket that is being placed on local authorities. Cardiff city council has received a 65 per cent. cut in capital money for the coming financial year. Most of the minuscule remainder will have to go to housing, where there is a desperate need. That proves that the Government are determined to undermine sports and leisure facilities as facilities for the communities.
Local authorities in Wales have long sought to provide decent facilities for their communities. Neither the Conservative party nor its masters in the private sector did anything to provide decent facilities. For example, in 1973 Cardiff had no leisure centre. Now we are close to having a pattern which can serve the whole city. Slowed down by occasional aberrations of Tory administrations, Labour has created the pattern, communities have benefited and the centres are generally respected and valued. They should not be messed up by this measure, which introduces another tier of wasteful administration into local government.
Why do this dogmatic and blinkered Government have to interfere and thrust their partisan views down local councillors' throats? If the Government are right and the measure will introduce efficiency, why do they have to dictate to local authorities and force the order down their throats? Local councillors know what their local communities need and want, and have provided it. One Conservative Member who left the debate early said that the order was pure political diktat. The Minister should keep his nose out and leave local authorities to provide what their communities want and need.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes (Harrow, West) : What we have heard from Opposition Members tonight makes it abundantly clear that the Labour party is interested only in who runs sports facilities, not what goes on inside them.
Column 433It is not interested in how much they are used, how good they are or in seeing them improved. Those interests are held only by Conservative Members, not Opposition Members.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) said that the philosophy of the measure is wrong and the Government should never have conceived it in this way. I do not know what the outcome was when Chelmsford council put its facilities out to private tender. However, that council is run by the hon. and learned Members' party and if the philosophy is wrong and something of which the Government should be ashamed, why did he not at least admit what had been done by councils run by his own party ? Perhaps he does not even know about that.
Mr. Hughes : Now we are told that those councils were wrong. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East merely gave a political view which was humbug, as he knows. The measure will lead to the use of more imagination.
Mr. Clelland rose--
This country's leisure industry is growing in private hands. Imagination and flair are being shown and new opportunities are being brought to young people in many areas.
The Opposition's argument has been dominated by the idea that the measure will put safety standards at risk. Private industries are concerned that their own high standards--including their methodical approach to safety and the way they train their staff are frequently being lowered by local authorities. In some cases, local authorities run facilities without trained staff and operate complicated leisure machinery without ensuring that the people using it know how unsafe it is. There are many incidences of that. Standards are higher in the private sector.
Mr. Allen McKay : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it right for an hon. Member who is protected by the House to slander local authorities and say that their leisure centres are short of staff and dangerous? Does not the hon. Member for Harrow, West (Mr. Hughes) know that they are run by professional people, not the local authorities?
Mr. Hughes : Opposition Members should listen to this, because any accidents would be on their consciences. [Interruption.] I intend to name a local authority to illustrate my point. Leisure facilities at the Glasgow garden festival, run by the Glasgow local authority, were operated by local authority staff who, in the opinion of many people in the private sector, had not been trained to use them. They did not know what they were doing, and it is the opinion of many safety experts that it was only a matter of luck that an accident was avoided.
We heard an important announcement from the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould). He said that councils are unlikely to build new facilities if the order is passed. I believe that he was expressing the Labour party's
Column 434view which is, "If you do not allow us to manage and operate these facilities, we will take our bat and ball home and we will not build any new ones." That is not our view. Many Conservative authorities will use this opportunity and the money generated to ensure that they increase the number of facilities in their area.
The order is welcome in my local authority. People will recognise it for what it is--an opportunity to provide better facilities for the people who want to use them.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : We have just heard an appropriately squalid little speech to match a squalid little measure. Glasgow district council needs no lessons from wee boys from Harrow about how to run its leisure facilities. We will pursue that matter again.
The Minister has attracted an unusual number of soubriquets in his short career. Perhaps after this he will go down in Thatcherite mythology as the man who tried to privatise putting greens. The only argument we have heard in support of the measure is based on the incompetence of Westminster city council, which apparently could not open its leisure facilities before 8 am.
This is a doctrinaire measure which will be supported in the Lobby by people who know nothing of sport and who care even less. they certainly cannot aspire to the vision of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North- East (Mr. Campbell) who realises that sport can change people's lives. Access to facilities in many areas of the country provides an opportunity for young people to achieve and to aspire to a world outside. All that which has been built up by local authorities in this direction is to be put at risk, in the interest of private profit.
We have nothing against the private sector. There are many opportunities open to the private sector in leisure and recreation. The report "Sport 2000" published by the Scottish Sports Council listed what sports facilities are needed. By the year 2000 we need in Scotland alone 210 new centres, 44 new swimming pools, 25 new ice halls, 400 new tennis courts and 13 new track and field facilities. That would provide plenty of opportunities for the private sector to contribute. However, it will contribute nothing. It is at present closing down ice rinks and private sports centres. All that the private sector has to offer in response to the great need that exists for better sports and leisure facilities throughout the country is to act as a parasite upon that which has already been created by public enterprise.
Conservative Members do not understand ; they can think only in terms of bricks and mortar combined with commercial services. The Magnum leisure facility in Irvine, which serves my constituency, is open from 5 am to 3 the following morning and is used by 1 million people a year. It is a wonderful public enterprise, and to separate the bricks and mortar from the management functions and social commitment of the people who run it is a fantasy that only Conservative Members could entertain. The centre is an integrated unit, and as soon as anyone tries to split it, the philosophy that brought it into being in the first place and has sustained it, is destroyed.
Let us see what those who understand and care for the arguments about how facilities are run have to say. The Amateur Swimming Association says :
Column 435"we do not relish the prospect of being at the mercy of operators intent on achieving financial targets, at the expense of facilities available to the sport or indeed as a service to the community at large."
It understands. The All England Netball Association :
"It will be exceedingly difficult to retain the philanthropic aims of the local authority centres with a commercial operator standing to reap the rewards of a more commercial approach."
It understands. These organisations understand that one cannot separate the facility from the service provided in it
Sir Nicholas Bonsor (Upminster) rose --
If the local authority is committed to its social remit and the commercial operator to his profit motive, friction is caused in what should be a big happy family serving the community. The clash of interests leads to a diminution of the purpose for which the centre was created.
The definition of management function in the order poses far more questions than it answers. Instruction and supervision, we are told, are to be part of the management function. Would any parent prefer supervision and instruction to be in the hands of the private operator, not those of the local authority? Taking bookings will also be in the hands of the private operator, not of the local authority. That provides scope for manipulation and the squeezing out of minority interests.
Mr. John Carlisle rose --
Mr. Wilson : This management function does not seem to include outreach to the community. Who is to be responsible for the outreach that has brought in so many disadvantaged groups to the sports centres? Will the local authority continue to pick up that tab if that whole edifice is not to collapse?
There is no mention of the training of staff, even of swimming pool staff, in the definition of management function. Is it for the local authority to pick up that tab, or will the training of staff be removed from the responsibilities of those running sports facilities?
We hear so much about privatisation and enterprise from Conservative Members, but it is a pathetic apology for private enterprise when all it can do is to take over existing public enterprises. Conservative Members cannot stomach the fact that so many of the great sports and leisure facilities around Britain, and the vision that underlay them, were provided by the public sector. Meadowbank, the Kelvin hall, Gateshead, and the great municipal golf courses were all provided by public enterprise. When the private sector can match that, it will have something to offer. Instead, it takes over these facilities to commercialise them.
Nothing has worth, according to Conservative Members, unless it has a commercial value. We reject this philosophy. Sport and leisure have much more to offer our society than mere commercial value. This measure is due to take effect in 1992. By then the Government will be out of office, and there will be no more of the sort of squalid rubbish that we are debating tonight.