Select Committee on Health Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 627 - 639)




  627. Colleagues, can I welcome you to the second part of this morning's session and particularly welcome the Minister, we are most grateful that you have been willing to come along to this Committee; obviously, we are aware of your interest in this aspect of our inquiry, we are grateful for your co-operation. I wonder if I can ask you to introduce yourself briefly, and your colleague to introduce himself as well?
  (Kate Hoey) I am Kate Hoey, Minister for Sport in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.
  (Mr Reeves) Harry Reeves, Head of Sport and Recreation Division in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

  628. Obviously, by way of introduction, I think you are well aware that we are nearly at the concluding point of a major inquiry into public health, and we felt it important to look at the role of sport in respect of public health and the connection between sport and health in a wider context. If I can begin, my opening question would be that one of the concerns that I have got, not just about this policy area but policy areas in general, is that we seem to have a tradition in Britain of looking at issues within the kind of narrower context without looking at it in a holistic sense. And certainly it concerns me that, in looking at health, we do not seem to include sport and sporting activity and physical activity, in looking at our strategies on health. We had a session earlier on with colleagues who are directly involved, at a local level, in some respects, with leisure and sporting activities, and it struck me, from one of the answers that we got, that there might even be some merit in suggesting that health funding actually ought to incorporate leisure activity, because the message we were getting loud and clear was that there was an obvious assessment of the major health gains by virtue of people being involved with exercise and activity, so it was cost-effective, in health terms. How do you see these policies connecting up in the big picture, and where your role fits in, in respect of the wider health gains from sporting activity?
  (Kate Hoey) First of all, I am very pleased that you invited me to be here, because I think the important role that sport can play in improving health and preventing ill-health has not really been recognised nearly enough, I think you are absolutely right on that. As far as where I fit in to all of this, I recognise, as Sports Minister, that sport is a very important aspect of people's lives in this country and that it has a huge number of benefits, not least of which are the benefits that it can have on health of people. But, of course, there are a number of other benefits that sport gives, and I think all of us recognise that it is almost commonsense that, if you take exercise regularly, whilst it may not be nice the first time, actually, as you continue to do it, you feel better. Now there is a lot of research that shows that that is right, and increasingly I have felt that one of the things we should be doing more, and I think everybody in Government feels this, is that we should be actually working together much better. When we started to look at how our Sports Strategy was going to come about, it was very clear that the most important thing for us at that time was the need for real concentration on what was happening in schools, because schools are the bedrock of all sporting activity, and it was very clear that there was concern that what was happening in schools was not good enough. So a great deal of the inter-departmental working, in producing our Sports Strategy, was very much with the Department for Education, because, clearly, what was happening in schools, we could say, as Sports Minister, "I want this to happen," but if Education is not signed up to it then it is not going to happen. So, the `A Sporting Future for All', there was some input from the Health Department, but I think, if we look at where we are concentrating on at the moment, it was on schools, and then looking at what happened after school and how you could link what was happening in sports clubs with schools and then looking at the elite end. And I think that now we have the real work that has been done with Education, and I am very pleased at the co-operation there, and we have a joint adviser between the two Departments, Sue Campbell, who has been excellent and has brought the officials together much more closely, so that everyone is aware of the terminology. Because one of the things we discovered was that officials in DCMS and officials in the Department for Education had very different ideas of what was meant by physical education and what was meant by sport; and if you have actually got the officials not speaking and understanding the same language then it makes it difficult to work together. I am very aware that I think the next area of real concentration of co-operation has to be with the Department of Health, and there is already quite a lot of co-operation going on, and I would like to see more of that. Because when we looked, for example, at our Sports Action Zones that were set up, one of the first things, one of the criteria that was looked at, was where there were Health Action Zones, and that many of the indices that we used to decide where the Sports Action Zones were going to be were based around the same things that the Health Action Zones were. And, I think, from my own experience of that, in my own constituency, there has to be a greater working together of those two Zones, and maybe, longer term, a bringing together of the actual overall organisation of them.

  629. One of the issues that has come out of that, including this inquiry, is the placement of the public health function in Government, with a suggestion that the public health function really did not ought to be in the Department of Health, it is a much wider picture that we look at. The other way of looking at it is whether your function is better placed in your current Department or ought to be more effectively somewhere else. Why are you not, for example, in the Health Ministry, whereas I would see, looking at the whole of the work you have done, it directly relates to health objectives, quite clearly? Would you accept there is an argument in respect of your placement elsewhere, where you may have a much bigger role to play in respect of connecting up sport and health? I made the point about my own area, I am in a Health Action Zone and I have not seen a great deal of evidence, in my area or elsewhere, of any real connection between crucially important sporting activity and the formal structures of health, it does not seem to connect. And I get the impression, and you may prove us wrong, that at national government level, similarly, there are connections, and you have described a few already with Education, but those connections are nowhere enough to have a coherent, big picture on health and sport?
  (Kate Hoey) I think that sport does have, there is an involvement with the Home Office, over the work we do with trying to use sport as a method of preventing drug abuse, and there is an involvement with the DETR over all the questions to do with planning and playing-fields. What I have discovered, as probably I should have known, is that being Sports Minister is not, and certainly should not be, just about who has won the last England football match, it is actually a job and a role that touches people's daily lives in every way and contacts all Departments. There have been many debates, over many years, about where the Minister for Sport should be, which Department it should be in, and it has, in fact, changed, as you know, over a period of time. The creation of what was the National Heritage Department and then the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I think, to be honest, that it is probably not the time to start looking again at more reorganisation. It was a bit like when I came in first and people said to me, "Do you think sport is organised correctly in this country?", and if I had a blank sheet of paper I would not have sport organised in the way it is, but sport had gone through a huge reorganisation, just more or less before I came in as Minister for Sport, which took a long time and which all parties were involved with, which meant the setting up of the UK Sports Council and the various home country Sports Councils. And I think the last thing that people out there on the ground want, who are actually delivering and are involved in the small amateur sports clubs, where so much of our sport is delivered, is another whole upheaval and uncertainty.

  630. Yes; but we want to see a connection between what you are doing and other Departments,—
  (Kate Hoey) Very much.

  631. And what I am interested in hearing is, what connection have you had with some fairly recent merger initiatives that the Government have brought about? We had a Mental Health White Paper, and we have had clear evidence of a connection between sporting activity and positive results for individuals' mental health; was your Department involved with that? Was your Department involved in the moves towards Primary Care Trusts, where, clearly, at a local level, some very important connections could be made between local sporting activity and primary care and health and sport, at a very local level? I accept the point about shifting you wherever; the point I am trying to make is that at the moment I do not see the formal connections being made either locally or nationally. So what involvement have you had with major developments in health that have a connection with sport, or could have?
  (Kate Hoey) I will bring in Harry in a second. Certainly, in my year and a few months of being Sports Minister, I have had meetings, obviously, with the Department of Health and the Minister for Public Health, but in terms of a direct involvement in those two particular issues that you have talked about I would say absolutely none. But, at official level, Harry might want to comment, and I think Harry might also want to point out, and it may be helpful, just how small the sports section of this Department is, and I know we are always pleading for more resources, but I think it might be helpful if Harry said a few words.
  (Mr Reeves) Thank you, Minister; yes. On the two specific instances that you mentioned, Mr Chairman, our involvement was very small. We are consulted by a whole range of Departments about issues where they identify a sports dimension, and I think we are getting better, across Government, across Whitehall, at identifying where other Departments can contribute to things that we are doing. In the past, I think, we have been very good at identifying areas where our work cuts across the work of some other Department; for example, in anti-doping in sport, there is a quite obvious health dimension and so you spot it and you talk to them. Where we have been less good is at saying that another Department can contribute to an objective that we are trying to achieve, and I think we are very much trying to improve that, not only by consulting on formal documents, like those you mentioned, but in the whole policy development process. I was in sport in a different role many years ago when sport was part of a much larger Department, and it was and still is a very small unit, as the Minister says, we have 25 people now doing sports policy in the DCMS, and we had about the same number when it was in Environment and then for a short period in Education. There are obvious attractions to having sport in a Department where there are policy links, but the problem is sport was not in the focus, it was not always in the eye-line of Ministers and senior officials in those Departments. I think we probably get more attention from them now, where a Minister goes to those Departments and makes representations, than we ever did when we were part of those Departments.
  (Kate Hoey) I think it sounds like the only Department we have not been in is the Department of Health really.

  632. That is a very interesting point, because we talk about sort of audits, of major economic decisions, is there not a sort of mechanism whereby any decision in the Department of Health might also have a sports audit, looking at the connection? The fact that you have not had involvement with Healthy Living Centres, presumably, with Health Action Zones directly, I would have thought that the connection with your role, in looking at how we develop those concepts at a local level, is crucial?
  (Kate Hoey) I think the school sport co-ordinators, which you probably heard about anyway, earlier, who are coming on-stream now, part of their job will be to work locally with all the agencies, and that would include the healthy school co-ordinators, and the work that is going on directly, and also the NOF money that is being used for after-school activities, of course, is a very big sporting, recreational link into that. But, yes, there is no point us saying that it is all happening, because it is not, but it is not because we are not aware that more should be being done, and I think we have to find ways of doing it. It tends to be piecemeal. At the moment, there is some very good work going on with the Home Office on using sport with young offenders, to prevent them reoffending, we have an official who deals with that, we get involved and there are meetings held, because that happens to be the issue of the day, and I think there is not an overall plan, because if there was I think it would show that we did need to work very differently and have more resources.

  633. Do you think, if we had a free-ranging, Public Health Minister, who could poke about in your Department, as well as every other Government Department, that would make any difference at all?
  (Kate Hoey) I am not sure necessarily it would make any difference, because, of course, what really matters about what is happening to the health of the nation, in terms of what is happening in sport, is what is happening at grass-roots level, and an awful lot of good things are going on that do not necessarily get reported. I think, all Ministers, if we continue to work in the way that we are beginning to do, in a much more focused way of co-ordinating, it might not mean that the Public Health Minister would have to be poking around, as you say, but that actually—

  634. Perhaps that was the wrong term to use; what I meant was a free-ranging role, where the kinds of developments that the Health Department are involved in now, which I think impact directly on sport, and where you could have a major contribution, would be drawn together in a more coherent way?
  (Kate Hoey) Some of the cross-Government sub-committees of Cabinet, and so on, do that, to a certain extent; and certainly if, the way we have worked with Education, we could use that as a way of working in the same way with Health, then a lot of the things that you are talking about are actually happening. Because I think the relationship over the last year with DfEE has really shown that when you have got two Ministers, and one adviser really working directly to two Ministers in two different Departments, and if you get the right person, you can do enormous amounts of co-operation and co-ordination and make sure that each Department's views are brought together.

  635. I am aware of the role of this person because I have talked to you personally about this, but would there be any chance of a briefing note, at some point, about how she has worked, in contact with DfEE, because, clearly, a similar model might be something we could propose?
  (Kate Hoey) I would be very happy to do that. Really, it was one of the things, that both Estelle Morris and myself wanted it to happen, the right person was there, who had the confidence of Sport, Education, and the person really makes a difference as well.

John Austin

  636. Sport and recreational facilities are often under the control of local authorities, and if not under the control they are very often dependent upon funding from local authorities. How is central government and your Department supporting development here, and do you have figures for the total investment of local authorities across England in sport and leisure; does your Department?
  (Kate Hoey) A total of any figures, Harry?
  (Mr Reeves) I have not got that figure, off the top of my head.

  637. Would your Department have that, as the Department responsible for sport?
  (Kate Hoey) Yes. We would be able to tell you, working with our agencies, particularly Sport England, what is being spent, I think, in total, relying, of course, on the information that local authorities would give to us.

  638. Can I ask you another question, because you mentioned playing-fields, and perhaps I should add that I do have an interest declared in the Register, which is a non-pecuniary one, as a trustee of a charity which has been concerned about the loss of playing-fields. In the past, most of the concern has been about corporate or private company playing-fields which have been coming under the developer and being lost; but, increasingly, we are seeing local authority playing-fields and open spaces under threat. Is your Department concerned about this, and what discussions have you had with the DETR regarding the loss of local authority playing-fields?
  (Kate Hoey) We have a joint meeting, a committee, between the DETR and ourselves, specifically on playing-fields, which the Department for Education are involved with as well, and, Harry, do you want to comment on that?
  (Mr Reeves) Yes. Also, we bring the National Playing Fields Association into that committee, essentially, to review the effectiveness of the measures that the Government has put in place to try to improve the protection of playing-fields.

  639. And how effective are they?
  (Kate Hoey) This is, again, a result of the Sports Strategy, which actually specifically asked for this to happen and asked for the NPFA to have an important role. There are the two issues, the issue of education, school playing-fields, and then there is the local authority one; there is also actually a very interesting issue about Ministry of Defence land and other Government Agencies' land, as well as all the private companies who are increasingly looking to sell off their playing-fields. I think we are getting there. There has certainly been a slowing-down of the sales of school playing-fields, and I think that there is a recognition now, across Government, and indeed in the country, that it was a mistake that so many were sold off. We monitor it now very carefully, and we did not go down the line which was put by some people, but not, I have to say, by the NPFA, that there should be a complete stop on all sales, because, clearly, there are some very good examples where a local education authority decides to sell a particular part of a playing-field, that has not been perhaps a very good one, and uses that money in conjunction with a Lottery grant to improve the sports facilities. So provided that a playing-field is being sold and there is a direct benefit for sporting and recreational opportunities then you cannot say never, ever, should we sell a playing-field. So I think it is something that the two Departments have really got a grip of now, the DETR and ourselves, and that there is a gradual improvement. I am being given a note. I said that they had gone down; the sales were 40 a month and they are now down to three a month. So a lot of the work has been to get people to be much more careful about when they are putting it up to sell, very often, the ones that now go right through to the stage of being sold, it is because there has been the consultation and the work with sport and the NPFA, that sometimes there has been an agreement beforehand that they can be sold, provided the money is being used for sport.

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