Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. How many have them in their Department of National Heritage or Culture, Media and Sport?
  (Mr Young) Five or six. The other popular one is Education. Some of then have a sort of central chancery or something of that nature.

  41. Five or six in the National Heritage Department.
  (Mr Young) Yes. Ireland, Greece, Italy, Spain; the list is available and I can give it to the Committee if you like. Only two of them have it in Health. The machinery of Government is not for me. Sport has gone from Environment, to Education to DCMS; it can go anywhere. In the 15 EU countries only two of them have it with Health[2]. That is not an argument against, it is just a matter of fact.

  42. What do you think is the main aim of the sport section of your Department?
  (Mr Young) To produce sporting opportunities for all and that fits in extraordinarily well with our tourism and broadcasting responsibilities because sport is financed in part either by broadcasting or by the Lottery, both of which are DCMS funding channels. I am not arguing that it has to be in DCMS: I am only pointing out that there are some rather useful connections with the rest of DCMS, as of course there are with DfEE and DETR and Health. There always will be boundary issues around where you put sport within Government.

  43. If one saw sport, apart from all the other beneficial knock-on effects of having good sportsmen and having a good system of sport across the different sporting activities in the country, if you saw one of the main benefits to be that you are enhancing the health of the nation as well as winning tournaments or medals or whatever, is there not a logic for it to be rather in the Department of Health?
  (Mr Young) There is a logic for it being in DCMS, there was a logic for it being in Education, there was logic for it being in Environment. The 15 EU countries all have different logics for different things. I am just saying that two out of 15 have chosen Health[3]. Surely the important thing is that we all work inter-departmentally to achieve the objectives that we want? The report is quite flattering about the extent of inter-departmental working which already exists and surely that is the key rather than which department has responsibility?

  (Mr Crisp) May I give you two very specific examples? One is the National Opportunities Fund, Rowntree for PE and Sport in Schools, where we have engaged with DCMS, even though they have the lead. The second thing, which is partly as a result of this report and certainly has given it more impetus, is that we are on the point of agreeing a joint departmental adviser[4], so we shall have a joint post between the two departments to pick up precisely these issues which otherwise might fall down in the cracks between the two, just to make sure we have a proper health element within the overall sporting strategy.

  44. Do you think enough is being done in our schools to promote good health through sporting activity?
  (Mr Crisp) I am not sure I can answer that precisely but we have enough mechanisms in place now to make sure that we have a good health input to the planning. The other issues you pick up there could be more for Sir Michael to pick up.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I would never be complacent enough to come to this Committee and say yes to a question like that. Clearly there are things which can be done to improve what we are doing. I was trying earlier to spell out some of the investment which is going in on improving facilities, the increase in the time, the attempts to try to promote sport and participation more generally across all of our schools. I should hope that in two or three years' time, when all of that is in place, we shall indeed have improved our performance really quite considerably.

Mr Rendel

  45. I should like to discuss for a moment the reasons why perhaps people eat as much as they do. Smoking in this country has reduced quite a lot over the last few years and we all accept that is in general good for health. I suspect that both smoking and eating are used by quite a number of people as a sort of stress reducer. I wonder whether there is any correlation between the increase in overeating and the reduction in smoking and if so whether that has any lessons for us[5]?

  (Mr Crisp) It is an interesting point and I am not sure I am aware of any specific research. I can obviously find out whether there is specific research which links the two. Clearly we have seen one coming down and the other going up, as you say, over the same time period and clearly they are both significant social issues about lifestyle and behaviour.

  46. Do you think then that there could be a chance that if all the good things we want to do about reducing overeating that are in this report were put in place and people did stop eating so much, there might be a law of unintended effect in that we then saw stress levels in the community rising with all sorts of other illnesses caused by stress?
  (Mr Crisp) One of the things which is significant in how you reduce smoking, and I suspect the same is true in how you reduce overeating, is to try to tackle the root causes rather than just the symptoms, whereas what you are talking about would purely be the symptoms, would it not? If you think about how you tackle reducing smoking, it is just not good enough to tell people to stop smoking or stop overeating. You actually have to give them some help which may be psychological, it may be to do with some of these issues which are drawn out where the general practitioners say they want more access to self-help groups and to support for people who are trying to give up either smoking or overeating. There is a significant set of issues which shows that you need to tackle the stress you were talking about if you are going to deliver on the symptom.

  47. Another matter is the extent to which it may be the GPs themselves—and I should declare an interest in that my wife is a GP—who need a certain amount of help. Being a GP is a fairly sedentary occupation and there are some GPs themselves whose weight is perhaps rather more than it might be. I just wonder to what extent those GPs who are themselves overweight find it more difficult to give advice to patients who are overweight?
  (Mr Crisp) That is an interesting question and I am not sure I could produce any evidence on that. The one thing I would say is that the BMA have been discussing with us more occupational health services for general practitioners. Indeed in the NHS plan we are putting in more occupational health services to try to provide more support for GPs with whatever the issue may be, because as independent practitioners, as you well know, they are not working within the normal employment workplace where there may be the sort of support they would get if they were working in one of our departments for example. There are some moves in that direction, but how significant that is as an issue I honestly would not know.

  48. To what extent are you trying to reduce the stress on GPs because that may also become a problem?
  (Mr Crisp) That is a very significant issue. We are doing two or three things at the moment. Firstly, we are in the process of attempting to renegotiate the contract for primary care to get a new balance between what is expected and so on within the system. Secondly, we have put in some new support mechanisms and the one I have just mentioned is the occupational health service. Thirdly, there has been a big drive on reducing the amount of bureaucracy for GPs, to try to reduce some of the stress. You will be aware that GPs no longer have to sign certain forms and so on. There is a battery of things but there is a lot more to do because we are moving to expecting more of GPs in a more systematic fashion than we have done in the past and therefore more support needs to be put in.

  49. To what extent do you think a no-fault compensation system might be part of reducing stress for general practitioners?
  (Mr Crisp) That is a much wider issue. I would not know to what extent that would be significant, although I do know that people do argue the case for that.

  50. One thing I discovered when I came to this place, somewhat to my amazement, was that in the Members' dining room downstairs we occasionally have on our menus a little heart shape across different dishes which is intended to show what is a relatively healthy dish to eat and what is not. Not being one who was ever given any training at school in healthy eating at all, I find this sometimes quite useful. Is that something you are contemplating advising restaurants outside this place to take up?
  (Mr Podger) Yes; in fact it is quite interesting. Whereas in the past people usually went out to restaurants for a treat and, to be frank, were not over concerned about the nutritional content of their meals, increasingly now people eat out much more and the demand for nutritional information is greater. As you will know, airlines are also rather good at this. We have been in discussion with the catering industry about the desirability of offering lighter options and I suspect many people in this room who have to eat out a lot for business reasons would be grateful as well. Yes, we very much encourage that.

  51. Mr Rickett, may I turn to you now? I am afraid most of the rest of my questions will probably be directed at you because amongst my other jobs I am Secretary of the All Party Cycling Group. I cannot miss this opportunity therefore to talk a bit about cycling, if I may? The great difficulty cyclists always have is the need for separation between cyclists, pedestrians and motorists of all sorts. What are you doing to increase the opportunities for local authorities to provide that separation?
  (Mr Rickett) At the heart of it has to be the local transport plan and the local cycling strategies that they must contain and the fact that we have doubled the resources this year as compared to last and provided a stable funding framework for the next five years in the local transport plan settlement and an indication of a stable framework for ten years in the ten-year transport plan. We probably underestimated the amount of investment needed in cycle paths, in separate cycle lanes on highways and in traffic calming measures, which are important because of the high fatality rates among cyclists, especially young cyclists, children. That is probably why we are not going to meet the target of doubling the level of cycling trips by 2002 which was part of the national cycling strategy.

  52. Does every new road have to have a cycle track now?
  (Mr Rickett) No, when local authorities are looking at new road developments they should be subjecting these to cycle audits, they should be looking to see what impact not just road developments but other developments too have on cycle patterns.


  53. For clarity, when you say "should", do you mean they are required to, or is that just an aspiration?
  (Mr Rickett) They are expected to. The guidance we give on local transport plans asks them to do this. We provide lots of advice on cycle audit and in the planning policy guidance note on transport we also make the same point so that this is covered in land use planning as well as in the transport investment planning.

Mr Rendel

  54. Most of the towns in Britain, with fairly rare exceptions, are quite old and the layout of the road systems is often quite old and was not laid down with a view to vehicles and certainly was not laid down with a view to vehicles and cyclists being separated. What can be done by way of using parallel roads, one for vehicles and one for cyclists?
  (Mr Rickett) I hesitate to make generalisations about how you approach this because you have to find the appropriate local solution. The condition on a particular road varies so much. Separation may be one way of dealing with the problem, traffic calming is another way of dealing with it.

  55. Are you encouraging local authorities to consider, where there are several parallel roads, as in our big cities where you often have roads laid fairly parallel to one another, looking at the possibility of closing a road to vehicles altogether in order to allow the road parallel to be taken up by cyclists?
  (Mr Rickett) We certainly asked them to consider giving cyclists and pedestrians priority in their road planning. We have also given them powers in the Transport Act to designate home zones and quiet lanes which are about giving priority in the use of roads to people other than car drivers. We have provided them with guidance, we have provided them with powers and we provided them with considerably more resources. We have also tried to encourage them to work in partnership to try to achieve the sorts of things you are talking about. I hesitate to say the solution ought to be separated cycle paths or traffic calming or this, that or the other. We have given them guidance on what local authorities have found works in certain circumstances, the best practice.

  56. Cycling is often most attractive on fairly level ground. Rivers and canals tend to be pretty flat. To what extent are you encouraging British Waterways and other such bodies to make paths alongside canals and rivers where they do not exist or to open up such paths, free of cost, to cyclists and pedestrians where they do exist?
  (Mr Rickett) That is very much part, is it not, of the development of the national cycling network. We are working with SUSTRANS to produce 8,000 miles of cycling paths by the year 2005, as I understand it. It is not something that Government fiat will necessarily produce, it is a question of working together to identify the opportunities for creating such cycling routes.

  57. In my area we have had a problem because of cyclists being charged a licence fee to go alongside the canal. Somebody has to pay for the cost of the upkeep of the canal path. Is your Department prepared to put money into this?
  (Mr Rickett) I am not going to make a commitment off the top of my head, no. I would have to go back and ask whether there are any initiatives which relate to that sort of thing. I am not briefed on it[6].

  58. What about cycles on trains? That is another matter which would largely be for local authorities presumably.
  (Mr Rickett) We have done some research on the use of cycles on trains. We have provided some guidance on it. It is not just a question of providing cycle racks on trains like the Anglia Railways experiment. It is a question of providing the safe routes to the stations, which is very much part of the safe routes concept for promoting cycling and walking more generally. The research showed that actually one of the things which put people off was the perceived safety or otherwise of getting to the railway station.

  59. When you travel by rail around the countryside you often notice that there are tracks on one side; certainly in our area there are lots of tracks to either side of the railway line which look seldom used. They are very rusty, often very overgrown with weeds and so on. Is there an opportunity perhaps to increase the accessibility of such tracks to cyclists by cordoning off the edge of a large stream of railway tracks and using those for cycles instead?
  (Mr Rickett) That has to be a matter for Railtrack and train operating companies.

2   Note by Witness: In fact, the table in the Health Committee's report is inaccurate. The Netherlands is the only EU country where sport resides with the Health Ministry. In Belgium, responsibility for sport is shared between the three Belgian linguistic communities, namely the French-, Flemish- and German-speaking Communities, which fall under developed government arrangements. Back

3   Note by Witness: See footnote no 2 above. Back

4   Note by Witness: This is subject to final agreement being made on the nature of the post and funding. Back

5   Note by Witness: See Evidence, Appendix 3, page 26 (PAC 00-01/168). Back

6   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 25 (PAC 00-01/176). Back

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