Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60 - 79)



  60. What have you done to enquire from Railtrack whether there would be opportunities of this sort?
  (Mr Rickett) I am not aware that we have enquired of Railtrack but we shall let you have a note on that if you want[7].

  61. Do you think it would be a good idea?
  (Mr Rickett) There must be issues about safety where you are encouraging such activity next to railway lines which are in use as opposed to using disused railway lines for cycle routes.

  62. I hope at least you are encouraging the latter.
  (Mr Rickett) Indeed; yes.

  63. It does seem to me that there are opportunities on those railway lines which are in use. I am sorry to hear you have not investigated that at all, because I would have thought that was clearly another opportunity.
  (Mr Rickett) I said that I had not personally. I do not know whether the Department has or not. I shall have to check on that[8].

Mr Gardiner

  64. May I begin by complimenting both Mr Crisp and Sir Michael on the joint working on the free fruit in schools initiative which I think is a terrific initiative and is one which I hope will set good eating practices in place for our children in the future? I know it is at the moment only a pilot scheme. Can you tell us when the feedback from that will be coming through and when it might be put out nationwide?
  (Mr Crisp) I am not quite sure I have that piece of information here. We can certainly get it back to you[9].

  65. I think it is certainly going out to the health action zone schools at the moment.
  (Mr Crisp) Currently it is in place in 500 schools, so we have 80,000 children receiving free fruit. We intend, subject to the pilot, to roll it out by 2004, but I cannot tell you off hand the staging posts.

  66. If you could perhaps provide a note on that it would be interesting.
  (Mr Crisp) Yes, we can do that.

  67. Sir Michael, can you just remind us of the rate at which schools in 1997 were applying to have their playing fields sold off?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) About 40 a month.

  68. That is the figure I have.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) I was just hesitating about 1997.

  69. Can you tell us what the figure is currently for applications per month?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) About three a month.

  70. That is the figure I have as well. What are your Department doing for those schools who have no playing field facilities? It is one thing to stop the rot—and I commend you and the Government for what you have done in stopping the rot—but it is another to have a full active strategy to begin creating sporting opportunities for school children whose schools do not have those facilities.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) We are certainly providing, with the help of DCMS, the National Lottery and the National Opportunities Fund, a very substantial additional investment which can be used for sports and arts facilities of all sorts.

  71. As a Department, have you begun to identify systematically the deficit which exists within local educational authorities.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) We would regard that as a matter for local education authorities to manage themselves. After all, they have a responsibility to manage the educational assets.
  (Mr Rickett) We are consulting on a revised draft of planning policy guidance note 17 on sport, open space and recreation. That is going to set out a new systematic approach for local authorities in establishing provision and need for open space and recreational facilities, starting with a requirement that they should assess the need in their area, having regard to the standards of provision recommended by sports governing bodies, the National Playing Fields Association and other interest groups and then set standards of provision which reflect their local circumstances and then make provision in their local development plans.

  72. If I am not mistaken though, that applies rather more to the provision of public open space, parks, recreational facilities which are available to the wider public.
  (Mr Rickett) Yes.

  73. What I am trying to pursue with Sir Michael is the specific deficit in schools.
  (Mr Rickett) The two overlap.

  74. Indeed they do overlap but it does strike me that unless there is some clear central guidance which states that this should be drawn up, that deficit should be identified, then it is very difficult to target the resources, Sir Michael, which you alluded to which Mr Young's Department and your own would be seeking to put into the provision.
  (Sir Michael Bichard) We would expect local authorities and indeed schools themselves to be well aware of the importance of providing playing fields and opportunities for young people to participate in sport. Therefore we would expect them without any central guidance to be looking to fill the gaps where those gaps exist. The National Lottery in particular has made available a very substantial sum of money, not all for schools, but some of it available for schools to create new playing field opportunities.

  75. I thought we were together on this but we may be diverging here. That seemed to be more a defensive argument. Let me try to phrase it differently to see whether I get a different answer from you. I do assure you that it is intended to be entirely positive and in line with what I take it you gentlemen are trying to achieve with this report. Do you not think that if we are really going to address the shortage, then we have first of all to discover what it is? It is no use simply saying schools should be worrying about that themselves, or local education authorities should be worrying about that themselves. Of course they are. If this is going to be tackled as a national problem, then it does take Government Departments to quantify the deficits which exist, would you not agree?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) The easiest answer to that of course is yes, because then we can move onto the next question and you know that I am on your side. However, what I was trying to say was that the primary responsibility for this must rest with local authorities and you may be right that we can highlight national problems where they exist and in highlighting them hopefully encourage local authorities and others to plug the gap. One has to be careful not to believe everything can be resolved and every problem can be resolved from the centre of Government.

  76. In that case I am afraid you have just laid a rather large elephant trap for Mr Young. Am I not right in saying that given that sport is your Department's responsibility you have singularly failed as a Department to ensure that it is a statutory responsibility for local authorities. Given that Sir Michael is saying that this is the responsibility of the local authorities, the problem is surely this, that there is no statutory responsibility on local authorities to be providing these services and when one is in a climate where local authority funding is being cut, when local authorities are severely constrained in the monies that they have available to them because of the initiatives they have to pursue, those are the very areas which are not statutory responsibilities that then do not happen.
  (Mr Young) It is certainly true that there are no statutory responsibilities on local authorities in relation to sport, but that does not mean, in our view, that local authorities are not taking up the challenges very effectively and with great enthusiasm. In discussions with the Local Government Association, all local authorities have agreed to produce local sports strategies. In the recent document we published called the Government's Plan for Sport, there are propositions for each local authority to audit the sporting and recreation facilities in their areas. The combination of an audit of existing facilities—and I shall come to the opportunities for them to enhance those via the Lottery—and the local strategies should make for very effective sport strategies for each local authority area. It is true that there is no statutory duty. The particular opportunity we have given them under the Lottery is this thing called the space for sports and art scheme, which is specifically for the development of new sports and arts facilities in primary schools, though we are also insisting that those are available for the wider community as well. Similarly, under the green spaces initiative, where they apply for community playing fields, we are also insisting that those are available for schools. There is the overlapping connection which Sir Michael mentioned.

  77. Do you think that it would be a good thing if local authorities did have a statutory responsibility to ensure sporting facilities for local residents?
  (Mr Young) Ministers of both recent Governments have decided not to impose such a duty. I am not sure I want to state a personal view, but the current Government and previous Governments did not wish to impose such a duty. I cannot go any further than that.

  78. Yes, it would probably be difficult to do so. Let me go back to Sir Michael. I do not know whether you were here yesterday, Sunday, watching the marathon go by. I was. Maybe you were participating in it?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) No, I am afraid I was not participating.

  79. Neither was I. I saw the runners go past and it made me think of the paragraph in this report which says that our occupations nowadays lack so much physical activity as to be the equivalent of running a marathon a week. I found that quite a staggering calculation. I should like to know who worked it out, but presumably it is in kilojoules somewhere. Given the reduction in physical activity and given all that we have heard and discussed today about the importance of getting people into a pattern of physical recreation young so that they continue that into later life when their jobs are clearly not giving them the same amount of exercise, do you not think that it should become part of the school day that there is some form of physical education for children?
  (Sir Michael Bichard) Every child aged between five and 16 has a statutory entitlement to physical education.

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

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

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

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