1 Mar 2007 : Column 327WH

1 Mar 2007 : Column 327WH

Westminster Hall

Thursday 1 March 2007

[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Sport (Young People)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]

2.30 pm

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): I hope that we will have an informative debate. It is well attended even now, straight after lunch. I thank all those who will join the debate. Hon. Members have said to me in the Lobby over the past two or three days that they will make contributions, and I look forward to that.

The Government believe that sport in schools is an important issue and we have a good story to tell. The issue was highlighted this week on BBC radio, and I thank the BBC for what it has done in the recent past. It had Roger Black do a series on school sport, which was interesting. He went to a school in London that was not one of the best performing schools by a long way; in fact, it was well below the national average. It was interesting to hear the head say—I think that this was yesterday morning on Radio 4—that there had been significant improvements in the children’s behaviour. The children themselves claimed that their concentration levels were better and they were much more confident. In the school, there was a group of young people doing the scheme with Roger and a group not doing it, and there was a marked difference between the comments made by young people from the two groups.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent’s Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): On the point about London—I am an inner-London MP—does my right hon. Friend the Minister recognise that both youth sport and school sport are well recognised as far less adequately provided for in inner London than in almost any other part of the country and that levels of participation in most sports are inadequate in inner London, partly due to the lack of open space and access? Will he agree to meet me in the near future to discuss practical ways in which we might be able to take action to boost levels of participation in sport in inner London?

Mr. Caborn: Absolutely. I would be delighted to meet my hon. Friend and, indeed, any other people she wants to bring along to have that discussion. She is right that London is underperforming in relation to the average, although it has got much better over the past five years. It has particular problems, so I would be more than pleased to welcome to a meeting my hon. Friend and any person she wants to bring with her.

What Roger Black found in the school that he went to was exactly what we have found in many of the schools that we and the partnerships have been dealing with since 2001. That is why, as Roger Black explained on the radio programmes, we are investing considerable amounts in school sport. Since 2001, school sport has
1 Mar 2007 : Column 328WH
been completely transformed by the introduction of the national strategy for PE and sport. In 2001, fewer than 2 million children were doing two hours of quality physical activity or sport each week; by 2006, the figure had increased to some 6 million. I will repeat that. Two million young people were doing two hours of PE and sport in 2001; now, it is 6 million. That means that there are 8 million more hours a week of PE and sport in our schools now than there were five years ago.

I believe that that shift has not been equalled by any other nation in the world. We give credit to all those in the partnerships, including the schools, for delivering on that agenda. We are not complacent, however. We are investing some £1.5 billion in PE and sport in schools in the five years up to 2008. With the Olympic and Paralympic games coming to London in 2012, we have a real opportunity to harness the power of that event to encourage greater youth and community participation in sport and to create a lasting sporting legacy for future generations.

Let me outline our key achievements. The national school sport strategy, which is being delivered jointly by my colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has already been successful in driving up participation. Our target was to increase the percentage of five to 16-year-olds who spend a minimum of two hours each week on high-quality PE and school sport to 75 per cent. by 2006 and to 85 per cent. by 2008. We have already exceeded that target. Figures for 2006 show that 80 per cent. of pupils are participating in at least two hours of high-quality PE and school sport in a typical week. The strategy is a multidimensional one that builds a robust and sustainable infrastructure for school sport; helps to promote and support links with clubs outside the school environment; develops leaders and volunteers; identifies pupils gifted and talented in sport; and supports the professional development of teachers.

Every school in the country is now in one of the 450 school sport partnerships, each with its own partnership development manager. There are 422 sports colleges, including 14 academies with a sport focus. We offer true choice to our young people so that they may find an activity that appeals to them and suits their ability. Partnership schools provide an average of 16 different sports, including dance, which is proving popular with young girls.

It has now been proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that young people who have a choice of sports—more than what was available when I was at school many years ago, when probably we were offered three or four sports—are more likely to continue participating in sport when they leave school than they would be if they did not have that choice. One of the fault lines that I inherited as Minister for Sport, which we are addressing, was the fact that five years ago 70 per cent. of our young people did not continue participating actively in sport when they left school. That contrasts with some of the equivalent figures for the continent of Europe. In France, the figure is 20 per cent. We need to address that issue and as young people are offered more experiences in sport, they are more likely to continue participating in sport when they leave school. Growing numbers of pupils are also involved in sports leadership and volunteering.

1 Mar 2007 : Column 329WH

That said, there is still further work to be done and new challenges to meet, and we are already working to address them. Our aim is that by 2010 all children will be offered at least four hours of sport every week: at least two hours of high-quality PE and sport at school, plus the opportunity for at least a further two to three hours beyond the school gates.

Access to good-quality sports provision is essential if we are to encourage young people to lead more active lives. One obstacle preventing people from being involved in sport and physical activity is a lack of good-quality sports facilities. The Government, along with the national lottery, have committed more than £1 billion to develop new or refurbish sports facilities.

Concerns are often raised about the sale of school playing fields. When I was in Brazil, in Rio, I did an extensive interview on sport and how our two countries are working together now. We have just signed a memorandum of understanding with Brazil on sport. During the interview, the interviewer said to me, “I gather, Minister, that you are still shutting playing fields back in your country.” I thought, “Well, that just shows how far that myth has gone—throughout the globe.”

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): The Minister is right to draw attention to the fact that, somewhat belatedly, the Government have stopped the sale of larger school playing fields in most cases. Does he not accept, however, that back in 2002 the Deputy Prime Minister said that the size of school playing field that should be considered as a larger playing field should be reduced from 0.4 hectares to 0.2 hectares? What is the Minister doing about the closure of smaller playing fields?

Mr. Caborn: First, let me deal with where we are and I will come back to what the hon. Gentleman has said. The action that we took in 1998 has given playing fields the best protection through Government planning regulations. Local authorities are expected not to dispose of any playing fields needed by the community and are legally required to consult Sport England.

It was in 1998 that the Deputy Prime Minister made that statement. Yes, we still have to implement that fully, but we have given protection to playing fields. That involved three Ministers—me, as planning Minister, Tony Banks, who was then the Minister for Sport and my right hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), who was then in the Department for Education and Employment. In 1998, we started to put in place the toughest regulations, which we now have, to stop the closure of school playing fields.

There is no doubt that in 1997 we inherited a situation in which there was the wholesale selling of playing fields—at its peak, about 40 were sold a month. We had to arrest that and we did. I am pleased to note that recently we achieved a stock of 50,000 playing fields in England, which are providing good quality grass playing areas and pitches for the community. For the second consecutive year, there has been a net gain in playing fields. That means that we got more than we closed. In 2004-05, some 62 brand new playing fields were created—building on the 72 that were created in
1 Mar 2007 : Column 330WH
2003-04. Overall, that is net gain of 35 new playing fields. I hope that those people in Rio will now understand that we are not closing playing fields, but have made a net gain in them.

Mr. Foster: The Minister assured me that when he had finished his rant about how successful the Government have been with larger playing fields, he would immediately return to the issue of smaller playing fields. Will he confirm that the Deputy Prime Minister told the House in 2002 that the Government would introduce regulations in respect of smaller playing fields of 0.2 hectares and above? When will the Government implement what the Deputy Prime Minister assured the House that they would do?

Mr. Caborn: We recognise that the statutory requirement to consult Sport England does not extend to planning applications on sites of less than 0.4 hectares. That is precisely why Sport England and I support the change of the definition of a playing field to 0.2 hectares or more. The Department for Communities and Local Government will consult on that next year. Reducing the threshold will enable us to assess whether existing protections are sufficient to guard against the inappropriate disposal of those smaller, but vital, community spaces.

The hon. Gentleman ought to acknowledge the significance of the move from the previous situation, in which there was the wholesale selling of playing fields, to the current one. We have introduced one of the toughest ever regimes on the closure of playing fields.

Can more be done? Yes, but the issues that I shall address shortly will demonstrate that we have got this argument slightly out of focus or proportion. This is not just about playing fields. We are in the early part of the 21st century and ought to be considering how we can develop other play areas, such as third-generation pitches with floodlighting and the like. That is important to our young people.

We are focusing on investing in facilities that are fit for the 21st century, including third-generation floodlit pitches that enable people to play sport whatever the weather, 365 days a year, and in state-of-the-art indoor facilities. Artificial pitches, particularly third-generation ones, are, broadly speaking, maintenance-free. They cost a little more up front, but once they are down, they cost less in maintenance and are probably more cost-effective overall. Importantly, those facilities can be used seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, if that is possible, given where they are sited.

Ms Buck: Does the Minister share my disappointment that the 3G pitches funded by the Football Foundation in Paddington recreation ground, in Westminster, are consistently let out to high-paying sports clubs from outside the area at times when local children could use them? Many of those children are from deprived backgrounds—we have the eighth highest child poverty rate in the country—and they are pushed away from those facilities because they are not able to pay the kind of charges that are demanded by Westminster city council’s private leisure contractor. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the quality provision that he is talking about, which the
1 Mar 2007 : Column 331WH
Government support, should be given as a priority to local, deprived and hard-to-reach communities?

Mr. Caborn: In general, the answer to that is yes. I hope that agreements include giving people access to such facilities free of charge, in many cases, at times that are negotiated. I know that that happens, even with private contractors, who are getting into partnerships with the Football Foundation and other public organisations. Many of JJB Sports’ facilities are free of charge between 9 am and 4 pm, when many schools use them. In the evening they are available for commercial use. I do not know what the exact agreement is with the contractor that my hon. Friend mentions, but she should probably raise that with me again when she comes to see me about school sports in London.

We need to convince communities to back the facilities that have been put in place by their local authorities, which should be in use all the time. We have a tremendous amount of nimbies, so many facilities have to close down at 7 or 8 pm because people in the surrounding areas do not want lights on after those times. That has to be balanced with what we allow to happen in those areas, and it is preferable to having young people running around in the streets. There needs to be a lot more campaigning to ensure that facilities are used much more extensively. Currently, restrictions and constraints are placed on their use through the planning regime because of pressure from the local community.

In schools, the building schools for the future scheme is putting sport and physical activity at the heart of the building programme. Over the next 15 years, about £2 billion will be invested, through that scheme, in building schools for the community. The new facilities will be not just for the schools, but the community in which the schools are located. I know that there have been difficulties with private finance initiative schemes in the past, but I hope that they have been overcome and that the facilities will be seen as an integral part of the community. That is very important.

I move to the vital issue of coaching, in which we have made significant strides. It is evident, when one goes around and meets successful athletes, that every one of them puts coaching at the top of their agenda. That is why we want this country to be the leading coaching nation in the world by 2016. We have been working closely with Sports Coach UK on the action plan for coaching, which we will deliver over the next few years. I congratulate, in passing, Ian McGeechan, the chair of Sports Coach UK, and Pat Duffy, who have done a fantastic job. They will fundamentally change the approach to coaching, so much so that I hope that coaching will be right at the top of the agenda by 2016, and will become a true profession. That would be a significant step forward, but it can be done and is wanted within the sports world. We will then have a clear sports coaching structure.

The Government are investing £60 million between 2004 and 2008 to improve the quality and quantity of coaching. Last year we met our target of getting an additional 3,000 community sports coaches in place by the end of 2006. We have also established a network of coaching development officers to continue to support the profession by developing coaches. That is important,
1 Mar 2007 : Column 332WH
but has been neglected in the past. As well as driving up participation and improving athlete performance, coaches can help to deliver across whole areas of Government policy, including on health, social inclusion and education.

Coaches can help in the fight against child obesity by working with primary schools and can help to improve the nation’s health by working with doctors’ surgeries and getting referrals from doctors. Coaches can also do a first-class job in rehabilitating offenders on probation. I have seen that happen up and down the country. We can multi-skill coaches, as a profession, and move them into many other areas, where they will add tremendous value.

The national school sport strategy supports the links between schools and clubs. The main aim of the links is to increase the percentage of five to 16-year-olds who are members of accredited sports clubs. Our aim was to increase membership levels from 14 per cent. in 2002 to 20 per cent. by 2006, but we exceeded that target and 27 per cent. of young people are now linked into a club structure. The programme provides additional opportunities for children to develop basic physical skills and acts as a stepping stone to club sport. It has established more than 1,500 clubs.

The Chancellor’s instigation of the community amateur sports clubs tax breaks was a significant move to recognise that grass-roots sport needed that type of fiscal incentive. Mandatory rate relief builds on the back of that. All clubs that apply can access that relief—they do not now have to have charitable status to do so—and that can be done through CASCs. Many millions of pounds are going directly into grass-roots sport, which is at that club level.

I believe that when we took the mandatory rate relief through Parliament, the Central Council of Physical Recreation said that we had been fighting for it for 30 years. I was pleased that it was on my watch that clubs got not only the tax breaks but the mandatory rate relief.

Let us consider competitive sport.

Mr. Don Foster: I was hoping that the Minister might say a little more about the CASCs scheme, which is very welcome. He will recall that in January, on the Floor of the House, I asked how many clubs would be eligible for the tax reliefs. I thought that the Treasury, at least, would have the figures available, because it would need to know how much money to set aside. I was told that the Government did not know how many clubs would be eligible; I was given the welcome news that a few thousand had applied, but that far more could be doing so. Will he give us an update on the current figures and on what the Government are doing to encourage more clubs to take up this extremely beneficial subsidy that our CASCs are being given?

Mr. Caborn: It is not a subsidy; it is an investment. I give credit to the hon. Gentleman, because I know that he has been pushing this very hard indeed in his area and beyond. We believe that there are about 140,000 to 150,000 sports clubs. The number that would access the CASCs scheme and the mandatory relief is about 50,000. The latest figure that we have is that 4,172 clubs were receiving rate relief as of 31 January 2007. That amounts to an additional £15.2 million going into grass-roots sports today. The estimate is that about
1 Mar 2007 : Column 333WH
40,000 to 50,000 clubs could be involved, which means that £150 million could go into grass-roots sports if they all applied. I cannot say why they do not all apply. All I can say is that with the support of the Central Council of Physical Recreation and the other governing bodies, we are, little by little, convincing clubs that they should apply.

As an aside, this situation shows a bit of a disconnect between some of the governing bodies and their clubs’ structure. There might be an issue about whether good communication is taking place. If it were, I am sure that governing bodies would have convinced their clubs a long time ago to apply for what is clearly a significant tax break. The beauty of it is that once a club gets the tax break, it is not like a grant or a loan, because it will be in place year in, year out, provided the circumstances do not change. It is an important investment in grass-roots sport.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): I hope that this proves a helpful intervention. The Minister might be surprised to hear me say that he is absolutely right. The Deloitte and Touche breakdowns that are published every month make it clear that the sport governing bodies that promote this scheme actively, notably the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Rugby Football Union, lead the field by far in respect of the number of clubs that have taken up the scheme. He is right that it is down to governing bodies to promote this scheme actively among their clubs.

Mr. Caborn: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that useful intervention. I hope that if this debate does anything, it asks governing bodies to revisit this matter and ensure that they communicate it positively to their clubs. He says that the RFU has provided some services to help the clubs apply, and it has acted in an effective and systematic way.

I want to dispel the myth that competition does not exist in our schools—on the contrary, it is thriving. Some 97 per cent. of schools hold a sports day, and 37 per cent. of pupils take part in inter-school sport. We are establishing a network of competition managers across school sport partnerships to improve the quality and quantity of competitive sport in schools. The first wave of 20 competition managers were appointed in September 2005, and at least 90 will be in place by the end of 2007. In their first year, nearly 40,000 young people attended one of the 690 competitions that competition managers had created. By the end of 2006, the figures had risen—more than 50,000 young people and 931 competitions were involved.

Building on an important part of the sports infrastructure in schools, we then decided to develop the UK school games. They are now the pinnacle of school sport competition. Hon. Members will probably remember that the inaugural games were launched in Glasgow last year. They brought together more than 1,000 young people in a four-day festival of sport, comprising five disciplines, including, I am pleased to say, two disability sports.

Next Section Index Home Page