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Olympic Games

Volume 451: debated on Monday 6 November 2006

3. What steps her Department is taking to encourage greater participation in sport by children and young people in the run-up to the 2012 Olympic games. (99148)

The Government are doing a lot to promote participation by young people. Some 80 per cent. of both primary and secondary school children are doing at least two hours of sport and physical activity a week, which is up from 25 per cent. in 2003. By 2010, every child who wants to, will be able to do four hours a week. We have reintroduced competitive sport in state schools, and there is record investment in elite athlete development. I place on record my particular thanks to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport for his work on establishing the UK school games. We are also seeing a net increase in modern sport facilities. London’s promise at Singapore was to inspire a generation of young people through sport, and we are proud of the progress that we have made. I am especially proud to commend the efforts of my hon. Friend. She and the hon. Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Binley) have brought together community organisations in Northampton to ensure that Northampton and its young people get the maximum benefit from the possibilities of the Olympics.

When will the information be published on the regional games, which will be extremely important in the run-up to 2012? Will that focus not only on elite sport but on wider participation, so that all the 10-year-olds who are starry-eyed about the Olympics get a chance to take part? May I make an early bid to have one of the regional finals in my county?

My hon. Friend has been a powerful advocate for Northampton’s hosting of the UK school games. Next year’s games are to be held in Coventry. I think that 11 cities around the country are bidding—including Bath, I must add, before the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) rises to make that point—and the decisions on the remaining cities will be made next year.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the chief executive of the Central Council of Physical Recreation told the Select Committee two weeks ago that the hiving off of an additional £340 million from the main lottery to the Olympics will leave Sport England without the resources necessary to generate the legacy of participation which was a main plank in our successful Olympic bid? Will she put in place the national strategy and the necessary funding to ensure that we achieve a successful legacy right across the country, which is what we all want?

Yes, of course we are determined to do all we can to ensure that the whole country has the opportunity to benefit from the Olympic legacy. The hon. Gentleman refers to evidence, and it is correct to say that £340 million from existing sports lottery distributors is part of the lottery contribution to funding the 2012 games, but it is misleading to portray that money as being taken away from wider work to promote participation and grass-roots sport. Some of the money from Sport England, for example, is being used to fund the new aquatic centre, which will be designed specifically to promote community use as a legacy; the velodrome is being treated similarly. Other spending by lottery distributors will go to Olympic-related projects, not only in London and the east end, but around the country. Both the hon. Gentleman and I are determined to make sure that the whole country benefits from the Olympics, and the comment to which he refers is unnecessary scaremongering.

Will my right hon. Friend put into the public domain the criteria on which cities can bid for the UK youth games and the regional games? Will she consider, as part of the Olympic legacy, an Olympic sports day for the nation?

The details have been widely circulated to local authorities, but so that there will be no doubt, I shall be happy to place a copy in the Library.

The Secretary of State knows that the national lottery provides financial support for many of our grass-roots sports initiatives that encourage young people to participate in sporting activity. Will she therefore rule out any further raids on the national lottery to pay for overspends on the London Olympics?

No, I will not—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] I am not in a position to do that. As the hon. Gentleman—indeed, the whole House—knows, provision has been made in the joint venture agreement so that in the event of further funds being needed to support the Olympic games, there is a formula, unspecified in its detail, to enable sharing between London and the lottery. It would be irresponsible of me to give the House the undertaking that he asks me to give.

My right hon. Friend will, I know, be as proud as we are in Crewe that we have two disabled children going to Beijing as part of the Paralympics team. Will she do everything she can to encourage disabled children and children with special needs to prepare for the Olympics in 2012, and to make them as proud as we are of our existing team?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I know how strongly she has argued for that. I can assure her that the elite programmes being established for our young athletes to take part in Beijing and in 2012 and beyond make no distinction between able-bodied athletes and young disabled people.

But is not my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), the Chairman of the Select Committee, right: is not Sport England, the Government quango responsible for these matters, widely regarded as a failing institution in need of urgent reform? The last eight chief executives of sport governing bodies whom I have met have all complained about it. Is it not the case that the Big Lottery Fund has no money earmarked in the 2006-2009 period for mass participation payments, and that the Government have cut the amount of lottery funding going into sport from £397 million in 1998 to a paltry £260 million last year—a cut of one third? When will they make proposals to deal with mass participation sport in this country?

I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would come to the Dispatch Box to congratulate schools throughout the country on exceeding the target for getting young people to do two hours a week of high-quality sport and PE, and that he would congratulate the local authorities and community clubs that have made such heroic efforts to improve their facilities. [Hon. Members: “Answer.”] To deal specifically with the hon. Gentleman’s point, I am proud to be part of a Government who, since the launch of the school sport programme in 2000, have seen investment of £3 billion in sport. I am proud to be part of a Government who have overhauled Sport England and given it a clear focus on two things: first, boosting participation, ensuring that another 400,000 people a year are getting active and taking part in sport; and secondly, overhauling the outdated facilities that are the only resort for too many people who want to exercise. We have a remarkable story of success—

But what the Secretary of State does not answer is why the amount of money going into sport through the national lottery, according to a parliamentary written answer that she gave me, has been cut from £397 million to £260 million. Key components of the Olympic bid are the mass participation benefits that will arise from the post-games use of the stadiums. The Secretary of State gave me a personal assurance that VAT would not be levied on their construction. The organisers were clearly given the same commitment, because they made no allowance for VAT in the budget. Will she confirm to the House that a possible VAT bill of a quarter of a billion pounds will not be levied by the Treasury on the 2012 Olympics?

This is quite disgraceful. I had a conversation with the hon. Gentleman in which, in complete frankness, I told him what the position was at the time—[Interruption.]

Perhaps the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) would like to listen to the answer. Let me deal first with the VAT point. The candidature file did not include VAT on construction of venues for 2012 because at that time the position of the unspecified delivery body, which had not been legislated for or given effect, could not be anticipated. A cross-Government group signed off London’s plans and agreed that it was the right approach not to anticipate at that point the VAT status. The issue was not raised by PricewaterhouseCooper, who advised us on the costs, nor were issues in relation to VAT at that point identified by the Treasury or by departmental accounting officers—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”] However, what I did do when we won the bid was to initiate an immediate review of the costs and funding needs of the games. As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the costs of the Olympic park have been significantly reduced. The funding needs of the games—including VAT, the need for security and so forth—are a matter of continuing discussion within Government. That is the position, delivered to the hon. Gentleman on the Floor of the House rather than in corridor conversations.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that I have a new deal for communities in my constituency called “New Heart for Heywood”, which is part-funding a new sports village complex? I know that she has both eyes on the Olympic games at present, but could she move one of them towards Heywood to keep up to date with progress on that development, whereby my local young people may well play a part in the Olympic games in 2012?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Clearly, our participation ambitions for young people will be met only if they are playing sport in modern facilities. Every Member of the House should be an advocate of that in their communities, as is my hon. Friend, whom I congratulate.

The issue of VAT on the Olympic buildings is of crucial importance to everyone in this House. If the Secretary of State is unable at present to confirm whether VAT will be paid on the buildings, given that £1 billion is at stake, will she at least agree to come before this House as a matter of urgency and make a statement on that issue?

I am a subject of this House on any matter to do with the funding of the Olympic games, or any other aspect of them. This is a large and complex project and a major issue that we are working through. The International Olympic Committee has expressed its utter satisfaction with the progress being made in the planning of the games. I will answer to the House at any point on the issues as they arise.

Schools in my constituency are generally fortunate in having their own sports fields, but some schools in inner-London boroughs such as Hackney do not have a single blade of grass. Will my right hon. Friend consider working with the Department for Education and Skills, local education authorities and the Olympic partners to install playable surfaces in inner-city schools so that their pupils have a dowry from the Olympics right away?

My hon. Friend is right. However, I would point to the London borough of Lambeth, which, although it does not have acres of open space, has a participation rate by young people running at about 90 per cent. Yes, the facilities have to be there, but so too does the determination to get young people involved.