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Olympics and the North-east

Volume 469: debated on Monday 10 December 2007

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Liz Blackman.]

May I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for granting me this debate, which is important for Teesside and the north generally?

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the North East will respond to the debate. This is groundbreaking, in parliamentary terms, because it is the first time that a regional Minister will respond to a debate on the Floor of the House. I have known my right hon. Friend for many years and I admire and respect him immensely. This is the first time that he will be responding to one of my debates. I was delighted when my right hon. Friend was appointed Minister for the North East. He has been going round the whole region, and he is a champion of our area.

A crucial part of the role of the regional Ministers is to ensure that their regions benefit from the 2012 Olympics. When it was announced on 6 July 2006 that the 2012 Olympics would be hosted by London, it was a proud day for the whole country. It will be the first time that the games have been hosted in Britain since 1948. The decision was testimony to the hard work of all the London 2012 team and the Government.

Although the games will be held in London, I strongly feel that we should strive to make the 2012 Olympics benefit the country as a whole. In some regions, there is a feeling that despite the public money being spent, the benefits of the Olympics will be limited to London, but I should like to challenge that notion. The north-south divide is still a real concept in the eyes of many people across the country, and to many of my constituents. We must ensure that rather than enhancing the perception of that divide, the 2012 Olympics attempts to bridge the gap and unite the nation. The London 2012 Olympic games present us with a host of challenges and opportunities across the country; that is why I called for this debate.

I shall highlight four ways in which the north-east region, and Teesside in particular, could benefit from the Olympics. First, I will highlight the efforts being made by One NorthEast and Sport England through a regional forum to maximise the benefits of the Olympics to the region. I will talk about the bid to host a pre-event training camp. That would be a huge economic boost for the region and would leave a lasting cultural legacy. Secondly, I will briefly outline the business opportunities presented by the 2012 Olympics in key sectors such as construction. Then I will highlight the great potential that hosting the 2012 games has for galvanising interest in sport among young people. That opportunity should not be missed, given the recent concern about public health issues such as obesity. Finally, on a more important point, I will talk about skateboarding as an Olympic sport for 2012; skateboarding events could ideally be hosted in Middlesbrough.

First, as I mentioned, and as my right hon. Friend will be aware, a regional forum has been set up to deliver a regional plan for the 2012 games. The plan focuses on themes, and actions will be led by Sport England and the regional development agency, One NorthEast. One NorthEast will take the lead on the following themes: business, tourism and image, culture, and skills and volunteering. Sport England will take the lead on facilities, performance sport, children and young people, and health. All those areas are crucial, and I hope that my right hon. Friend will liaise with the regional forum to ensure that progress is made in each one. I hope that he can provide a link between the regional forum and the Government, in particular the Minister for the Olympics.

One of the most significant opportunities for the north-east region is the chance to be host to competing nations, allowing athletes to get used to our climate and use local facilities in the months, or even years, prior to the event in 2012. There will be a final holding camp for teams a few weeks before the official start date of the games.

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games will publish and distribute a guide detailing the UK’s available training facilities at the Beijing games. Twenty proposals from the north-east were submitted on 1 May 2007. Sport England and One NorthEast met the Olympics officials in London on 2 May 2007 to discuss each of the facilities. The meeting was positive and no concerns were raised by officials. Since May 2007, LOCOG has been contacted several times to establish whether it has any concerns regarding the region’s facilities. No concerns have been identified so far, but it is uncertain whether Olympic officials will visit the north-east to inspect the region’s facilities. The time line for the announcement of which facilities will appear in the guide is January 2008. Will my right hon. Friend encourage Olympic officials to visit the north-east to secure a recommendation for the region in the Olympic guide? That could be a huge boost for the region, as I am sure he will agree. In addition, the athletes would be able to benefit from visiting great towns and cities such as Middlesbrough and Newcastle. They would also have the opportunity to visit the beautiful countryside that covers Redcar and Cleveland, not to mention the picturesque coastline, which was featured in the blockbuster film, “Atonement”.

My second point concerns another significant potential benefit for the region—the business opportunities offered by the 2012 Olympics. It is expected that the event will provide a multi-million-pound boost to business in the north-east, particularly given our expertise in key sectors. The One NorthEast business team has developed a strategy to help regional companies to bid for London 2012-related procurement opportunities. That strategy includes raising awareness of available opportunities, helping companies to ensure that they have the necessary skills to bid for tendering opportunities, and building regional partnerships and networks. One NorthEast has been delivering masterclasses, one-to-one advice sessions and seminars on London 2012 opportunities. It has also been in discussions with LOCOG, the Olympic Delivery Authority and the London Development Agency regarding the electronic brokerage service, which will provide unprecedented access to London 2012 business opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises. Will my right hon. Friend work closely with the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to ensure that those programmes are given Government support?

My third point is that perhaps the most enduring legacy that the Olympics have the potential to leave throughout the whole country is the generation of a greater interest in sport. That could be particularly powerful in our schools, where public health problems such as obesity are becoming more common. Legacy Trust UK was launched with £40 million of funding, mainly to use the 2012 games to promote culture and sport among young people. I am pleased that £1.53 million has been channelled directly into projects that encourage participation in culture, sport and well-being.

My fourth and final point concerns the prospect of skateboarding being an Olympic sport for the 2012 games. I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend knows a great deal about the sport or has ever participated in it—I certainly have not—but it is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, with about 600,000 regular participants in Britain. In the United States, France and the Scandinavian countries, it is part of the curriculum. Discussions are under way about the prospect of skateboarding making its Olympic debut at the 2012 games. There are some 600 skate parks in Britain, about 100 of which are in London. In November 2005, I had the pleasure of opening Prissick skate plaza in Middlesbrough, which is one of the country’s biggest and most impressive facilities. That plaza could be used in the 2012 games, which represents a real opportunity for the region, particularly Middlesbrough. Perhaps my right hon. Friend could use his good offices to put forward the case for it to be used for training purposes and, if possible, for the competition itself.

Newcastle United’s stadium, St. James’s Park, which my right hon. Friend attends, is being used for some of the football matches, and I am slightly disappointed that Middlesbrough FC’s stadium, the Riverside, is not being used. One concern that has been raised with me is that so many Government Departments are involved with the legacy of the Olympics that there may be a lack of co-ordination. Will he pass on that concern to ensure that we have cross-departmental co-operation and thus clarity with national initiatives, particularly as regards finance? Ensuring that their region takes advantage of the opportunities the 2012 Olympics will bring is a crucial role for regional Ministers. I am confident that in my right hon. Friend we have the best possible champion for the north-east.

In conclusion, I ask my right hon. Friend to work closely with One NorthEast, Sport England and the regional forum in delivering the regional strategy. Will he try to send a delegation of Olympic officials to the region so that they can see for themselves the facilities that we have? Hopefully, that will secure a recommendation for the region in the Olympic guide. If skateboarding becomes an Olympic sport, will he make every effort to put forward the case for Middlesbrough skate park to be used in the 2012 games? The 2012 Olympics will be a momentous time for the whole country, and I am confident that the north-east can take full advantage of the opportunities that they will present. In addition, I sincerely hope that the British 2012 team will be full of top athletes from the north-east region.

Mr. Speaker, you are presiding, Sir, over what I think is a pioneering parliamentary event. I believe that I am the first of the newly appointed regional Ministers to come to the Dispatch Box and respond to a debate under that portfolio. I am also responding under that of my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, South and East Cleveland (Dr. Kumar) for his kind words about the ministerial office that I hold, and I can tell the House that we have been political friends and allies for a very long time. He has been a champion for the community that he represents, as his securing of the debate, and his contribution to it, shows. My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics had hoped to attend the debate, but she is metaphorically “Over the hills and far away”—no doubt “Out on the tiles”—so that leaves me to say to my hon. Friend, “Your time is gonna come”. Through “Good times, bad times”, my hon. Friend has been a champion for Middlesbrough and for Cleveland. Indeed, in securing today’s Adjournment debate and drawing attention to the Olympics—an event that is an opportunity to bring economic, social and cultural benefits to the north-east of England and Middlesbrough, and right across the UK—he has shown a determination and commitment to stand up for the communities that he represents as an MP, and that I represent as regional Minister.

The Government and the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games are working hard to ensure that the benefits of the games reach across the UK. One of the main formal mechanisms for achieving that is the nations and regions group to which my hon. Friend referred. The group is chaired by Charles Allen, and it works to optimise the benefits from the 2012 games to the three nations and nine English regions of the UK. Each of those nations and regions has a senior representative in the group. Also, each nation and region has a 2012 co-ordinator who works full time on maintaining strong links with the region and others working on the games.

Obviously, the primary purpose of the games is sport. We want to stimulate interest in sport throughout the world, and nowhere more so than in the host nation. I am really grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said about the achievement of winning the games for the UK and London. They are something in which the whole country can participate and take pride. There are, of course, the added benefits of tourism, culture and business, as he appreciates. A business opportunities network has been created, which will do three things that I hope will be of some reassurance to him. It will offer information about the 2012 contracts through an e-tendering alert service and an electronic brokerage service. It will offer support and guidance through Business Link, and as he knows, Business Link in the north-east has, through its chief executive, already got a connection with Middlesbrough. It is a good organisation, which serves us well. The network will also provide events and engagements. There will be a range of regional and national industry events, which are opportunities to meet the buyer, so that those who wish to submit tenders can interface with those to whom they apply.

There will be pre-games training camps. In preparing for the debate, I had a chance to discuss those matters with my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Olympics and she assures me that, although decisions will not be made until January and afterwards, there are bids in, as my hon. Friend said, from the north-east, and the people assembling and evaluating the different bids are impressed with those from the north-east of England.

The run-up to the games will be an opportunity for volunteering. Approximately 70,000 games time volunteers are needed from throughout the country and I hope, as does my hon. Friend, that some of them will come from the north-east.

Let me deal with my hon. Friend’s specific points. I cannot say more about the training camp proposals except that the submissions are highly regarded and that, as Minister for the region, I will do my best with him to champion its case. My hon. Friend asked whether the Olympics committee had visited the north-east to examine the facilities that are available in our region. The answer is yes. As he probably recalls, the Olympic roadshow came to Middlesbrough on 4 July for the festival of sport activities. However, I am not sure whether that qualifies as inspecting the facilities. He made his point, which was reasonable, well, and I will join him in my capacity as regional Minister to ensure that it is properly made to the Government. When decisions are for the London Organising Committee, not specifically for the Department, it is nevertheless right to make the representations that my hon. Friend has made so that they can be tackled supportively and appropriately.

My hon. Friend referred to skateboarding. As I understand it, the International Olympic Committee is looking to reduce, not increase the number of sports that the Olympic games cover. However, as I understand the current position, things may have changed by 2012, not least with the growing enthusiasm for and popularity of the sport of skateboarding. I welcome the new, world-class stadium that was built in Middlesbrough. If there were to be a centre for the sport, Middlesbrough would be a good candidate. Again, should circumstances change, or should there be other events that could take place in Middlesbrough, I will stand alongside my hon. Friend to champion that cause.

My hon. Friend said that he feared a “communications breakdown” in tackling interdepartmental co-ordination. Elaborate arrangements are in place to ensure that that does not happen. Time is moving on and it is not possible in such a debate to elaborate on all the arrangements. However, if it will satisfy my hon. Friend, I will write to him from my comprehensive briefing on the subject, and set out the arrangements that are currently in place. If he feels that there are any shortcomings and that our region or a specific aspect of our nation’s public life is not represented, I promise to take that up directly with those who deal with the co-ordinating arrangements.

Let me conclude this useful, important and, in one way, pathfinding debate with a quote from the pop group Led Zeppelin:

“Many dreams come true and some have silver linings

I live for my dream and a pocketful of gold.”

I hope that that contents my hon. Friend.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at one minute to Eleven o’clock.