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Community Sport

Volume 493: debated on Monday 8 June 2009

1. What assessment he has made of the effect of the recession on community sports groups and clubs. (278188)

My Department is monitoring the potential impact of the recession on all its sectors. It recently published “Lifting People, Lifting Places”, which sets out the role that sport can play in lifting our communities. Our most recent figures show that participation is holding up well, and we remain on track with our ambition to ensure that 1 million more people engage in sport regularly.

Since 1997, grass-roots funding for community sports has been reduced from £397 million to £209 million. What impact does the Minister expect that to have on the efforts of British sportsmen and sportswomen to succeed in the 2012 London Olympics?

The hon. Gentleman, whom I respect, has got his figures completely wrong. Nearly £5 billion has been invested in sport over the past 12 years, and it can be shown that every sport and every area of sport has been very successful. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to tell me which sports have not been successful, at community or at school level, I shall be happy to discuss that with him.

The Minister recently gave us an assurance about the future of the English Institute of Sport facility at Gateshead stadium, in the context of UK Sport’s announcement of changes in the way in which it would fund local sports clubs. In the light of the recession, can he give us a further assurance today that that valuable project will not be put in jeopardy?

I am grateful for the work that my hon. Friend has been doing for sport in the north-east. I am happy to confirm that the English Institute of Sport will have a presence in the region, and will continue to invest in it. I shall be happy to meet him, and to establish what progress is being made. I know that a number of outstanding issues need to be tidied up.

Perhaps the Minister could suggest to local authorities throughout the country—they are all Tory controlled now, and very receptive—that they make available facilities in schools and colleges, such as playing fields, at reduced prices, if not free, to encourage community groups to continue to take part in the sport that they enjoy, particularly at this time of deep recession.

It is vital for us to try to ensure that 1 million more people become active in sport, and I agree that local authorities have a major role to play in that. I know that they are happy to work with the Government, as they did in the case of free swimming. More than 80 per cent. of councils now offer free swimming to the over-60s, and 60 per cent. offer it to the under-60s. Some Conservative councils did not participate then, but I hope that they will do so now.

Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating all who were involved in establishing the boxing centre of excellence in Gorton, which provides facilities for boys, girls and people with disabilities? It already has a amateur boxing club with 100 members, and is part of a £200 million educational complex in Gorton. None of that would ever have happened without this Labour Government.

I am delighted to agree with my right hon. Friend, and I congratulate him on the work that he has done to support boxing in his constituency. We are trying to ensure that boxing facilities are available to all who want to take part, not just for the physical contact but for the fitness that can be acquired through boxing, and the self-respect that it teaches. I shall be happy to support the initiative in Gorton, and I should like to see more boxing in our schools and communities throughout the country.

Sports clubs undoubtedly make an invaluable contribution to our local communities, yet they continue to be swamped by regulations and bureaucracy. What more can the Government do to ease that bureaucracy and regulation, so that clubs do not go under during this difficult recession?

There are a number of ways in which we can help and are helping. We want to support clubs that apply for community amateur sports club status, with all the benefits that that gives them. We are also looking at water charges around the country, which have caused problems for clubs. We want sport to be firmly at the heart of what we are trying to achieve, because all of us—Members throughout the House—are aware of the benefits it provides for our communities.

My hon. Friend mentioned the excellent CASC scheme, which the Government introduced in 2002. It has helped sports clubs in areas throughout the country, including Newcastle-under-Lyme. As he will know, in November 2007 we wanted the Government to go a little further and extend gift aid to junior subscriptions. There was a “subs for clubs” campaign. What recent discussions has he had with the Treasury about that proposal?

We try to ensure that we support our clubs in any way possible. However, my hon. Friend is right to raise that issue, and we have raised it with the Treasury. As he is aware, tax-related matters are for the Treasury, but we will continue to try to persuade it that it should be supporting clubs.

As my hon. Friend will know, we are considering what further support we can provide. The other week, the Department for Work and Pensions announced that a further 5,000 young people would be given the opportunity to become coaches and to be involved in employment. I believe that we are doing all that we can to deliver and develop sport.