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Sport (North-West)

Volume 493: debated on Monday 8 June 2009

The majority of UK Sport and Sport England funding is allocated to organisations such as national governing bodies rather than regionally. It is used to deliver the Government’s key sporting objectives across the country, including in the north-west. Specific grants benefiting the north-west this year include more than £10 million of Exchequer funding for county sports partnerships and the English Institute of Sport in the region, and more than £1 million of UK Sport Lottery funding for major events, including the Paralympic World cup.

The Minister will know that the previous Conservative Government set up the lottery with provision for grass-roots sports as one of its primary good causes. The sport industry in the north-west makes up 1.5 per cent. of the area’s economy, but—in my experience recently—ever-decreasing funds are dedicated to grass-roots sports. What may my constituents expect in sport funding for 2009-10? This is important, because grass-roots sport is critical.

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his involvement in sport. I remember as a new Member discussing with him sport in Macclesfield, many years ago. I do not accept that there has been a reduction in funding for grass-roots sport—indeed, the opposite is true. In schools, we are trying to bring the two-hour offer up to five hours and encouraging sports clubs to work with schools, to try to bring them together to increase the number of young people taking part. We have also seen an increase in the number of girls taking part in sport at all levels. I also mentioned to the hon. Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) the investment of more than £5 billion in the last 12 years. Rather than seeing a reduction in funding for community sports, we have seen a three-fold increase. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) will also be aware of the funding available not only through the governing bodies, but through Sport England’s rural and innovation funds. Many of the clubs that he mentions will be able to take advantage of that funding.

We heard earlier how receptive councils will be to the Minister’s advice and views on developing and enabling sport. Will he give advice to local education authorities in the north-west and elsewhere, such as Essex county council, that they should not sell off school playing fields, such as the field at Castle View school in Canvey Island, for development, but should retain those school fields for sport?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will know that over the past 12 years we have safeguarded school playing fields, ensuring that they cannot be sold without procedures being followed and without Sport England being involved. There is a debate about playing fields as opposed to the provision of indoor sports facilities, which I accept. Our record shows that we have stopped the sell-off of playing fields that happened under the previous Government. We want to see more world-class facilities available to everybody.

One of the most successful funders of sport in the north-west, not mentioned by the Minister, is, of course, the Football Foundation. There were reports last week that the Football Association intends to cut the grant it gives the Football Foundation by approximately 15 per cent., or at least £2 million each year. Incidentally, that contradicts all the assurances that we were given as part of the 2018 World cup launch last week, which the Minister and I attended together. Given that the Government are the FA’s funding partner for the Football Foundation, may I ask the Minister whether he agrees with this policy? If not, as I suspect, what is he doing to stop it?

At a meeting of the Football Foundation board, the issue was raised of the potential reduction in funding to grassroots sports. It is not something that I would be very happy about. I am told that it is only a proposal at this stage, but the hon.Gentleman is quite right to raise it and I shall be raising it with the FA as soon as possible