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Sport (Young People)

Volume 496: debated on Monday 20 July 2009

5. What steps his Department is taking to encourage participation in sporting activity by young people who have left school. (287441)

Mr. Speaker, may I add my congratulations to you on your new role?

Part of the legacy programme for 2012 will be to ensure that we leave behind a system that encourages those of all ages, particularly children and young people, to play sport. The five-hour offer for children aged five to 16 has been expanded to include three hours a week for those aged 16 to 19. To combat the drop-off on leaving school, and as part of more than £780 million of Government funding between 2008 and 2011, we are investing more than £15 million to create a new network of sports co-ordinators for those who have left school in order to move on to further education. Through our unprecedented investment in national governing bodies, nine sports will now also work specifically to reduce post-16 drop-off by 25 per cent. for 2013.

Among other things, I would like to ask my hon. Friend whether in the context of the question it is better for people to sit on Cobra rather than drink Cobra.

My hon. Friend knows as well as I do that there is an enormous drop-off in sports activity by young people post-school, particularly among young women. Will he work with local authorities and perhaps with private sporting clubs to ensure that his Department’s marketing to encourage people into sport is taken up by those groups so that we can see our young people get back into meaningful activity?

It is a pleasure to sit on the Cobra committee, and I also enjoy a pint of Cobra now and again.

My hon. Friend is quite right about the drop-off rate. In trying to get 2 million more people active in sport and physical activities by 2012—a key legacy aim—we are looking at the drop-off rate post-16. I know that in my hon. Friend’s area of Manchester and in Salford the local authorities are doing a great deal of work with the local community, in initiatives such as StreetGames and the KICKz project, to encourage people to get involved in sport. I am particularly pleased with Sport Unlimited, which is aimed at 11 to 19-year-olds; that involves 900 young people and £36 million of investment. I hope that that will help to get them into more organised sport.

The Minister will know that obesity is a huge and serious problem. If the Minister wants joined-up thinking and joined-up government with the Department of Health, why is his Department allowing the selling-off of four more sports fields and more school land than ever before, which of course prevents young people from having access to sports and addressing that important issue of obesity?

The hon. Gentleman usually gets his facts right, but he is completely wrong on this occasion. It is a complete myth that sports fields are being sold off. This Government have put processes in place to make sure that sports fields are not sold off. In fact, we have had a net increase in the number of sports fields. It is not just about sports fields; it is about indoor sports arenas and ensuring that we have world-class facilities for our youngsters and sports people. The hon. Gentleman is right about obesity, which is why the Government introduced free swimming, which more than 80 per cent. of local authorities took up. I am sorry that some Tory local authorities did not do so.

I have made all my falderals thanking and congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, so I will move straight to the Minister, who visited my constituency and saw the Hamilton-Davies trust and the Barton Athletic club projects in partnership with Salford city council. Does he agree that the project to encourage young people leaving school to take up non-traditional sports such as boxing, wrestling and martial arts is to be commended? Does he also agree that the 70 and 80-year-olds whom he saw training at Barton Athletic was a great example to others?

It was a great pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and to meet people at the Barton Athletic sports club. He is right that we saw young people getting involved in a range of different sports, but I was very happy to see a 70-year-old and an 80-year-old rowing and achieving fast times in preparation for entering the world senior games. As we are talking about older people, let me say that it was a great pleasure to see Tom Watson nearly become the British open champion yesterday. I congratulate the winner, but Mr. Watson’s performance gave great hope to all those older golfers.

The Minister has rightly said that increases in sports participation are a critical part of the legacy plan for 2012, but does he acknowledge that after a good early start there has been stagnation? Does he accept that the latest figures show that in six out of nine key sports there has been no increase in participation in the past 12 months; that in three of those sports—rugby, football and athletics—there has been a significant fall in participation; and that fewer women and fewer people with limiting disabilities are participating in sport? The Government must do more. Will he acknowledge that there are good ideas out there, such as gift aid for junior membership of sports clubs and the Active Generation programme by the Prince’s Trust? What are we to make of newspaper reports of some new scheme to be announced next year?

Let me say again that, although the hon. Gentleman normally gets his facts right, he has unfortunately got them wrong today. He keeps criticising the legacy that we are trying to create, but he will know that involving 2 million more people in sport and physical activity by 2012 has never been achieved by any other host of the Olympic games. There is a fantastic challenge ahead of us, but we are already making progress. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the new funding arrangements for Sport England are enabling the national governing bodies to increase participation: money is going to where sport is. More than £5 billion of lottery and Government funds has been invested since 1997.

I hope that the Opposition will now stop carping. If good ideas are emerging, let us hear them.

The hon. Gentleman has given me one idea. I look forward to hearing more from him. The legacy will be great, and we will achieve our figures.