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London Olympics (Sporting Legacy)

Volume 519: debated on Monday 29 November 2010

I have asked Sport England to develop its £135 million places people play strategy, which along with the investment in the Olympic park will mean a new generation of iconic facilities, protection for our local playing fields and the gold challenge, which will both raise money for charity and get more people playing Olympic sports. The school Olympic-style competition will get competitive sport back in our schools, and all of this is, of course, supported by protecting both the whole sport plans and elite athlete funding in the spending review.

I am sure the Minister is aware that Ipswich has some fantastic sporting facilities, and we are greatly looking forward to hosting the Azerbaijan team during the 2012 Olympics, but may I invite him to visit Ipswich to help us in our aspirations to develop a sports village and a lasting sporting legacy for young people, and to improve healthy lifestyles in Ipswich?

I thank my hon. Friend for that invitation, and I have indeed visited Ipswich on a number of occasions—and watched his football team win a couple of years ago. [Interruption.] I do not sound surprised at all. The scheme my hon. Friend mentions is precisely the sort of project that will benefit from the type of funding Sport England is now looking at, and I wish him every success with it.

But will not the decision to scrap school sport partnerships do great damage to the most important part of the Olympics legacy, which is the health and fitness of our young people? What has the Minister said to the Education Secretary to try to persuade him to reverse this disastrous decision?

I think it is fair to say that nobody who is involved in sports issues—as the right hon. Gentleman was in his previous job, of course—would want sports funding to be cut in any way, but we have to realise that this is a decision—[Interruption.] It is all very well moaning about it, but it is a decision taken against the backdrop of the fact that this country pays out £120 million in debt interest every day. Schools funding has been ring-fenced and handed over to head teachers, and I would challenge them to continue this funding where it is proving important and showing benefits, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman would support them in that.

Further to that answer, I greatly welcome the proposal for the new school Olympics to improve competition between schools, but does the Minister recognise that for that to be successful it is important that schools receive a wide range of support, which was previously provided by the school sports partnership? Will he confirm that although the ring-fencing for the funding has gone, the money is still available in schools, and therefore will he confirm that he will continue to work with the Secretary of State for Education to ensure there continues to be a partnership into which schools—

Order. We have got the drift of the hon. Gentleman’s question, and I am grateful to him for it.

The short answer to that is yes of course I will. The key thing to remember is that the funding has, of course, been handed over to the schools—[Hon. Members: “No, it hasn’t.”] The schools budgets have been handed over to head teachers and it is entirely up to them to make decisions on it as they please. The head teachers of every single secondary school that I have visited during my time as a Member of Parliament have always asked me for greater control of their budgets; they have now got it.

The Olympics are a national project beyond party politics, and I join the hon. Gentleman in his support for that principle, which I have always maintained, so will he now stand with the coaches, the teachers, the young people and the volunteers who are bewildered and outraged by the decision to dismantle the partnerships that have seen nine out of 10 children play sport regularly? I ask him to do so in the spirit not of party politics, but of respecting that this second Olympic promise is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those young people?

I will absolutely stand behind those people. That is precisely why we changed the amount of money that sport gets from the national lottery, which enabled us to preserve both the whole sport plans and elite athlete funding. No money whatsoever has been cut from the coaching system that comes through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport—indeed, it has been increased. Those are precisely the measures that were opposed by the Labour party. I just say to the right hon. Lady, cross-party co-operation being what it is, that she has to recognise the scale of the financial problem we face: the amount of debt interest that we pay out every day is larger than the entire Exchequer contribution to Sport England in a year. That is the scale of the challenge we face.

The Minister will be aware of the enormous value that sport plays in the economy of Loughborough. Not only will it host Team GB and Team Japan before the Olympics, but a number of elite athletes are based at its university and college. What plans does he have to continue elite athletics funding after 2012 as part of the Olympics legacy?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. Of course Loughborough is right at the forefront of our plans for London 2012 and the development of sport beyond then. All the elite athlete funding has been not only confirmed for London 2012, but set at precisely the same level for the start of the Rio cycle, framed by our decision on the lottery and the money that UK Sport is getting this year. That is very good news for elite athletes in this country and it means that we will avoid the trap that the Australians fell into after the Sydney games—they front-loaded the funding for their home games and it fell off dramatically afterwards.