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Exercise and Fitness (Female Participation)

Volume 527: debated on Thursday 28 April 2011

5. What proportion of sports funding provided by his Department was allocated to promoting exercise and fitness for women at grass-roots level in the latest period for which figures are available. (52628)

Promoting female participation in sport is a key priority for the whole sport plans. In addition, a number of projects have exercise and fitness elements to help create a stepping stone into sport. Examples include British Cycling’s breeze and sky ride programmes, England Athletics’ informal running networks and the Lawn Tennis Association’s cardio tennis.

Despite record investment in governing bodies, women’s participation in sport continues to fall. There are welcome initiatives such as the £10 million active women fund, but they still represent a tiny proportion of sports funding. Should we not switch funding more towards grass-roots initiatives and learn from mass-participation events such as race for life, which this year will see 1 million women walking, jogging and running 5 k?

Yes. I absolutely understand the hon. Lady’s point. About two years ago, the previous Government, supported by the Conservative party, set in place the whole sport plans, which are allowing sport governing bodies to drive up participation. They have now been running for two years, and I think we are starting to see the benefits, although it is like trying to turn a juggernaut around. When the half-time analysis is done, we will ensure that we concentrate on areas in which the plans have not succeeded as well as in others, and that will be one of them.

No one doubts the Minister’s personal commitment to sport, but what assessment has he made of the extent to which opportunities for women, and indeed everybody else, to take part in grass-roots sport will be hugely reduced because sports staff are being made redundant and fees to hire facilities and entry charges to pools, sports halls and leisure centres are being increased? That is a result of cuts to local council budgets that are going too far and too fast, for which both he and the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) voted.

The first point about that is the obvious political one. It is pointless to pretend that cuts have been made because the coalition Government are in power and would not have been made had the Labour party been in power. There would have been cuts whoever was in power. We have put in place a series of programmes to ensure that the effect of the cuts is mitigated, including the Places People Play programme and the work that we are doing with the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government on the Localism Bill. That will allow sports clubs to place all sports facilities on which they play on a local community asset register, so that the facilities are offered to them directly before being put on the open market.