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London Olympics

Volume 532: debated on Thursday 8 September 2011

5. What estimate he has made of the likely change in the level of participation in sport as a result of the London 2012 Olympics. (70592)

Over the past year, we have increased the share of lottery funding for sport across the United Kingdom and invested £135 million in a mass participation legacy programme and more than £100 million to increase competitive sport through the school games. Increasing participation will be a challenge, and it is one that no previous host city has achieved, but it is our aim to deliver on the pledges made at the time of the bid.

I welcome what the Minister has said. I am delighted to hear that the Secretary of State is going to Belfast tomorrow; I am sure that he will be warmly welcomed there. I hope that he has discussions, along with his colleagues, on the issue of increasing participation in sport across the regions and in Northern Ireland. I would be grateful if he could say what discussions he has had with the Northern Ireland Executive specifically on increasing participation in Northern Ireland in sport as a result of the Olympics.

I am delighted to tell the right hon. Gentleman that I visited Belfast on 9 March. I visited the university of Belfast and Sport Northern Ireland and saw a number of participation schemes that I thought were being well run and had every chance of increasing participation across the Province. Indeed, it is the first time that I have been there since I was a soldier 20 years previously, and the change in the whole place was remarkable. He absolutely has that commitment and I will do everything possible to help.

Does the Minister agree that in increasing participation in sport post-2012, it is essential that we protect our playing fields?

Yes, I absolutely do, and there is now a really effective triple lock on playing fields: all planning applications have to go before Sport England; under the Localism Bill people will have the opportunity to designate playing fields as local community facilities; and there is now a specific fund, administered by Sport England, for the improvement of local playing fields.

The Minister knows that no one measure can increase participation in sport. Does he accept that what has happened in London, and the leadership shown by the Mayor of London in ensuring that money gets down to the grass roots, is crucial? If we really want to increase participation, we all have to work together in partnership across the whole of sport.

I could not agree more, and I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she has done in London to bring that about. London is an extremely good example of what can be done at community level to meet the policies coming down from Government. Without real inspiration in different areas to meet different needs, we will not achieve that.

Let me add my congratulations to the sports teams and British sportsmen and women whom the Minister listed earlier.

What assessment has the Minister made of the impact of the decision by his colleagues to withdraw the funding for school sport partnerships, which have led to more than 90% of children doing at least two hours a week of sport in school, compared with less than 25% eight years ago? Is it not the case that sports facilities across the country are being closed, that fees and charges are being increased and that, despite the Olympics, the risk is that the outcome of his Government’s decisions will be fewer youngsters and adults taking part in sport across the UK?

Let me say at the outset that the reason why the funding decisions were taken was to tackle the deficit, which would have had to happen whoever was in power. There is a political argument about the scale and speed of it, but the fact is that there would have been cuts under any Government. To mitigate that, we have increased the amount of money that sport gets through the lottery and put in place a specific mass participation programme under Sport England. I have been watching the matter very carefully, and there is as yet—I do not say it will not happen—no evidence that there are mass closures across the country. There is a dichotomy between local authorities that hold facilities in leisure trusts, which are not affected, and those that hold them directly, where they are under threat. We will watch the situation closely.