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Sport: Community Facilities

Volume 684: debated on Monday 10 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their response to the report by the Audit Commission, Public sports and recreation services, that school sports facilities are not being used to full effect to provide community sports and recreation facilities which are fit for purpose.

My Lords, the Government welcome the report, which, while highlighting some legitimate challenges, recognises that education facilities are playing an increasing role in the delivery of community sports facilities. By 2010, we want all schools, as part of their extended school provision, to provide wider community access to their facilities. DCMS is working closely with DfES and local authorities to achieve this.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I turn his attention to another part of the report, which states that successful strategic management between sports and recreation services and health and education sectors is not common. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, assured us on Thursday that the Department of Health was taking a lead in this, can the Minister tell us exactly what guidance has been given to the Department for Education and Skills by the Department of Health to tackle obesity and other problems, with regard to recreational activities, and what weight that guidance has?

My Lords, the noble Lord will recognise that the DCMS and the Department for Education and Skills are on course to hit an ambitious target of providing enhanced sports facilities and increased provision for sport in school by 2010. The noble Lord will know, as he has presented this case frequently to the House, that the best way to tackle ill health among children and to prevent obesity is to ensure that young people get the opportunities to enjoy sport and exercise.

My Lords, the Audit Commission rightly draws our attention to the potential of state schools to provide leisure and recreation facilities for all of us. However, given the fact that independent schools frequently have outstanding sporting facilities—very level playing fields, in most cases—and are in receipt of charitable status, which gives them significant financial benefit, what are the Government doing to open up those facilities for everybody, so that everyone can benefit from them and not just the privileged few?

My Lords, my noble friend will be well aware that the Government are concerned to develop school sports partnerships that guarantee that young people get the benefit of private resources dedicated to the enhancement and provision of sport, whether that involves private clubs or, in some cases, private schools. The progress on the latter may not be as rapid as we would wish, but some progress is being made, and we intend to encourage private independent schools to make their contribution to local school partnerships.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, because children are bussed home or collected by their parents immediately after classes, they do not then participate in sports?

My Lords, that is certainly a problem, although not an entirely new one. After all, many children have always been bussed home straight after school. Therefore, the issue relates to the timetable and the availability of sport in the school curriculum as well. I agree with the noble Baroness: the answer is to encourage parents to recognise the value of out-of-school activities that can be provided at school and ensure that they make arrangements for their children to participate fully in them.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that still better use could be made of such facilities by the introduction of daylight saving? One of the main lobbyings that I received during the passage of my lighter evenings Bill was from school people, certainly in northern latitudes. They said that they could not get children out of school and on to the playing fields simply because it was dark and the children had to go straight home. There is also the high risk of accidents during that period.

My Lords, the House will recognise that the noble Lord’s representation has many merits, one of which is that an additional hour of light in the evening would help. He will also know, however, that he has not won his case just yet. There are difficulties with regard to children and the early mornings.

My Lords, I want to return to a subject that we have debated frequently in the House. The Audit Commission’s report makes it clear that the Government should,

“ensure greater coherence of funding streams and initiatives across government departments that directly or indirectly affect investment in sports and recreation facilities”—

a one-stop shop for sports organisations. Where have the Government got to?

My Lords, one-stop shops are easier to pronounce than to create. The noble Lord will recognise that the Department for Education and Skills is bound to play a significant role in schools expenditure, in partnership with local authorities. He will recognise that school sport and exercise represent just one dimension of the curriculum and the resources that we need to make available in schools. I accept his point that we need to make progress on the integration of sports facilities for schools. We aim to meet many of the Audit Commission’s requirements as rapidly as we can.

My Lords, my noble friend will know that there are deep concerns about lack of participation by young Asian and Muslim girls in sport. What are the Government doing about that?

My Lords, my noble friend will recognise that our requirements for sport and exercise apply to all schools irrespective of the auspices under which they are organised, as long as they are in the state system. However, she has identified the challenge of encouraging younger Asian girls in particular to participate in sport. The education system and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport will do all that they can to demonstrate the benefits to the Asian community of participation by young people.

My Lords, will the Minister remind us how many playing fields have been closed recently in the state system? Does he recognise that each closure brings added pressure? No wonder the Government are looking to get more facilities from the private sector to support their achievements.

My Lords, far fewer playing fields are closed than sports facilities are created as a result of the resources released. We made a commitment in 1997 that we would not continue the previous Administration’s policy of closing down school playing fields, but that only where school playing fields could be replaced by enhanced sports facilities would we give the go-ahead for them to be sold. We have retained and stuck to that policy, with the result that every month greater numbers of sports facilities are being created than school playing fields are being sold.