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Sport and Recreational Facilities

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 23 January 2020


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport what steps she is taking to improve access to sport and recreational facilities and opportunities (1) during, and (2) outside of, school hours.

The cross-government School Sport and Activity Action Plan sets out how we will help young people live healthy, active lives. We will publish more details of our ambitious plans later this year. The Chancellor recently announced a £500 million Youth Investment Fund, which will be spent on youth centres and youth workers, but I am very keen that there are also activities, including sports activities, that help to build the character and resilience, as well as the fitness and well-being, of our young people.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Secretary of State, and no one could be more delighted than I am that responsibility for sport is now in this House—sport has come home. My noble friend will be aware that more than 33% of our medallists at the Olympic Games came from the independent sector, which represents 7% of our children. Given that there is so much sporting talent to be identified and developed in the state sector, will she launch a new strategy, with her colleagues in education, to ensure that all independent schools—not just those which already demonstrate that best practice but all independent schools that are in receipt of charitable status—continue to build school sports partnerships with the state sector, local clubs and the community as part of their public benefits requirement?

The noble Lord is absolutely right that my department works with the Department for Education. From my previous experience, I think that learning goes both ways. Of course, the independent sector may have the facilities to support others, but I also know that, equally, there are some fantastic maintained schools, funded by the state, that offer a wonderful sporting experience. However, I am sure there is more to be done. I am just about to see the Secretary of State for Education, so I shall certainly mention it. Briefly, the noble Lord mentioned the Olympic Games and I am sure that as we turn into 2020, when the Tokyo Games are happening, all noble Lords will want to wish our Olympic and Paralympic athletes the very best in their preparations.

My Lords, I need not issue the welcome a second time. The Olympic Games are the starting point for my question, but I refer to those that took place here in 2012. I declare my interest as chair of the board of directors of the Central Foundation Schools of London, where there is not a blade of grass for anybody to play anything on. The boys’ school is within three miles of Stratford and the Olympic Village. I cannot see how the ambitions raised in the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, can be fulfilled without rather a lot of resource being put in to get people out of these inner-city schools to somewhere they can play their games and have their exercise. Does the Minister have some ambitious and recently imagined plan that will help me go to my board and say, “There’s hope round the corner”?

The noble Lord is right that it is impossible to have sports facilities without the necessary funding. There are a number of funds, and I am always happy to share their details with noble Lords. The Sport England strategic facilities fund is making up to £40 million of National Lottery funding available to invest in facilities projects. There is also the Sport England community asset fund, which is £15 million. The Government are investing £10 million and £15 million respectively into facilities for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup and, in cycling, the 2019 Road World Championships. We have also announced funding for more 3G sports pitches, which are extremely important, particularly in inner-city and urban areas. We want to make sure that they are as widely available as possible.

My Lords, I join others in welcoming the Minister to her place. Does she share my concern that the disparity in facilities referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, extends to arts facilities? It was no less an actor than Benedict Cumberbatch who pointed out to me that this reduces opportunities not only for less affluent children but for creative innovation, where different voices come together. Does she agree with me that it should not take Sherlock to point out that there are significant benefits from opening up these facilities for wider use?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right. I mentioned earlier the Youth Investment Fund, which is not just about places and people, although those are important, but about entitlement. There are many schools in the independent and state sectors which do arts provision extremely well, and we want to build on their example. Also—and my noble friend the Minister is working very intensively on this —I feel that we should make sure the fund offers arts opportunities for after-school activities as well. The noble Baroness also mentioned the important word “creativity”; we want to see much more focus on that.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister to her new role. The Government have a situation where schools that used to provide many of the facilities for junior clubs in their start-up role are increasingly finding doors locked. What duty is being placed on those schools to get in touch with the governing bodies of these sports to let them know what facilities are potentially available, possibly upping the revenue of these schools?

The noble Lord asks a very good question. As I said, I am about to talk to the Secretary of State for Education; I will put that on the agenda of the meeting. The noble Lord is right that facilities do not have to be offered just in school premises. Working with local community facilities or other sports facilities, for example, and making sure that those links are built is important. If he has any specific examples he wants to share with me and the department so that we can pursue this, I would be interested to receive them.

Is it not the case that partnership schemes in sport between independent and state schools, of which there are over a thousand, are already making a useful contribution to the sharing of facilities and staff? At the same time, I support my noble friend Lord Moynihan’s call for the further extension of this valuable work.

My noble friend is right that there are already many great partnerships that are transforming our young people’s opportunities in sport. There are always more lessons that can be learned. As I say, those experiences often go both ways; it is not just about the independent schools offering facilities to the state sector.