Recreation and Leisure (Facilities)

Part of Bills Presented – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 4th December 1964.

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Photo of Mr Reginald Freeson Mr Reginald Freeson , Willesden East 12:00 am, 4th December 1964

I hope that the House will bear with me if I make one or two points which have not yet been dealt with along the lines which I have particularly in mind on the specific aspects of education and youth service in terms of the building problem and the like.

These are particular suggestions which I should like to put to my right hon. Friends as ways in which we might speed up and improve upon the provision being made for our youth and leisure facilities. I have in mind, for example, a situation in my own area, Willesden, where there are major extensions being undertaken to a secondary school, right next door to an athletics area, where the local authority is expanding by way of providing a new swimming pool and a new sports stadium.

Several speakers have referred to difficulties in local authority departments, and one thing that I intend to take up again with my own local education officer is the need to ensure greater co-ordination and more intense use by the community at large of the facilities available. At the school I have mentioned, provision is to be made in the next two or three years for gymnasia, but we find it very difficult even to initiate adequate discussion with a view to achieving community use of those facilities. Such a situation needs serious investigation at Ministry level.

Another problem facing the Youth Service, as distinct from the schools and the community at large, is its building programme. The present procedure is that if a local voluntary organisation wants to go ahead with a major project, the local authority must include that project in its submission to the Ministry. An organisation in my constituency after raising money for a considerable time, has recently had the benefit of a sponsor providing a large sum of money. It feels that within the next 18 months or two years it will be able to purchase a very expensive site on which to build a youth centre.

When the Youth Service building programme was originally submitted, this possibility did not exist, so the organizsation will now have to apply to the local authority to have this project included. The local authority will then have to resubmit its programme to the Ministry and, on the basis of experience, we can be sure that if the Ministry does include the additional project, it will inevitably be at the expense of another scheme previously included.

I should like to see a revision of the procedure so that when people, virtually by their own unaided efforts, are able to go ahead with a major building programme they should be able to do it without the local education authority finding out that if consent is given at ministerial level some other Youth Service project that is almost dependent, or entirely dependent, on public funds, will be cut out.

It has been said that £16½ million has been spent by local authorities on sports facilities, and I think that a certain amount of loosening of control is necessary here. I know that in my constituency it has taken four, five or six years, according to the type of scheme, to get swimming pools, a stadium and a sports centre under way. The money needed for their construction will come from the rates, but we have had to wait a considerable number of years for permission to go ahead. I will not elaborate the point that the permissions were all given in 1964, when a General Election was pending.

There is another aspect that causes local authorities much concern. In 1961 there was an economic crisis, which resulted in the Ministry of Housing and Local Government calling for lists of prospective projects. My authority, like many other authorities, submitted a whole list of amenity projects that it wanted to introduce. As a member of my local authority I went on a deputation to the Ministry, and we understood that the idea was to get a national comprehensive view of what was in train and that when the crisis receded we would be given an indication about what could progress.

To this day there has been no further information given from ministerial level downwards on the programming of these schemes. The authority had to guess when it might be suitable to submit a further application and perhaps get approval. It guessed right. It made an application during the period leading up to the General Election. There were swimming pools either on the board or on the ground and a sports centre is now on the way. As I say, we had to guess. This was wrong. Some guidance should be given from the centre about when the authority could expect to have permission to go ahead with its schemes. It did not get it.

I could give many other instances of which I have experience in local council work in which we wanted to go ahead with schemes, but before committing ourselves to heavy expenditure of time and money we had to go to Ministerial Departments because we had not had clear guidance about what would be permitted or when it would he permitted and the extent of the expenditure.

Work on a youth centre is shortly to start. This idea has been knocking about for five years in my district, but now we are to get under way with it. There may be a lesson to be learned here concerning the procedure on the school building programme. About 2½ years ago a plan and specification and an estimated price were submitted to the Ministry for this centre. The general plan was approved subject to one or two minor details. The estimate was approved. The matter then went to tender. If it had been 1 per cent. or so over the original estimate, the whole procedure would have had to be gone through again and a series of negotiation would have had to be undertaken between the local education authority and the Ministry, which would have meant that a great deal more time would have been wasted. Fortunately, this did not arise, although at one time there was a fear that it would arise on the estimating point. It would have meant pushing it out of this year's building programme into another year's programme.

There must be a look at the procedure adopted between local education authorities, the youth service, schools and the Ministry so as to speed up the programming of work so that a building project is not pushed from one programme into another year after year, resulting in constant delay and frustration at local level among people employed in the Youth Service.

I will content myself with these points. If something can be done to meet them, it will help to raise morale in the local authority and encourage the enthusiasm of people, both at local authority level and in the Youth Service, to direct their energies towards expanding the service as the years go by.