Sports Action Zones

Oral Answers to Questions — Culture, Media and Sport – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 21st March 2005.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 2:30 pm, 21st March 2005

What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of sports action zones; and if she will make a statement.

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

An initial evaluation relating to the establishment of the 12 zones was conducted by Sport England in 2001. Further evaluations were conducted in 2002–03 and 2003–04. A summary of the findings of the most recent evaluation will be published by Sport England this summer.

The work in all the zones shows, in varying ways, that sport has made a major contribution to dealing with some of our problems in promoting health, the integration of ethnic minority groups, crime reduction and social exclusion. We expect the good practice to go into the mainstream work of developing the sports infrastructure.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

Our hon. Friend Kate Hoey chairs with me our sports action zone in Lambeth and Southwark, which is brilliantly led by Brian Dickens, and we have experienced huge success in that zone in our two boroughs. Will there be an opportunity in the near future, whoever is in government, to roll out the zone across the rest of our boroughs so that the benefits spread? The Minister gave a list of lessons learned, including access, participation, health and social inclusion. Will there also be an opportunity to share with the rest of the country the lessons that boroughs such as ours have learned?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Very much so. I thank and congratulate my hon. Friend Kate Hoey and the hon. Gentleman on their work in the action zone. We are rolling out a further 18 zones and I hope that, as the hon. Gentleman says, the genuine good practice and innovation that stem from them will now fit into the actions of regional sports boards in developing their strategies. They involve health, social inclusion, education and the development of sustainable communities, and the zones can play an important role in that.

Photo of Kate Hoey Kate Hoey Labour, Vauxhall

The Minister should be aware that one of the lessons from the sports action zones is that a bottom-up, not a top-down approach works. When the approach in our area was top down for the first two years, with Sport England trying to run it, it did not work. When it was bottom up, with genuine neighbourhood support from community groups, the South Bank employers group and all the people who lived there and knew what they needed, it worked. Does the Minister agree that it is important that the funding continues and is not diluted in a London sports board, thus getting broken up and not necessarily used for inner-city areas such as mine?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Well, I do not know about the last part of the question—[Interruption.] Bear with me. Sports boards are charged with targets of greater participation. I remind my hon. Friend that, when I came into the job, Sport England was passing down 98 different sports initiatives to the regions. There was no bottom-up process; it was a case of ticking boxes and getting the dosh without anybody measuring what was happening. That approach has changed significantly in the sports boards, which bring in health, social inclusion and business to ensure that they drive up participation and also target the least well off in our society. I hope that, in the next few years, we will tackle the issues that my hon. Friend raised and use sports action zones in doing that.

Photo of Mr Nick Hawkins Mr Nick Hawkins Conservative, Surrey Heath

The Minister knows that I will always be happy to welcome more money for sport anywhere in the country. I recognise, as Kate Hoey did, that there are good areas where the approach in the sports action zones has been bottom up. However, does the Minister recognise that, in some parts of the country, there are still complaints that the money is not getting to the sharp end and that too much is being spent on bureaucracy? Does he acknowledge that, in any further development of the sports action zone programme, the Government need to be especially careful to ensure that taxpayers' money going to sport reaches children in disadvantaged areas and is thus spent on sport, not administrators?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

Very much so. The hon. Gentleman knows that Sport England's employees have reduced from 600 to a little more than 200. There is much going into the regions and the county sports partnerships. I suggest that he has a quick word with his Front Benchers, because the plans for sport that they will present at the next election appear centralist by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, they would scrap everything except the Minister for Sport.

Photo of Geoffrey Robinson Geoffrey Robinson Labour, Coventry North West

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the city of Coventry was honoured by his visit last month to see the new Coventry arena? He is to be congratulated on seeing the project through from inception to realisation this year. Does he realise that it stands as a model for the country and shows how sporting facilities, zones and new arenas can contribute to the regeneration of a city and, indeed, a region?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State (Sport and Tourism), Department for Culture, Media & Sport

That is absolutely true. Anyone would think that there was an election in the air, but I could not possibly comment on that. The project to which my hon. Friend refers is extremely good for regeneration. It has taken a long time getting there, but I have had the privilege of going to see the development to date, and I am sure that it will have a major and much-needed impact on Coventry's economy, in terms of how it can diversify using sport and other activities.