Youth Sport Trust — Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:21 pm on 8th December 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 3:21 pm, 8th December 2010

To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the impact of the decision to withdraw the grant from the Youth Sport Trust; and what consultations were undertaken before the decision was made.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, we looked carefully at the impact of the Youth Sport Trust and the school sport partnerships in recent years. While there has certainly been progress in some areas, the overall level of participation in competitive sport remains disappointingly low. The Government are bringing forward proposals to promote an Olympic and Paralympic-style programme where the Youth Sport Trust has been on the steering committee. We hope that this will lead to more involvement by more children at all levels.

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, but it is important to understand that the decision by the Secretary of State to cut completely the dedicated fund for school sports, condemned by head teachers, sports people and 600,000 young people yesterday, will mean the demolition of the 450 school sport partnerships across the country; partnerships that include every single school, including the smallest primaries and special schools. Despite the Secretary of State's view that they are inefficient, repeated I understand by the Prime Minister today, independent evaluation has said that the partnerships have led a remarkable revival in school sports. I also understand that the Department of Health and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport want them to continue.

Noble Lords:

Question!

Photo of Baroness Hughes of Stretford Baroness Hughes of Stretford Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

In that regard, will the Minister not ensure that funding at least for the continuation of that infrastructure will be found within the department?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, as the debates in another place revealed a couple of weeks ago, there is broad agreement across the House on the importance of sport and on the fact that we want to have a very strong legacy from the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

In terms of the performance of the school sport partnerships, again there was broad acceptance that the record is mixed. I certainly do not subscribe to the view that there was not good work done-there clearly was good work done-but equally there is acceptance that it was not universally good across the piece, and there are many people in sport who would also make that argument. In terms of going forward, what I hope we are united on is the need to find an effective way-we may differ on the means-of making sure that there is a strong and lasting Olympic and Paralympic legacy.

Photo of Baroness Grey-Thompson Baroness Grey-Thompson Crossbench

My Lords, can the Minister explain what options were considered for consulting more locally-perhaps with head teachers, schools, or even some of the children who were so vocal outside yesterday-before this decision was made? It is not just about an elite sports pathway; it is about the serious impact that a fall in participation could have on all our children's future health and well-being.

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

My Lords, I always listen with particular care to the points made by the noble Baroness. In a debate a few weeks ago, she made a very powerful intervention. I take her points very much to heart. My honourable friend Mr Loughton, the Minister for Children, is working with colleagues at DCMS to make sure that head teachers have the opportunity to express their views. As someone who could never have been described as an elite sports person-unlike the noble Baroness-I also agree very much with the point that we want to encourage participation for people at all levels, as well as making sure that there is a proper legacy.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, many of our Olympians and top sports stars were discovered and cultivated by sport specialists at schools and went on to make our country very proud-the noble Baroness is an example. Can my noble friend the Minister assure us that measures will be put in place to compel head teachers to spend money on sports and sport specialists, and not to divert funds into other areas at the long-term expense of sport and sporting legends?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

I agree with the thrust of the point made by my noble friend about the need to make sure that sport is given due weight. Part of what we need to look at in our overall considerations is the review of the national curriculum, to make sure that the emphasis that PE is given-in particular the competitive aspects of PE-is properly reflected. Our contention, as the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, suggested, is that we are trying to devolve responsibility and funds to heads of schools across the board to make those decisions. We expect that heads will want to continue to make sure that sport is given due and proper weight.

Photo of Baroness Billingham Baroness Billingham Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I apologise. Members of this House will remember that when the announcement was made about the withdrawal of funding, there was a firestorm of fury across the whole sporting family. It came from schools, colleges, elite athletes and people supporting the legacy of the Olympics. This outrage was no surprise. I think that No. 10 was somewhat taken by surprise, to the extent that it issued a statement saying that it would rethink this. At today's PMQs, the Prime Minister said that there would be no rethink. My question to the Minister is: will you have a rethink or will you rush headlong into the devastation of sport for a whole generation and many years to come?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

The situation is that, in the light of the debate around sport following our announcement, my department and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport are considering how best to ensure that we have proper legacy for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In due course, we will come forward to set out more detail.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Labour

As a mere Back-Bencher, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether it is true that this function was previously devolved to headmasters. They had the responsibility for ensuring that there was competitive sport. However, in practice it did not work, which is why we had to establish the bodies that we have been speaking about. If they are to be abolished, what will the Government put in place to make sure that we do not slip back to what we had previously?

Photo of Lord Hill of Oareford Lord Hill of Oareford The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education

As I said in my previous reply, work is going on to set out our thoughts going forward. It is also true that when the system with the Youth Sport Trust and the school sport partnerships was set up, a former Labour Sports Minister said that the expectation had always been that if it worked well-and after £2.4 billion of expenditure, there are good examples of where obviously it has worked-it would be embedded in the system, and therefore it would be more appropriate for head teachers to take that responsibility.