Children’s Playgrounds

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:16 am on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 11:16 am, 21st March 2018

I thank the hon. Lady for her work on that Committee. I read that report when I first got this job a few weeks ago. It was a very good report, and I hope that she is pleased to see that the Government responded very positively to its recommendations, through my predecessor, my hon. Friend Mr Jones. I shall come on to those shortly, especially with regard to the parks action group and how we take forward the work recommended in the report.

The hon. Member for Nottingham East spoke a lot about children’s needs, and he is absolutely right to do so. There is more to do on tackling rising obesity levels and mental illness among our young people, but I am pleased that a great deal of activity is going on across Government in this area. We all want our children to be healthy and active, no matter their background, which is why it is important that we focus as a priority on what is happening in schools.

Having spoken to colleagues in the Department for Education, I am delighted to tell the Chamber that funding for the primary school PE and sport premium has doubled to £320 million a year from 2017. That will be a huge help in enabling schools to drive further improvements to sport provision. Furthermore, an extra £100 million has been promised to schools through the healthy pupils capital fund, which is a one-off fund provided from the soft drinks industry levy. That money will go to improving playgrounds and sports facilities across the school estate. Last week the Department for Education also announced the allocation of almost £1.5 billion in the forthcoming financial year to maintain and improve the condition of the education estate, including outdoor spaces.

As the hon. Gentleman noted, however, this is about much more than just funding. By making physical education a compulsory subject at all four key stages in the new national curriculum, the Government are helping to prioritise exercise and wellbeing. The positive experience of sport at a young age can create a lifelong habit of participation. It is important to foster that in young children. It is also important for our children to have role models whom they can look up to and who can inspire them to get fit and keep active. Darcy Bussell has spoken about that recently, and my constituent Sir Ian Botham has been a long-time advocate of children’s exercise, health and fitness.

The hon. Gentleman made the important point that there should be a voice for the parks and green spaces sector, a dedicated national voice to champion and advocate for it. He is aware of the parks action group established by my predecessor last year, and I would like to think that it is exactly that voice that the hon. Gentleman has called for. One of the points that I will take away from today is that we might need to shout a little louder about the important work of the parks action group. As Melanie Onn knows, that is one of the Select Committee recommendations that the Government acted on swiftly.

The action group draws on the expertise of a range of partners from the parks sector and a range of Departments. I will list some of those involved: the Association for Public Service Excellence, the Parks Alliance, Fields in Trust, the National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces, Keep Britain Tidy, Natural England, Groundwork, the National Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund and bodies representing local and parish councils. I list them because I am especially pleased that such a wide range of organisations have committed their time and energy to work in partnership with the Government to raise the profile of the parks agenda.

I say to hon. Members present that I do not intend for the parks action group just to be a talking shop. It aims not only to take forward the recommendations of the Communities and Local Government Committee report from last year but to deal with wider issues facing the parks sector. The members represent the views of the local communities with whom they work and, through their contribution, we will ensure that all the issues that have surfaced today and many others are properly raised, represented and actioned.

The group will in the first instance identify effective and deliverable activities that can be undertaken to secure a better future for our green spaces for generations to come. It will focus on six immediate priorities for parks: standards, funding, vision and value of parks, empowering communities, knowledge and skills, and increasing usage. Those priorities pick up a number of the very pertinent points made by the hon. Gentleman.