HC Deb 12 February 2004 vol 417 cc481-3WH
8. Mr. Paul Truswell (Pudsey) (Lab)

What collaboration is taking place between Departments to maximise the health benefits of specialist sports colleges. [153647]

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn)

Specialist sports colleges already contribute to better health and awareness of healthy lifestyles. The wider PE, school sport and club links programme is led jointly by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Education and Skills, which remain in close touch on the implementation of the sports colleges, work strand. Other Departments are also consulted through a number of arrangements, latterly through the activity co-ordination team. We are all working towards that aim.

Mr. Truswell

I thank the Minister for his response. I have two excellent sports colleges in my constituency: Priesthorpe high school in Pudsey and St. Mary's comprehensive school in Menston, which was visited by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills just two days ago.

Based on that experience, I will make two brief points. First, although sports colleges are good and combining them with sports co-ordinators makes them even better, to achieve their best they require access to decent facilities. Will the Minister do his utmost to ensure that the resources available to Departments, sports-ruling bodies and other sources of funding such as the lottery, are targeted on such excellent community-based initiatives?

Secondly, will the Minister explore with his ministerial colleagues how local primary care trusts can get involved in sports colleges partnerships to address the issues that we have discussed today, such as obesity?

Mr. Caborn

My hon. Friend raises the point of communication and making the whole system much more sustainable than it used to be. One big problem in sport has always been that when we run initiatives, there is honestly nowhere for the kids to get coaching. Every year during Wimbledon we see all the kids picking up a tennis racket and wanting to play tennis, but having nowhere to play.

We are trying, bit by bit, to build a sustainable sports and physical activities structure in our communities. We are starting that process with sports colleges, of which there will be 400—about one for every 100,000 of the population—which will link to seven or eight secondary schools that will then link to 15 or so primary schools. Bringing that together will be 3,000 school sports co-ordinators, who will be teachers with a couple of days off a week, backed up by another teacher. They will develop sport in schools, among schools and out in the community. Linking that to our work with coaching—as I said, there will be about 3,000 community coaches—will help to develop the sports infrastructure. For the first time, we will have links with the governing bodies, which are now taking a proactive role in developing the club-to-school structure, which is important. The fact that we now have a sustainable and manageable structure of 400 colleges means that they can plug into the system more effectively than before. Add that to the £500 million of investment in sports facilities, and I think that we will start to achieve our aim.

Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op)

I welcome the Minister's comments. In stark contrast to what the Opposition said earlier about where we are now, we actually have a structure that can start to deliver the level of activity that we want.

I come back to my point about cross-departmental working. There is an excellent specialist sports college in Burleigh that the Minister visited and scored a couple of goals past me at Sports Relief last year, although I saved most of his shots. The problem concerns not just specialist sports colleges but their feeder schools. As the Minister knows, I play my rugby on a school pitch every week, and the rest of the facilities at that school are not used throughout the weekend. We have a real problem in that sports facilities are under-used throughout the country, such as the tennis courts at the school where I play rugby that have not really been used since I left the school 20 years ago. There are facilities available, but the club-school link must be progressed to a stage at which the potential is finally fulfilled.

We keep hearing fine words about making use of the extended school day and the buildings. Can we see some progress in making that idea a reality?

Mr. Caborn

We are making progress, slow as it may be. We are convincing people that we are serious about the issue, probably for the first time. As I said, many well-meaning developments in sport have not been as sustainable as they should have been, so it has been important to get the structures in place. The governing bodies and those who are involved in sport, such as Sport England and UK Sport, are now working in partnership. That was probably not the case previously.

The reorganisation of Sport England to a regional structure and the widening of its constituency base to include health, education and higher education—particularly universities—in the sports strategy decision making in each English region will have a major impact on the sustainability of the sporting infrastructure in the medium term. That is important if we are to arrest the problem of under performance in schools that was mentioned earlier. Also, when young people leave school, 70 per cent. of them do not continue in active sport. There is no single reason for that: there are a number of reasons, which I am now trying to address with those who are involved in sport in its totality.

Mr. Truswell

I am not sure that the Minister could, or did answer my question about the involvement of local primary care trusts. Sports colleges are a good basis for local collaboration, and I wonder whether the Minister from the Department of Health could comment on what steps might be taken to involve local health providers and commissioners.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Miss Melanie Johnson)

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. It is not only the primary care trusts and their boards that have a role to play in this. but GPs through exercise referral schemes. The opportunities are there. Indeed, I met representatives from the Register of Exercise Professionals fairly recently. They are interested in making people aware of who exercise professionals are at primary care level so that more linkups can be made between those who can help people with professional exercise and primary care trusts in just the sort of way that my hon. Friend envisages.

Forward to