Thursday, 2 December 2010

School Sports Funding Debate - House of Commons Chamber, Tuesday, 30th November 2010

6.5 pm
Mr Roger Godsiff (Birmingham, Hall Green) (Lab): I will try to be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker, charitable to the Government and constructive.

I do not believe that the Government are setting out to butcher school sports, but I fear that, whether by design or through how things pan out, they will make the same terrible mistakes that were made in the 1980s. At that time, a combination of political correctness and political ideology undermined competitive school sports and derided teachers and parents who gave up their time voluntarily to run school sports clubs. Large numbers of school playing fields were sold off to pay for the budgetary constraints imposed by Mrs Thatcher's Government on local government. As a result, many schools no longer have their own playing fields. Sadly, many sports, in particular cricket and rugby, are available only in private schools nowadays.

In my constituency of Hall Green, the site of the former Moor Green football club is the subject of a planning application by a developer for housing. Next to that site is Hall Green primary school, which is desperate for playing field facilities, as are the other cluster schools. If the matter ends up with the Government on appeal, I hope that the Secretary of State will bear in mind what he has said in this debate about losing sporting facilities.

As well as being a Member of Parliament, I have had the privilege over the past six years of being chairman of a large charitable trust that is associated with a professional football club. The trust uses the power of football to engage with some of the most disadvantaged people in the south-east of England, who would not respond to anybody else, and certainly not to Ministers, politicians or local government officers. The trust has a turnover of £2.8 million and it employs 30 full-time staff and 130 coaches. It has engaged with many school partnerships to provide coaching and facilities that are desperately needed. It has had huge success.

The Government's policy will potentially provide more business for such trusts. With all due respect to the Secretary of State, our experience is that working with schools and school partnerships can bring huge benefits. We can take on such commitments, but I am not sure that they will be achievable in the way that he thinks, and certainly not if he cuts £162 million and puts back only £10 million. What is happening to the other £152 million? Will it go to schools so that they can contract out or will it go into the general budget? If it goes into the general budget, sport will lose.

The Secretary of State asked the Opposition spokesman to give him an alternative. My right hon. Friend came up with one, but as we are in that sphere, I will offer an alternative to the Secretary of State. In this country, the most profitable sport, and the one that dominates income generation, is premier league football. More than £3.5 billion of contracts are currently operated by the premier league for the benefit of 20 clubs. Yes, some trickle-down economics apply, but basically 20 clubs, their owners, their players and the agents are the ones that benefit.

I shall make a suggestion to the Secretary of State. In 1997, when the Labour Government came in, they imposed a levy on the privatised utilities to pay for a specific employment programme. If the Government were to impose just a small levy, let us say 5%, on the £3.5 billion coming into premiership football, that would completely pay for the cuts that he is proposing. I suggest that he may like to go and have a word with the chief executive of the premier league and put such a suggestion to him. If he did, the Government would be hugely popular-they could do with some popularity at the moment-among sports fans throughout the country.

If the Secretary of State made such a suggestion, he could only get one of two answers, yes or no. Or he might be told where to go, but he would have shown clearly the view of a Government who say that we are all in it together. One particular segment of sport is getting a vast amount of money that many people now find absolutely obscene, so I say to him: be radical, be brave. Why does he not impose a very small levy on premiership money to pay for all the cuts that he is announcing today?

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