Maybe the biggest surprise of the reshuffle yesterday was that the outstanding Jeremy Hunt (Shadow Culture Secretary) didn’t change jobs. Mind you, as a former DCMS desk officer at CCO I consider the Leadership to be the only genuine promotion from Culture!
Mr Hunt therefore took part in DCMS oral questions yesterday, and asked the Government about the funding of community sport:
"According to the DCMS’s own figures, funding for community sport has gone down by £15 million in the past three years. At a time when central Government have to tighten their belt, is this not precisely the moment that the lottery was set up for? Will the Secretary of State, perhaps with the zeal of a repenting sinner, finally consider returning the lottery to its original pillars so that sport can get the help that it so desperately needs?
Andy Burnham: First, may I offer the hon. Gentleman congratulations on two counts? I am sure that I speak for all Labour Members in giving him our warmest wishes on his recent engagement. I also congratulate him on retaining his Front-Bench position, although I do not know whether he is pleased or disappointed about that; we hope that he is pleased.
The hon. Gentleman repeatedly misses a point in the debate, and he has done so again. When the Government created the New Opportunities Fund, it specifically had the ability to invest money in schools. The lottery could
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not previously invest in the statutory sector. Following on from that, my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell) brought a major national initiative to fruition, which saw—from memory— around £750 million invested in school sport UK wide. That created a network of flood-lit, astro-turf pitches in my constituency, which are heavily used during the school day, at evenings and weekends. I am incredibly proud of that. The investment would not have gone to schools if we had left the lottery as it was. I therefore make no apology for enhancing sports facilities in schools in that way.
Mr. Hunt: But the Secretary of State misses the crucial point that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Andrew Selous) made: there is a big increase in the drop-off rate of people taking part in sport when they leave school. That is why we need to continue to invest in not only school sport but community sports clubs. Funding for the latter has been cut. According to yesterday’s papers, the Secretary of State has been hosting £3,000-a-head dinner parties for the great and the good. Is not that the wrong way to spend the Department’s money at a time of economic crisis, when sports club budgets are being cut, and was not his spokeswoman wrong yesterday to say describe it as a coup for Britain?
Andy Burnham: With respect, the hon. Gentleman again misunderstands our policy. We have said that more money will be channelled through the national governing bodies of sport because they are the experts and should be able to decide which clubs to build up and which deserve more support. [Interruption.] Well, I will send him the figures. The funding will increase significantly in the next few years, when more than £90 million extra will be spent on improving sports clubs. I repeat that I will send him the figures. The community sports club fund has decreased, but because more money is going to the clubs through national governing bodies—I wish he would understand that.
On the hon. Gentleman’s second point, let us be clear about the event. It was the launch of an international forum to promote Britain as the natural home of the creative industries. As part of that, we have recruited 25 of the biggest names—the biggest players—in the world in the creative industries. [Hon. Members: “Name them.”] I can name them, and I will write to the hon. Member for South-West Surrey (Mr. Hunt). The event happened because they will give their time for free to advise this country on ensuring that we build on our strength in the creative industries. I am proud of the fact that this country has strength in those industries. The hon. Gentleman might be happy with the newspaper headlines that he has got, but he should not misrepresent the event or what it seeks to achieve."
Mr Hunt is quite right about this. The Lottery – one of John Major’s greatest successes – was meant to provide additional spending on the arts, charities, heritage and sport, as well as Millennium celebrations. The Government’s capture of the Lottery has corrupted that.