Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2008/2009

Date: 18 June 2009

Participation in Sport and Update on the Draft Strategy for Sport

18 June 2009

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Kieran McCarthy
Mr Raymond McCartney
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Ken Robinson
Mr Jim Shannon

Witnesses:

Mr Nick Harkness ) Sport Northern Ireland
Mr John News )

Mr Colin Watson ) Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):

We will now receive a briefing from Sport NI and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) on participation in sport and an update on the draft strategy for sport. I refer members to the Hansard transcript of the Committee’s discussion of the draft strategy for sport, which was held on 6 December 2007. Correspondence is also included from the Minister about obesity that referred to 24 targets in the draft strategy for sport was considered at a previous Committee meeting. Those 24 targets are separated into categories with the headings participation, performance and places. I also refer members to the Research and Library Services paper on participation in sport and the briefing paper.

I invite Colin Watson, head of sports branch at DCAL to again join the Committee. He is joined by Nick Harkness, director of participation with Sport NI. You are very welcome, and I invite you to make opening statements.

Mr Colin Watson (Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure):

I will do my best to keep my overall opening statement brief. I thank the Committee for the opportunity to brief it on the issue of sport and participation.

The Committee knows that the Department is responsible for the central administration and promotion of sport in Northern Ireland, which includes setting the public policy frameworks and priorities for sport in Northern Ireland. In discharging that function, the Department works through Sport NI, which is the lead organisation for the development of sport in Northern Ireland, and I am particularly pleased that Nick is here.

Over the past two or three years, the Department, in partnership with Sport NI, has been developing a new 10-year strategy for sport and physical recreation in Northern Ireland. The aim is to provide a high level template for the development of sport and physical recreation in Northern Ireland that reflects the aspirations and priorities of all stakeholders in sport. The new strategy is also expected to inform the direction of future investment.

Since the initiative’s launch, the Department and Sport NI have consulted extensively with other Departments and stakeholders on key issues to be considered in a new sports strategy. Those discussions and other ongoing work have uncovered significant evidence of the benefits of regular participation in sport and physical recreation. For a start, simply taking part is fun, fulfilling and of value in its own right, and evidence from the strategy suggests that participation can do much to improve an individual’s confidence and self-esteem.

Equally importantly, research carried out as part of the development of the strategy indicates that sport has the potential to contribute positively to wider societal agendas, such as improved health; improved academic performance; reduced crime; neighbourhood renewal; and socio-economic regeneration of communities. Therefore, the value of sport at a range of levels is undeniable.

However and unfortunately, that is not the whole picture. Evidence suggests that participation rates in sport in Northern Ireland are among the UK’s lowest, and are falling. In the past year, an estimated 49% of adults participated in sport; a drop of 11% in the past 10 to 11 years. A major aim of the Department and of Sport NI is to work with key stakeholders and with partners to reverse that decline. We want to encourage increased participation across all ages and all communities.

The draft strategy for sport, which was published for consultation in October 2007, and the final version of the strategy entitled ‘Sport Matters’, which was presented to the Committee in June 2008, place strong emphasis on addressing participation issues. For example, the final document contains 11 participation targets and further targets to improve the quality of and access to sports facilities at community level. The targets include specific objectives that focus on children and young people; adults; women; people with a disability; older people; and socio-economically disadvantaged groups.

The document also recommends that future measurement rates for participation in sport and physical recreation should be cognisant of the recommendations of the Chief Medical Officers in the UK about healthy, physical activity. It further emphasises that successful delivery will require commitment and resources from all the stakeholders: central Government; district councils; Sport Northern Ireland; sport governing bodies; sports clubs; and the commercial and voluntary sectors. It equally sets out proposals for implementing the strategy that embraces all relevant stakeholders.

The final version of the strategy has been submitted to the Executive for consideration at a future meeting. In the interim, and under the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) settlement, DCAL has secured £129·5 million until 2010-11 to help to implement a range of strategic priorities, including participation. That funding will be delivered via Sport Northern Ireland, which is developing a number of complementary community sport programmes that are aimed at increasing the levels and frequency of participation in sport. The settlement for sport has also helped reduce the previous estimated funding shortfall to fully implement the strategy.

In addition to those developments, DCAL has developed a number of public service agreement targets, which are based around the sport strategy to be achieved by 2011. Those include a target to halt the decline in adult participation in sport and physical recreation by 2011, and a target to have 125,000 children participating in sport and physical recreation by 2011. Also targeted is the creation of a minimum of 10 new or upgraded sports facilities that will support player and athlete development for Olympic and Paralympic sports, and will also be available for community and school use.

To monitor progress, Sport Northern Ireland has drawn up a four-year research strategy to improve baseline information on sports related issues including participation. That strategy will also enable the effective monitoring and measurement of progress against sports strategy targets. As part of that, Sport NI, with departmental support, has already commissioned a large scale bespoke survey on levels of adult participation in sport and physical recreation in Northern Ireland.

The Department and Sport NI are also working in collaboration with other Departments in other areas of joint interest. For example, both are represented on the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety’s obesity prevention steering group, which was set up last year in response to the Fit Futures task force report that was published in 2006. In addition, the Department is seeking to work more closely with the Department of Education on issues of children’s participation in PE in schools.

Mr Nick Harkness (Sport Northern Ireland):

I thank the Committee for its invitation today. Sport Northern Ireland is fully committed to increasing participation, a point that is well illustrated in its corporate vision, which is to create:

“a culture of lifelong enjoyment and success in sport which contributes to a peaceful, fair and prosperous society”.

Colin referred to the body of evidence about sport and sports participation. Certainly, there is a clear body of evidence, which demonstrates that participation in sport and having a physically active lifestyle can bring about health, educational, social and economic benefits.

The people of Northern Ireland, through the consultation process for the draft strategy for sport, told us that they value sport and that they would play, compete, spectate and volunteer more if barriers were removed. That is what Sport NI is trying to do.

DCAL mentioned its two public service agreement targets, which specifically relate to participation. DCAL and Sport Northern Ireland will play important lead roles in delivering on those targets and the targets contained in the draft strategy. However, that delivery will require planning, coordination, implementation and investment across a number of sectors and Departments, including the Departments of Education, the Department of Health, the community and voluntary sectors and district councils. Receiving the Executive’s approval of, and cross-departmental commitment to, the strategy for sport, is essential if we are to achieve those targets.

Some of the information that I will provide to the Committee relates to understanding the evidential base for the problem that is associated with participation. I also want to make the Committee aware of some the engagements and outcomes that Sport NI has achieved. Finally, I want to provide the Committee with an example of how communication and the raising of awareness can make a difference to participation levels.

The Chief Medical Officer published guidance in 2004, which stated that adults should participate in sport or exercise five times a week for a minimum of 30 minutes, and that young people or children should participate seven times a week for 60 minutes. Unfortunately, the problem with the main research instrument that we have at the moment, the continuous household survey, is that it does not measure people’s participation against those recommendations. In fact, Ipsos MORI undertook some research in 2007 and discovered that only 7% of respondents knew the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations for their age group.

Participation levels in sport and physical activity across the UK and Northern Ireland are much researched. Unfortunately, some of the research techniques are different, but common themes emerge. Levels of participation have declined steadily, from 53% to 49%, over the past 10 years. Men tend to participate more than women, with 56% of men participating compared to 43% of women. People with a disability tend to participate less than those who do not have a disability, with the figure being 23% versus 58%. Older people, which is people who are over 50 years old — and that is not my definition — tend to participate less, with 31% of them participating as opposed to 65% of younger people. People from lower socio-economic groups tend to participate less often than the more well off, with the figures being 38% versus 55%.

Those disparities inspired us to create targets and related actions in the draft strategy for sport. For example, the strategy involves specific targets for adult participation rates: women’s participation rates; for participation rates in socially disadvantaged areas and groups; participation rates for people with a disability; and participation rates for older people.

As I said, the continuous household survey is not specifically focused on measuring the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations; therefore, Sport NI and DCAL have commissioned research that will measure participation rates against the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations. The research will consider participation rates, club membership, and volunteering and coaching in sport. Very soon, we will have a hard body of evidence that is directly related to the medical advice. Subject to the availability of resources, we would like to push that out into a young people’s survey in the near future. Quite rightly, it will take a different methodology for dealing with young people.

DCAL’s research branch recently undertook a young person’s behaviour and attitude survey, which concluded that 75% of young people take part in sport or physical activity outside school at least once a week, and 59% are members of sports clubs outside their school. The survey’s results are not directly comparable with the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations, but they provide some good news.

I will now give members some insight into what Sport Northern Ireland, in recent and coming years, intends to do and has been doing in relation to addressing participation. Over 50% of our budget for 2009-2010 is allocated towards participation investments, which is £17·3 million in total. Nearly £13 million of that will go into capital to create facilities in which participation can take place, and around £4·5 million of it will be for salaries and programmes that are related to helping people to make facilities come to life to create opportunities.

Almost all those investments are distributed through a range of partner organisations such as district councils; education and library boards; governing bodies of sport; the community and voluntary sector; and clubs. We use those organisations on the ground to help deliver our participation objectives. We gather robust data of all those investments. From 2005 to 2009, through the Community Sport programme and the Sport in our Community programme, our research shows that our investment in programmes has resulted in an increase of more than 300% in regular participants. In 2005, the creation of each additional regular participant cost us in the region of £60·50. However, I am pleased to say that, by 2009, the creation of each additional regular participant cost us approximately of £33. The efficiencies of our investments are growing.

We are rolling out an ambitious participation programme via district councils, which is called Active Communities. We hope that that will provide more than 100,000 new participation opportunities for individuals during the period 2009-2014. Based on the 2010-11 budget baselines, Sport NI plans to invest £16 million in revenue programmes for participation between 2009 and 2014, but we will need this Committee’s support to secure the budgets in future CSR periods to help us to deliver that programme.

Based on the review of public administration (RPA) recommendations, the Active Communities programme will be driven by district councils in their new 11B structure model. The programme will be delivered through partnerships between districts councils; the education sector; the health sector; the community and voluntary sector; and governing bodies of sport. The Active Communities programme will focus on delivering sports coaches in communities to increase participation. That strategic approach recognises district councils’ rightful place in the delivery and co-ordination of services and social improvement at a community level. Furthermore, a second revenue programme over a similar period is out to consultation to identify communities’ priorities and themes for that investment.

Finally, I will give an example of how communications and raising awareness can have a positive impact on participation levels and drive young people to take existing opportunities. Sport NI recently launched an exciting new initiative called Activ8, which promotes eight ways for children to become active in sport and to stay healthy. That initiative targeted all primary schools in Northern Ireland, and more than 200 schools and approximately 30,000 pupils participated. The programme aims to encourage children to take at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, which is consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendation. Young people were challenged on eight levels: to move their bodies; to become leaders; to create their own games; to go outdoors; to eat well; to involve their family; to be part of a team; and to measure their own success. The winners received the opportunity to engage in an active school trip and be visited by a leading sports personality.

The first winner was announced on 4 June and received a visit from Jonathan Edwards, who is an Olympic triple jumper. He is a board member of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and deputy chairperson of the Nation and Regions Group. After his school visit, Jonathan said:

“Today’s visit to Northern Ireland encapsulates everything we went to Singapore to bid for. Activ8 is encouraging young people to develop their skills and interest in physical activity. I am proud that with the help of partners such as Sport Northern Ireland we are delivering our vision of using the power of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to increase healthy and active lifestyles in Northern Ireland.”

We hope to build on that success and to expand the initiative to additional target audiences such as secondary schools, summer schemes, multi-sports clubs, and so on. The Activ8 programme is under scrutiny by the London 2012 legacy committee and has been awarded the London 2012 Inspire mark. There are plans to copy the programme and roll it out across the UK.

The Chairperson:

Thank you, Colin and Nick. I am distracted by what is happening outside; that young fellow has kept the ball up about 400 times. [Laughter.]

Mr McCartney:

Are you jealous? [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

That was an excellent presentation that contained great statistics and targets.

Mr P Ramsey:

You are very welcome. I agree with the Chairperson that much great work is ongoing. The Active Communities programme is having an impact in Derry. It must adopt a bottom-up approach, particularly in targeting social need areas. That is good.

Your submission mentions targets for sport and physical recreation and participation, performance and places. If the strategy has not been approved, those targets cannot be met. Some months ago, I asked the Minister about the progress of the strategy. At that stage, he said that he would present it to the Executive. There are concerns about whether the Department and Sport Northern Ireland can progress the participation targets with the Executive’s approval.

I visited the commencement and development of a new college at St Cecilia’s College in Derry. In the future, they intend to increase community access after school hours and during the holidays. I imagine that the estate in Northern Ireland, such as schools’ gyms, football pitches and playing surfaces, is underutilised. Reference was made to collaboration across Departments. Do Departments collaborate? Will there be a change to limit the barriers to the targets for sport, access and participation? People have more confidence going into a school with a child and encouraging the parent to participate. So, is there evidence that the Department of Education and the education and library boards will work alongside you to ensure that you achieve those targets? Is the Department of Education working vigorously to ensure that that will happen?

We were told that there would be a reallocation of £10 million for implementing the strategy for sport in the June monitoring round. Will you tell us how that money will be spent on participation and performance? Will that money be spent on capital, revenue or the Active Communities programme?

Mr Watson:

We all wish to see the strategy for sport formally ratified by the Executive at the earliest opportunity.

Mr P Ramsey:

How long has it been with the Executive?

Mr Watson:

A few months.

We cannot just stop. The strategy for sport did not set out a load of new programmes that we cannot start without Executive approval. It encapsulates all the good work that we are doing in any event regarding participation and a lot of the good work that is ongoing. It would be nice it if were ratified, but we cannot stand still. Therefore, we are moving forward programmes that will help us to achieve the targets that have been set in public service agreements and so on. We aim to meet those targets.

I will ask Nick Harkness to explain how the £10 million will be spent.

Mr Harkness:

We recently received an uplift capital budget letter from the Department that increased our budget by £10∙63 million in this financial year in additional capital moneys. There were already existing pressures in our budget, for example, in safety of sports grounds. Some of the money will be used to service existing pressures and schemes that we have been bringing forward, as the Committee has previously discussed. We bring capital schemes forward so that, if money becomes available, we are in a state of readiness to deliver.

We are happy to say that, in addition to that, last Friday we received some 80 applications to our Places for Sport: Surfaces programme. That is a fast-track programme to deliver capital schemes of up to £250,000 that can be delivered in-year. However, it creates a lot of pressure on our organisation to spend an additional £10 million in-year. It also creates a lot of pressure on the applicants. We ran a similar scheme last year and, I am happy to say, we spent an additional £16 million within a 12-week construction period over the winter for many clubs that wanted pitches constructed. We have additional capital moneys, some of which is going into existing pressures and some of which is going into small capital schemes. It will undoubtedly promote participation.

Mr P Ramsey:

Is there a good working relationship with the Department of Education to ensure that school estates are used by the communities?

Mr Harkness:

There are some absolutely fantastic examples of that around Northern Ireland. However, in my view there are not enough. George Bain recently conducted a consultation on education provision and the education estate, to which we responded. The Bain report contains four priorities or recommended actions for the school estate. One is that the school estate should be shared with the community. Another is that it should be more strategically planned and that every school should not necessarily have the same sporting infrastructure; rather, it should reflect the sporting infrastructure that already exists, possibly in the ownership of local clubs or in that of the district council, so that we have complementary infrastructures, and so that each infrastructure is available to each sector.

Mr P Ramsey:

We understand that Bain said that, and everyone said it from time to time. However, is it happening? Is the Department of Education ensuring that there is co-operation with Sport Northern Ireland or the Active Communities programme to ensure that that happens?

Mr Harkness:

In recent times, we had meetings with the Department of Education about the implementation of the recommendations of the Bain report. On the basis of that, we have the experience of doors opening. We are enthusiastically developing relationships in that respect. Sport Northern Ireland also recently produced a research document on sport facilities in Northern Ireland called ‘ Bridging the Gap’. It uses established methodologies for the number of pitches per head of population; the number of swimming pools per head of population; the six-acre standard; and other established methodologies. We compared that with our research on the existing facilities, which was carried out on a district council basis. I am in the process of sending those research findings to the chief executives of each district council and highlighting to them the priority for their area, whether that is pitches, pools or indoor halls. I am advising them that, in the new structures, they must come up with facility strategies that set out the particular interests of their communities. A community may be interested in pitch-based sports, but the research from Sport Northern Ireland may say that the area is short of 50 pitches. Therefore, that district council should make the provision of additional pitches its priority for investment. We will use that information in future to prioritise our capital investment. We are most likely to prioritise whatever facility is most severely lacking in a region.

The Chairperson:

It is my understanding that money from the new opportunities fund was available for the projects that Pat mentioned, whereby schools and communities merge. St. John’s High School in Dromore, County Tyrone is an example of best practice, with the Dromore education and community partnership on sport. Perhaps the Committee may wish to hear from such groups in due course.

Mr Brolly:

I am interested in the relationship between your organisation and the Department of Education. You are probably aware that, over the past few years, sport and artistic pursuits such as music have been cutback because of funding difficulties. Are you keeping an eye on the level of participation in sport and the amount of PE instruction in schools, particularly primary schools?

Mr Harkness:

We conducted some research, and I am happy to circulate the resulting document to the Committee. It details the access to school facilities. We wrote to a range of schools and identified, if I recall correctly, that only 40% of schools open their doors to the community, and a much smaller percentage market their facilities. I continue to be concerned about that aspect of the public infrastructure. I am not saying that all schools have the funding, capability or budget to open the schools to the community, but we must work collectively on that issue.

Mr Brolly:

My question was about the level of in-school participation in physical education, because it seems to have declined at primary level.

Mr Watson:

The Education and Training Inspectorate for Northern Ireland is in the process of finalising a report on the level of participation in sport of schoolchildren and the reasons some drift away from sport at various ages. The report considers the participation of children at primary school and right through until they leave secondary school. It will give us a view of whether children are getting the minimum standard of exercise that is recommended by the Chief Medical Officer. The report will make recommendations to DCAL, the Department of Education and others on how to ensure that kids are getting the correct amount of exercise. It is as much about physical recreation as participation in sport. Some interesting findings will emerge from that report.

Mr Brolly:

In the event of the report discovering a shortfall in the amount of time spent on physical recreation, would DCAL consider the subvention of any funding shortfall? A lack of funding is the most likely reason for schools cutting the amount of time given to sport, particularly if they have to bring in peripatetic coaches.

Mr Watson:

The report may find that part of the rationale for children not getting the appropriate amount of exercise is nothing to do with resourcing. That may be down to the targets that schools have to meet. In Northern Ireland, schools are measured on the number of kids who pass five GCSEs at A and A* grades. There is no school target to produce kids who are fit and healthy. It is, therefore, more a question of how the available resources are used.

Mr Brolly:

Perhaps I could make that point again in light of what you have just said. Surely Sport Northern Ireland has a duty to see that children come out of school fit and healthy.

Mr Harkness:

Unfortunately, we have no direct control of that. We attempt to influence schools in that regard. We provide funding to three of the education and library boards to employ a physical literacy co-ordinator, whose role is to go into schools and help improve teachers’ capabilities. It is often a confidence matter for primary-school teachers who are non-PE specialists to go out on the playing fields and be responsible for a physical literacy session, a play session or a sports session. That requires a level of confidence. One of the targets of the draft strategy is about improving the in-service training of non-PE specialists so that they are better prepared to introduce the young people to the building blocks of being physically active, what we call physical literacy. Children spend most of their waking lives in school, and helping them to be physically active must be a primary target.

Lord Browne:

I just wanted to give an example of how after-school-hours programmes have been successful in east Belfast. Ashfield Boys’ High School got a 3G pitch, which is floodlit and is in almost constant use by the public. It has been a great success, but we are going slowly in opening schools that have excellent facilities for public use. We must move forward on that.

Mr Harkness:

If a school wants to attract Sport Northern Ireland funding from our capital programmes, it will be a required to make the facility open to public use. The sports development plan that accompanies that funding sets targets and key performance indicators for what the project hopes to achieve, and for an increase in the number of participants, particularly in the target areas that I mentioned in my presentation, such as girls, disabled people and older people. There is no point in having targets in the strategy if we do not require the applicants to tell us how they will deliver those targets.

Mr McCartney:

At the end of the process, it is not just about how they set targets, but how they deliver them.

Mr Harkness:

Absolutely. There should be ongoing monitoring.

The Chairperson:

Do you want to come in there, Jim? There is bound to be an example of best practice in Ards.

Mr Shannon:

I am going to give you two examples, Chairperson.

The Chairperson:

Please do.

Mr Shannon:

West Winds Primary School and Glastry College in Ards took advantage of the new opportunities fund, which you mentioned, in conjunction with the council’s education board, the local education and library board and Sport NI to deliver two all-weather pitches, which are in constant use in what is a deprived area. That is an example of what can be done.

There is a negative example, however, but I will not mention the school in that case. Have you had any input into the discussions with the education and library boards about building partnerships with local communities that wish to use school facilities after school hours, but are put off by exorbitant charges? Some community groups do not have the financial resources to pay those charges. Is there a method whereby we can encourage community groups, and the socio-economic groups that Nick referred to earlier, to be involved in sport? Those groups include a large proportion of school-age participants, but they cannot make use of the facilities because the costs are beyond them.

Mr Harkness:

The PPP contracts that were made for those private partnership arrangements have posed problems. The role of the Department of Education, quite rightly, is to deliver education to young people. Social development is the responsibility of another Department. My understanding is that, when the Department of Education writes a specification for a school, it must include a science room and a sports hall to deliver the curriculum to the required number of pupils. However, that specification does not say that the school has to be open for community use at a certain maximum rate. The private operators who run those facilities see that as a revenue-generating opportunity, and they are in a contract that allows them to do that.

The design of a new school in a socially deprived area is a prime example of where joined-up Government is required. The Department for Social Development must emphasise the need for community access to the facilities and ask the Department of Education to write that access — at a maximum rate — into the specification, or even with some support from Sport Northern Ireland. That is an example of the use of the private sector being prohibitive, because we are allowing it to use community access as a revenue-generating opportunity.

Mr K Robinson:

As regards the use of school buildings, people can write all the reports that they want, but, unless they have the caretaker on their side, they will not get anywhere.

I did not do my initial teacher training yesterday; however, I was never required to be a PE specialist, but I was expected to take PE classes. I can assure you that I am an expert in Egyptian PE. For those members who are less athletic, I better explain that that means standing still.

The Chairperson:

I thought that; I knew that it did not relate to acrobatics.

Mr K Robinson:

Male teachers were the generators for physical activity in schools; however, there is a lack of them working in primary schools, particularly now. I have raised that issue again and again with the Minister of Education; however, I am sorry to say that that has fallen on stony ground. Teachers are and should be trained for a wide range of activities, including physical education, during their initial teacher training. If that can be generated in primary schools, there is something to build on in secondary schools with specialist teachers.

Many children are often turned off physical education before they cross the bridge from the primary sector to the secondary sector. Some children say: “Do not talk to me about tennis; I do not play tennis”, while others say: “Do not talk to me about gymnastics; I do not do gymnastics.” We must encourage children to have enthusiasm for physical activity at the initial stage. That must be addressed in the setting of initial teacher training.

My point about caretakers is a serious one. Members of the community who use a school in the evening must respect it. If a school gets damaged, the caretaker and cleaning staff will have to clear it up, so the principal needs to get them on board. The work of this august body around this table does not seem important; however, the job of a running a school is very important. The school must be in one piece the next morning.

The issue of insurance is another problem. What sort of insurance do schools need? Who will back the groups that come in? Will the board back them? Will the Department back them? Yes, behind the nearest hedge. Principals feel as though they are being left to deal with this issue alone. A lot of practical difficulties exist. Schools are willing to take that leap; however, those three or four factors must be addressed to enable them to do that. Consider that situation in the context of this building; I walk around the campus every Saturday and Sunday as part of my keep fit regime; however, I think I am about five courses short of the recommended level.

Mr Brolly:

It shows.

Mr K Robinson:

Thank you. Some of the pitches here are well used and some are left empty. Many of the communities that live near here are disadvantaged to a great degree.

Mr Harkness:

I have many answers to those questions. Grass pitches can be used only for around 300 hours a year. If they are used more than that, their condition deteriorates and they must be refurbished and drained. That is why we work in many community settings to put down artificial surfaces such as the 3G pitch, which another Committee member referred to earlier, that can take the impact. Those pitches cost in the region of £30,000 or £40,000 a year to maintain; so, they are not cost-free. That money also covers the costs of a sinking fund to replace the carpet when it wears out. To keep grass pitches in good condition, they must be rested.

As regards the issue of caretakers, many of our awards include a revenue tail. Our capital awards sometimes include a five-year revenue tail that says that we will pay some of the running costs. That money helps the school to pay for someone other than the caretaker to maintain the grounds in the evenings.

We also fund segregation costs. Obviously, principals do not want members of the community running through the school’s science labs in the evening. So, we fund the cost of segregating the sports facilities from the rest of a school.

Initial teacher training is a target in the strategy. However, pressures such as improving literacy and teaching European languages mean that we have to turn our attention to in-service training. We fund physical literacy co-ordinators who run an in-service training in a school environment, which takes place at the end of the day so that teachers are not missing classes.

Three of the education and library boards employ physical literacy co-ordinators. The co-ordinators help develop playground markings for games such as hopscotch and show teachers how to introduce those to children. Teachers do not need to be PE specialists; they just need to have enough confidence.

You spoke about moving from that physical experience in primary school to sport in a secondary school or club environment. Sport NI has carried out some research recently on what we call physical literacy skills, and the report is due to be published shortly. In reading, it is important to learn the building blocks of letters and words and sounds to be able to read fluently as an adult. It is the same for sport. The physical literacy skills are required: jumping; falling; rolling; throwing; and catching. Those are the building blocks of participative sports. Without those skills, people will never enjoy it. Some will be better than others, but teachers need to be trained in delivering those physical literacy skills so that children, as they grow older, can develop a lifestyle of long-term commitment and participation in physical activity.

Mr K Robinson:

That sort of person coming into a school generates great enthusiasm. I have known it happen in the past, and it is tremendous to have such a person. There is a residue of skill and enthusiasm passed on to the staff. I am interested in some of the points that you made. You are beginning to move closer to where I want you to be.

The Chairperson:

Will you identify the education and library boards that have physical literacy co-ordinators?

Mr Harkness:

I will have to pass that to my colleagues.

Mr John News (Sport Northern Ireland):

The Southern Education and Library Board, the South Eastern Education and Library Board and the North Eastern Education and Library Board have co-ordinators.

The Chairperson:

So, there are none in the Western Education and Library Board or the Belfast Education and Library Board areas?

Mr Harkness:

That is correct.

The Chairperson:

What is the role of Sport NI in putting those officers in place?

Mr Harkness:

Sport NI created a revenue funding programme, and those three boards applied. We encouraged applications in that regard, because we saw it as a priority area.

Mr Watson:

Participation is being looked at as part of the legacy from the Olympics, and one of the areas in which that is being considered is school-club links. There may be teachers in schools who are not PE literate or sport literate, but if links can be made between schools and clubs, coaches etc in the clubs may be able to provide some of what is needed, get the kids enthused and enhance the skills that teachers have.

The Chairperson:

What additional benefits pertain to the pupils in a school when it has been assigned special status for sport? I know that Holy Trinity College in Cookstown, for example, has been identified as a school of sporting excellence. Is that right?

Mr Harkness:

If you are asking about financial benefits through the Department, I am not sure about that. I understand that such schools have to raise some funds themselves, and can attract some additional funding. A lot of research has been done on the educational-attainment benefits, the behavioural benefits and the attendance benefits. That involved young people who are on the edge of bad attendance or bad behaviour who were possibly attracted into the school early in the morning or over lunchtime and not disappear in the afternoon, or stay late in the evening to participate in an activity that they value. That encourages respect for the infrastructure, the teachers, and more engagement in their educational pursuits.

Mr McCartney:

Thank you for the presentation. There is a recommendation in the briefing paper on the draft strategy for sport and physical recreation to bring together the data on participation and the Chief Medical Officer’s definition. What work has been carried out on that?

Mr Harkness:

Work is underway on that.

Mr McCartney:

The corporate plan refers to success in sport and sport and lifelong physical activity. The public service agreements refer to children participating in sport and physical recreation. At times, the lack of definitions of participation in sport, physical recreation and physical activity can lead to confusion. Someone might think that they are physically active, but that activity may not be defined as physical recreation or sport. Sometimes, the data is confused because of that.

Mr Harkness:

The data set on participation rates consistent with the Chief Medical Officer’s recommendations is being researched. Although it is impossible to say how long that will take, I hope that it will be available in the spring of 2010. In addition, when the Department and Sport NI work together on a strategy, we are conscious that sometimes the word “sport” can be a block to people who want to be physically active but do not want to be sporty. That is why we specifically chose the term “sport and physical recreation”. Despite the fact that the EU definition of sport is very wide, we decided that the word “sport” still had the potential to put some people off. That definition describes people who have decided to be physically active for the purposes of their recreation, and the strategy uses that term to make it more encompassing for people who do not see themselves as sporting.

Mr McCartney:

The Chief Medical Officer recommends five 30-minute periods of participation a week for adults. A person who walks to work every day may not realise that that is participation. Your briefing paper quotes a survey that says that only 7% of respondents knew what the recommendations were. When the problem is being defined, the statistics might not always match. A person, whether male or female, may be asked whether they are involved in physical activity and they will say that they do not walk, go to the gym or play football, but they carry two stones of weight in bags from the shopping centre.

Mr Harkness:

The design of the research is such that it tries to capture physical activity other than simply sporting activity. Young people who participated in the Activ8 programme were encouraged to keep a diary. They noted their physical activity, for example, running around the playground at lunchtime. That is physical activity, rather than sport. Walking to school is a further example of physical activity. The participants were asked to add up their levels of physical activity throughout the day to ensure that they met the recommended level.

The Chairperson:

Francie, you put out the bin, do you not? [Laughter.]

Mr Brolly:

Sometimes. I have a friend on the bin lorries.

I am interested in the element of participation against that of success. I am concerned that people who discover early on that they are not going to win an Olympic medal might say that sport is not for them. It is important to emphasise that someone does not have to go into sport to win things and that participation has to be paramount. I mentioned that previously.

Mr McCarthy:

A baseline study was supposed to have been carried out in 2008 into the economic impact of sport in Northern Ireland. Has that been done, and, if not, when does the Department intend to do it? I was disappointed and disgusted to hear Colin Watson say that the sports strategy document is yet another document that is lying on the desk of the Northern Ireland Executive. Are the Northern Ireland Executive doing any work? Everyday, we hear about documents that are lying on their desk that need urgent attention. Surely, the sports strategy is one issue on which there could be no disagreement. Why has it not been ratified? The Committee should make that issue its number one priority.

Mr K Robinson:

That should be the priority after the Alliance Party election posters are taken down from Jordanstown Road. [Laughter.]

Mr Shannon:

They should also be taken down from Newtownards, Greyabbey, Kircubbin, Portavogie, Donaghadee, Bangor and Millisle. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

Colin did say that DCAL and Sport NI are not standing still. Can you answer Kieran’s question? Why is the sports strategy not being taken forward at the Executive?

Mr Watson:

That is outwith the remit of the Department. The agenda for Executive meetings is a matter for the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

Mr P Ramsey:

Kieran, the Alliance Party will soon have a Minister.

Mr McCarthy:

It is a shame and a disgrace that a simple strategy that we are all waiting for is sitting on the Executive table. That is shocking. My question was about the economic impact of sport.

Mr Harkness:

The study on that has been done and is published.

Mr McCarthy:

Thank you very much.

Mr Shannon:

From your presentation, I am impressed with how you are trying to encourage participation among different groups. I am well aware of the advertising campaign. By the way, for some people, working the TV controls is exercise, only for their left hand or their right hand, depending on whether they are left-handed or right-handed.

The Chairperson:

That sometimes happens with mobile phones.

Mr Shannon:

In that case, I will be number one.

You also referred to participation and your partnership with district councils. It is all very well to have targets and figures to aim for, but the district councils will, ultimately, have to produce. How do you monitor them to ensure that they deliver?

Mr Harkness:

In our Active Communities programme, we asked district councils to work together in their new structures — the new 11B council model. We have taken the targets in the draft strategy for sport, for example, women’s participation, and divided those up by population levels. We worked out that new council A will have x% of the population, therefore it will be required to deliver on x% of women’s participation levels. We set the key performance indictors for each of the strategy targets for each of the new council areas. We told those councils that we want them to produce a plan that shows how they might deliver on those targets. We also told them what they are responsible for delivering and that we will invest in them if they give us a defendable plan that involves the employment of coaches and leaders in specific council communities through partner organisations, such as community and voluntary groups or sports clubs, to achieve those targets. The new council structures are in the process of developing those coaching and leadership implementation plans, which they will submit to us, and we will then invest in the councils. The councils will then be contracted to deliver on those targets.

Mr Shannon:

What happens to the funding and the money if the councils do not deliver?

Mr Harkness:

Obviously, the funding that will have been spent on salaries will have been spent. However, we would like to think that it is a partnership arrangement with the district councils. If programme A is not working, we will ask why it is not working and whether it can be improved or whether it should be abandoned and the money put into a different programme that is working. It is not a draconian relationship; I hope that it is a partnership arrangement.

Mr McCausland:

You mentioned the survey that you are commissioning on levels of participation, and you said that it would be finished very soon. What do you anticipate “very soon” to mean?

Mr Harkness:

I understand that the first draft of the report is due in November 2009. The spring of 2010 would be a reasonable estimate, depending on how much work we have to do to improve it.

Mr McCausland:

Obviously, you will have to wait for that report. However, you will have some view or assessment of the levels of participation across sports. Are some sports doing better than others in increasing participation?

Mr Harkness:

Some sports are, undoubtedly, in decline. The squash courts in many leisure centres are not being used and are being converted to spin classes. Fitness activities, such as walking, fitness classes and spin classes, appear to be on the increase, particularly for women. With the busy lifestyles in modern society, people cannot always be at the pitch with the 10, 11 or 14 other people at the right time. They want to adopt a lifestyle and an activity that allows them to be independently physically active, rather than physically active at a certain time and in a certain place.

Mr McCausland:

Team sports have a role in teaching people social skills and team working, especially for younger people, because they have not got into the work cycle and can make the time for team sports. You referred to squash, which is not a team game, but are some team games doing better than others as regards increased participation?

Mr Harkness:

I do not know the answer to that off the top of my head. If figures are available for that, I do not have them with me.

Mr McCausland:

Will that come out in the survey?

Mr Harkness:

I do not believe that the survey is sport specific. It is about participation levels and the amount of time spent.

Mr News:

Respondents to the survey will be asked what activities they have participated in, and there is a long list of more than 40 different activities that will detail specific sports as well as general physical activities.

The Chairperson:

My perception is that participation in ladies Gaelic football is increasing and that it is really succeeding.

Mr McCausland:

Do some of those team sports’ governing bodies have strategies for increasing participation?

Mr Harkness:

Yes, they do.

Mr McCausland:

Do all of them?

Mr Harkness:

Yes, as I understand it. We target our investments at programmes that deliver on those targets. That is where we see the greatest disparities existing, so that is where we want to target our investments.

Mr K Robinson:

You are catching all the clubs and some of the individuals engaged in sports, but if you were to go out onto the coastal path outside any day or night through the week, you would see people, particularly women, of various age groups, going out in twos, threes or fours, engaging in physical activity with the summer holidays coming up, and so on. People always use that path. Can you count the number of people who may be engaged in unofficial groups, who are engaging in sport?

Mr Harkness:

It is always difficult to capture that unaffiliated participation. However, we have done some work with the Countryside Access and Activities Network to fund some path creation, as have other public bodies. When that happens, it is possible to put in footfall counters, so that you can get an idea of the number of people using it. That is geographically specific, and it does not cover every path.

Mr K Robinson:

The road safety of the Sustrans path into Belfast particularly interests me. No crash barrier separates the cyclists and pedestrians who use it from the M5 motorway, and it is fairly well used. Do you have any footfall counters on that?

Mr Harkness:

No, I do not believe so.

Mr K Robinson:

Is there any simple activity that you could build on along a path such as that? You know that it is well used, and it is being used continually. Would it be possible to put a step up and step down on that path, possibly with a couple of sleepers or something like that?

Mr Harkness:

There are examples of that. Beside the Salmon Leap restaurant in Coleraine, there is a trim trail. We supplied a floodlit running trail at the agricultural college in Cookstown to encourage walking and running. As I understand it, some fitness activities can also be undertaken there.

Mr K Robinson:

That adds diversity, rather than just walking or cycling the same circuit all the time.

The Chairperson:

The restaurant sounds appealing. [Laughter.]

Lord Browne:

Several cross-community gyms exist in East Belfast, which involve a lot of young people in activity. I am thinking particularly of world championship kickboxing. I realise that Sport Northern Ireland, for various reasons, does not recognise kickboxing as a sport, but that activity involves a lot of young people, and there is no physical contact. Is there any way that you would reconsider kickboxing as a sport, so that those young people could get support?

I must confess that, during my youth, I spent a lot of time in snooker halls. Again, a lot of young people enjoy snooker, and they could beat me quite easily.

Mr P Ramsey:

What was your highest break, Wallace?

Mr Shannon:

Wallace plays it all the time; he can say that. [Laughter.]

Lord Browne:

I get my exercise going around the table, Jim, but some people are at international standard and find it difficult to get support.

Mr Harkness:

One of the snooker players who is doing well at the moment is a gentleman called Mark Allen. We funded him in the past; he was on our athlete support programme.

Lord Browne:

Several others have difficulties in getting funding. They may not be as good as Mark Allen, but are perhaps coming up to that standard.

Mr Harkness:

I do not know the specifics, but I know that the opportunity exists. We have an athlete support programme that is funded by some of our Lottery income, and if athletes meet a certain standard, the opportunity for funding exists. We have, in the past, funded snooker.

A set process is in place across the UK for recognising sports and governing bodies, and that is done collectively across the sports councils. We decide that together. We do not want a situation in which an activity is being recognised as a sport in one region and not in another. There is an established process for recognising sports and recognising governing bodies of sports. I am not sure where kickboxing is in that scheme, but I understand that there were safety concerns about that particular sport.

The Chairperson:

One of the offerings that we had in the earlier discussion about the definition of sport was that it is a sport only if you have to change your shoes to participate. So darts would be out.

Mr Harkness:

Darts is actually now recognised as a sport.

Mr P Ramsey:

What about greyhounds’ or horses’ shoes? [Laughter.]

Mr Watson:

To get funding, a participant must also be of a certain standard. Mr Shannon does not seem to think that he would qualify. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson:

This is just a personal opinion, but the Committee should show more interest in participation in sport. We were told in some of our engagements with the Scottish Parliament about Liz McColgan coming before a Committee to encourage women in the west of Scotland to play a more active role in physical recreation. Perhaps we should invite some of our sports personalities to say what motivated them to go into sport.

Will Nick and Colin please make concluding statements?

Mr Harkness:

Scotland is a good example of how the health budget has made a financial contribution to promote sport.

The Chairperson:

There is a link between health and sport. Scotland has a Minister for Public Health and Sport.

Mr Harkness:

There is a 300% increase in participation rates in programmes in which we invest. For every £800 spent on health, £1 is spent on sport. If we had more money, we could make more of a difference and keep people out of hospitals.

Mr Watson:

I concur with that. Furthermore, the fact that we are actively involved with the Department of Health’s obesity steering group points to that Department’s acceptance that there is a link between health and physical activity. It bodes well that we are involved with such working groups.

Mr K Robinson:

Obesity groups are necessary for those of us who are involved with the Diabetes UK schemes. How much impact are your obesity groups having in primary schools? Are they making a major impact, because it is, perhaps, there that the time bomb is ticking loudest?

Mr Harkness:

The obesity groups are divided into working groups, including physical activity, health and nutrition, and research. They are putting together independent strategies for their own areas that will come together into an overall strategy. One concern is that Sport NI has a programme that goes into primary schools, the Health Promotion Agency has another, and the British Heart Foundation is doing another. We need to find a way to combine resources into one strategy and be more efficient with our investments.

The Chairperson:

Thank you Colin, Nick and the team for attending this morning.

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