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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Future funding of tennis

Monday, January 23, 2012

Meg Munn MP secured a Parliamentary debate on the future funding of tennis her speech is below.

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I am delighted to be here and to see the Sports Minister, who will respond. I am pleased to have secured the debate and to welcome my hon. Friends we are all friends when it comes to tennis. I am secretary of the All-Party group on tennis, or as it is more commonly known, the Lords and Commons Tennis Club. The most enjoyable part of holding that position is getting to play.

Tennis is a sport open to all. It is played by children as soon as they can hold the racket, through to the older generation to maintain agility, balance, flexibility and strength. It can be enjoyed by two people competing for victory or by groups and families for leisure. It is flexible and fun. Unfortunately, despite all those positive attributes, the country suffers from low participation. Sport England’s Active People survey shows that tennis participation has fallen to 402,000 regular players way short of the 550,000 target for September 2011. Shockingly, the number of tennis courts has declined in the past 10 years from 33,000 to only 10,000.

Research shows that the public are keen to play more tennis. According to a ComRes survey carried out on behalf of Tennis for Free in September 2011, nearly half the people surveyed would be more likely to play tennis if facilities were free to use. It also found that 69% of people think that local facilities should be free and a massive 84% believe that they need to be more accessible. The serious lack of interest in the grass-roots level is a missed opportunity. Getting more Britons inspired by and involved in sports was a pledge that helped London to secure the 2012 Olympic games, but that cannot happen unless we invest in small organisations that promote grass-roots sports.

Chris White (Warwick and Leamington) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Is she aware that Leamington Spa is home to the first lawn tennis club, established in 1872, which was three years before Wimbledon? In the Olympic year, could we not make an effort to ensure that we improve young people’s understanding of the history of tennis, so that the legacy is not concentrated only in London?

Meg Munn: As an MP representing a constituency even further away from London than the hon. Gentleman’s, I am obviously keen for the legacy of the games to be felt throughout the country. I have spent time in Leamington Spa, but I was unaware of its history, so I am delighted to have been educated. Let us get kids out playing and then teach them the history, but I welcome his intervention.

In 1997, when the Labour Government came to power, school sports were poorly funded and communities relied on badly funded local authority provision and voluntary clubs. The Labour Government set out to create a proper structure to encourage greater participation, which included the Youth Sport Trust, for schools and youth clubs; Sport England, for community support through national governing bodies; and UK Sport, for elite sport throughout England.

In December 2008, Sport England announced a 480 million investment to provide grass-roots sporting opportunities and a lasting Olympic legacy of 1 million people playing more sport. It awarded sports funding based on their expected ability to increase the number of people playing sport and to ensure that young, talented players could be identified and supported to develop their skills.

Through the four-year whole sport plan, tennis received a block grant of nearly 27 million for 2009-13 the fourth largest grant given to any sport from Sport England. That money is channelled through the sport’s national governing body, the Lawn Tennis Association. It was originally built on a club structure, but there has been a shift to include more local authority-run parks and school sites. Almost 200 park sites, which offer affordable tennis, are accredited as beacons and the LTA also invested 200,000 in revenue funding last year to support free and affordable activities.

Sport England targets tennis funding at three areas, for which it uses the terms: grow, sustain and excel. For those of us who do not like such short descriptions, they mean increasing the number of people playing tennis, sustaining their number through measuring existing participants’ satisfaction and helping young, talented players to progress and excel.

Rosie Cooper (West Lancashire) (Lab): At Glenburn Sports College in Skelmersdale, the LTA has invested in developing high-quality tennis courts. It is a new town that has existed for only 50 years, so it does not have the great history that the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Chris White) mentioned and had no tennis provision in a town of 40,000 people. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to ensure that the opportunity to get involved in tennis should be widely accessible, especially in communities such as Skelmersdale that did not have a tennis court? You never know, we may discover stars.

Meg Munn: I am delighted to predict that a future Wimbledon champion will no doubt come from my hon. Friend’s constituency. She makes the point extremely well that is exactly what needs to happen.

The LTA has undertaken significant work in the past 18 months to accelerate growth in participation in park tennis sites, schools and through its “Allplay” campaign, launched in summer 2011 to help more people play tennis. The campaign includes a free website to help people to find someone to play against, a local place to play tennis, of which there are about 20,000, and coaching to help people to improve.

For future projects, the LTA has invested or committed 19.9 million in total to 159 projects or facilities since 2008. Over 11 million of that comes from Sport England’s whole sport plan funding, with the LTA funding the remainder directly. That will result in 32 new indoor courts, 109 new outdoor courts, nearly 300 resurfaced or reconstructed courts and 294 courts floodlit across England. The LTA investment rightly reaches beyond traditional clubs 7.9 million has gone into community facilities, such as parks and education sites, and no doubt that includes my hon. Friend’s constituency.

Mrs Mary Glindon (North Tyneside) (Lab): I am sure that my hon. Friend will join me in commending the LTA for investing in one of the most deprived wards in my constituency with a fantastic indoor tennis court at Churchill community college a very visible site that has been well used by the community. It was done in partnership with the council and is a fantastic example of an investment that will make a difference to the lives of young people in North Tyneside.

Meg Munn: I welcome that; such work is important, but it still has not achieved the participation that it should. The barriers to more people playing tennis must be addressed.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate. Sport is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, and although we are talking about England, I want to add to the debate an example of what has been done there. The Ulster branch of Tennis Ireland’s initiative over a weekend last summer introduced 508 people to tennis with the support of councils, tennis clubs and private enterprise Asda’s sporting chance programme sponsored it. That is an example of how, with promotion and encouragement, we can get more people involved and other people to help.

Meg Munn: It is good to hear about that, because we must address the barriers to more people playing tennis.

I am sceptical that the LTA can achieve the surge in participation that we are all talking about and all want. In my experience, lasting involvement is often achieved by local people coming together and deciding to do something, by people getting involved for not just two weeks, during Wimbledon or when something is first there, and doing something that continues and enables people to take up a sport, which, as I said earlier, they can keep on playing well into their 60s, 70s and even 80s.

For instance, a group of parents might want to do something for their children, or a group of women might want to get together and get active, while having fun. What prevents people from seeing tennis as the way to do that is the lack of courts and equipment, and probably most difficult to overcome is the sense that tennis is a sport for better-off people, with too many children and adults seeing it as elitist and not for them.

An organisation that has set out to change things is Tennis for Free, which starts from a simple point of view. If children want to play football, they get their ball, find a patch of grass, put down a couple of jumpers and start playing. It costs them nothing. Charging to use tennis courts has helped the decline in participation, by making tennis too expensive for many people to play, and councils need someone collect the money. The result across the country has been poor-quality tennis courts that become underused and fall into disrepair.

Tennis for Free works with schools, tennis clubs and local authorities. It uses public park court facilities to create tennis communities. It provides free equipment and a free two-year coaching programme, run by qualified coaches and available to young people and adults of all ages, standards and abilities.

Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the all-party group on tennis. I am, however, a very poor player, unlike the hon. Lady, whose skills are renowned throughout the Palace of Westminster.

The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): And Wimbledon.

Mark Pritchard: Indeed. I should like to put on record my thanks to Mr Speaker for his active support of tennis and of Tennis for Free in particular. Given the huge amount of money going into tennis generally, from the Exchequer and the lottery, does the hon. Lady accept that a future Wimbledon champion junior or senior, male or female is as likely to come from the Tennis for Free courts as from private courts or those where an entry fee is charged?

Meg Munn: As the hon. Gentleman is probably aware, my view is that talent is certainly likely to be spread equally across the whole population. However, it is not just about getting the person who is going to do well and represent the country, but about getting everyone else involved, too.

With Tennis for Free, we are seeing a way of opening tennis to even more people, by providing free equipment and a free two-year coaching programme and, at the end of the two years, a friends community group is created to provide a free coaching programme with the same inclusive and welcoming ethos. Such community-based techniques have been shown to work. Tennis for Free’s approach offers value for money and is, importantly, sustainable. It has had more than 16,000 attendees at its coaching events over the past year and is now embarking on a programme of renewing and renovating courts.

It has also targeted low-income groups, thus ensuring that the schemes are promoted to families in areas of high deprivation, to spread greater provision to where there have traditionally been no tennis courts. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tyneside (Mrs Glindon) described the importance of that.

A vital part of Tennis for Free’s activity is persuading local councils to make access to tennis courts free of charge. That improves value for money, because the maintenance budget is helped by the fact that well-used courts are less likely to become overgrown and vandalised. There are now more than 2,600 free park courts in the UK, up from just 700 in 2005 a real achievement for a small organisation. The approach matches public need. The ComRes survey found that a third of people would be more likely to play tennis if courts were open for longer, were in better condition and offered free coaching. The great thing about the approach is that it is relatively cheap to set up; provided that it is done in partnership, a two-year coaching programme costs about 15,000. Tennis for Free’s success shows us that there is potential in grass-roots activity.

Investment in tennis is crucial. The coalition Government have announced a new youth sport strategy, to invest 1 billion of lottery and Exchequer funding in partnership with Sport England to ensure that more young people regularly play sport and will continue to do so into adult life. The funding is dependent on a performance management regime, whereby national governing bodies must demonstrate local impact to avoid the funds being withdrawn. So far, public funding for tennis has not produced the growth in participation that could have been achieved, but this is our opportunity to get it right, and the 2013 - 2017 plans for each national governing body are being developed over the next few months.

A vision for developing grass-roots tennis has been set out in the charter for tennis. It includes enabling wider participation, so resources spent on tennis must be focused on grass-roots development. Sport England funding from 2013 should be channelled to organisations dedicated to grass-roots development and allocated on the principles of transparency, accountability and value for money.

By concentrating on grass-roots tennis and getting more people playing, we increase the number of people who find it an enjoyable and worthwhile activity in its own right. Will the Minister therefore consider guaranteeing that a proportion of tennis’s future funding goes directly to grass-roots organisations such as Tennis for Free, rather than being channelled through only the national governing body?


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