MP for North Swindon

Justin Tomlinson MP

Swindon Advertiser Weekly Article


Proposed changes to the School Sports Partnership (SSP) have featured heavily in the national media this week. SSPs have helped co-ordinate sporting activity and opportunities, something for which I am a passionate supporter as I firmly support the positive role that sport can play in encouraging a healthy and active lifestyle, and improving behaviour, team work and crucially enjoyment.

This week I spoke in the debate on this issue, as the Government was keen to remove the ring-fencing of the £162m funding, which whilst it would give school Heads greater freedom with their budgets, it also puts into question whether all schools will continue to choose this programme.

Before the debate, I took the opportunity to visit many local schools, and SSP events to see first-hand the work. One surprising activity I saw was street dancing, which is extremely popular, probably off the back of the popular Pineapple Dance Studios tv show. The crucial message is that participation goes beyond the core traditional sports. I am a great believer in competitive sports, but as trends change, we need to capture the interest of children to get them active. We also have to ensure that, after children enjoy a taster session of a particular sport, they continue to engage long term. In Swindon we can channel this through our successful Sports Forum of 60+ sports groups. When I was the Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure, I helped establish the Forum and actively promoted it for this very reason. In the ten years I spent as a councillor, that’s the achievement I am most proud of.

I also raised the need for greater provision of accessible open space in new developments. I know, from when I was younger and from having represented a new development ward, that when someone is inspired by sport on the television and wants to go and use ‘jumpers for goalposts’, they need somewhere to do it, but too many new developments are concrete jungles. We should encourage local authorities and schools to open up their buildings and facilities to local sporting groups and organisations. We also need to work with the youth service, with the crossover between traditional sport and youth provision: things such as street dance and cheerleading falling into both categories. We also need to tackle the issue of insurance, with costs of £1,000+ to insure a teacher to drive a mini-bus proving to be one of the biggest barriers to inter-school competitions.

Again I have shown I am prepared to be independently minded in Parliament, with my speech securing cross-party support. We have to increase the number of healthy and active pupils, and I very much hope all parties can come together and work on new proposals that will build on the encouraging start the School Sports Partnership.

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