Wednesday, 25 February 2004

Questions (15, 16, 17)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

101 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if a national audit of local sports facilities commenced in mid-2003 as outlined in his Department’s mission statement; the envisaged timeframe for completion of this audit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6107/04]

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Dan Boyle

Question:

108 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the impact the national audit of local sports facilities will have in facilitating the provision of sport and recreation facilities on a nationwide basis as per the mission statement of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6109/04]

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Trevor Sargent

Question:

115 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress being made in the national audit of local sports facilities as outlined in his Department’s mission statement, including the timeframe for completion of this audit and the expected impact this audit will have on the provision of sport and recreation facilities nation-wide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6117/04]

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Oral answers (5 contributions) (Question to Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101, 108 and 115 together.

The commitment as outlined in the programme for Government, to complete a national audit of local sports facilities, is being undertaken as part of the development of a long-term strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities. The first step towards developing such a strategy, a review of the existing sports capital programme under the Department's expenditure review programme, is currently being finalised. The outcome of this review will help identify the level of facilities that have been put in place in recent years with the assistance of national lottery funding, and produce recommendations on priorities for future funding.

Following this, I intend to establish an interagency steering group to begin work immediately on developing a long-term strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities. One of the first tasks for this group will be to oversee the commencement of the audit of sports facilities. Given the volume of facilities that may potentially be included in such an audit, covering the entire country, it is important that a robust methodology is used to record, classify and assess the facilities to be included.

In light of the enormity of the task, it could take a number of years to complete a comprehensive audit of all sports facilities. However, it may be possible to conduct the work in stages, to ensure that some useful results are available in the short term for input into the proposed strategic plan for the provision of sports facilities due for completion within the next year.

Once completed, the audit will enable policy makers to map the location of the various sports facilities throughout the country, leading to a more effective targeting of new or additional facilities which will complement rather than duplicate what is already available. In this way, a more efficient use of financial resources can be achieved, and a fostering of greater co-operation between complementary facility providers can be encouraged.

Is it not true that the Minister would be better off throwing in the towel right now and saying, "Mea culpa.” This is not going to happen within the lifetime of the Government. I remember talking to the Minister last year about the nationwide audit of local sports facilities, which is crucial, not just in terms of providing more much-needed facilities, but also in terms of working with schools which are losing out because their physical education in the sports ground has been taken away. A much more interactive approach is needed. Is the Minister aware that in his own strategy statement he said that one of the priorities is to facilitate the provision of sport and recreation facilities nationwide, to include the efficient and effective delivery of the sports capital programme, and the interagency group? Did the Minister say in the strategy statement that he wants to see a national audit of local sports facilities completed, and that this audit would begin by mid-2003? Since that is not within a cat’s whisker of beginning by June 2004, will the Minister acknowledge that this strategy is up in the air, is a failure, and that this is one of the key issues in the programme for Government which will not have carried out within the lifetime of the Government?

The strategy is not a failure. It has been decided that as a first step, before the commencement of the audit, an assessment of what has been achieved under the Department's sports capital programme should be carried out. That is perfectly logical. This was done in the context of an expenditure review of the programme which seeks to assess the benefits that the investment to date has yielded, and to identify any difficulties or inefficiencies associated with the operation of the programme. The review was to have been completed during 2003 to facilitate the start of the audit during that year, but has taken longer than expected due to the scale of the programme and the time required to analyse the volume of information collected. The report on this review is expected in the near future.

One must realise that there has been major expenditure under the sports capital programme since 1998. Almost €270 million has been allocated to more than 3,000 projects across the country. It is not a simple task. The audit in Northern Ireland took over two years. Once the assessment is complete, we will move to the next stage.

Can the Minister say what will be included in the national audit? It will obviously include more than what sports facilities are available. Will it deal with the use of a facility by local schools, for example, with access for the disabled, and the practice of gender balance in a facility, that is, provision for male and female sports? Will the audit be more than an account of the facilities that are there? Will it include usage and access for various groups? I am sure the audit will do more than merely count the facilities available.

As I said, €270 million has to date been allocated to 3,500 projects throughout the country under the sports capital programme, and this is only since 1998. It is, therefore, apparent that a considerable amount of work has been done. I anticipate that the audit would represent a comprehensive body of work which will enable policymakers to map the location of the various sports facilities throughout the country, whether they are provided through voluntary sports organisations, are funded privately or have benefited through public funding.

It is fair to say that a better fix on the location of existing sports facilities will lead to more effective and more accurately targeted funding of new facilities and a more efficient use of financial resources. This will apply across all Departments involved in the provision of sports facilities. It will be comprehensive and I anticipate it will deal with issues such as the disabled, gender and so on to which Deputy Deenihan referred.