Culture and sport ministers under fire line

19th June 1998 at 01:00
AN ALL-PARTY commitee of MPs has called for better coordination of government policies on sport.

The Commons select committee on culture, media and sport has urged Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, and Tony Banks, minister for sport, to ensure that in future "the knowledge and experience of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport in sporting matters is fed into decisions by the Department for Education and Employment".

The advice comes in a highly critical, and much publicised, report that accuses Mr Smith of subordinatng creative, sports and tourism industries in favour of more glamorous and trivial issues.

In his evidence to the committee, Mr Banks acknowledged that links between sport and education needed to be strengthened. He said: "The job of sports minister is still not one that we have fully sorted out in terms of where the best departmental responsibility lies and where the minister would best serve his functions." He "noted" the influence of the DFEE on sports policy.

"We do not doubt the enthusiasm of Mr Banks on this," the select committee report said. "Nevertheless, simply noting the influence of the DFEE is not enough."

But the committee had some sympathy with the minister's personal views on the "arm's length" principle. This means that 95 per cent of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport's expenditure takes the form of grants to other bodies, such as the arts and sports councils, which in turn distribute to individual organisations.

Mr Banks said that of the pound;50 million sport budget, pound;49 million went directly to the sports councils, so he was "an advocate for sport", with influence rather than executive responsibility.

He would prefer to have direct ministerial control over funding decisions and saw no reason why ministerial judgment should be seen as inferior to that of public bodies.

The report on the objectives and performance of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport also called on the department to "box its weight" in Whitehall, the Treasury and in Cabinet and even for its re-naming. "We believe that a new name should be found for it which combines euphony with a more comprehensive description of its responsibilities."

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