Minister of sport in a fix over field sales

5th December 1997 at 00:00
Tony Banks, the gaffe-prone Sports Minister, famous for being amazed at his + elevation to the Government ranks, is even more surprised to discover how + little power he really has.Speaking at the Central Council of Physical + Education's annual conference on the theme "Who governs sport?", he said: "It + certainly isn't me."Much as he would like to, he cannot stop the sale of + playing fields. "Our manifesto commitment is quite clear: 'We will bring the + [previous] Government's policy of forcing schools to sell off playing fields to+ an end'. "But it isn't in my gift alone to do this. I've had discussions with+ my education colleagues - it's a nonsense not to, but I'm amazed at the number+ of people who said it's the first time this has happened."Mr Banks said there + was a case for a pragmatic approach. In St Albans, for example, a school had + sold some land to improve its sports facilities overall. "So we will approve of+ disposal of grounds if there is a net sports or recreational gain. But we + don't want fields disappearin g under car parks, housing estates or + supermarkets." He said an announcement would be made shortly on the precise + package of measures. The minister said that he was well aware of teachers' + worries of the encroachment on their territory by professional sport, alluding + to the premier league's plans to set up academies to nurture players aged eight+ to 21.Mr Banks said the Government's policy of sport for all was designed to + reconcile the two extremes of benefiting ordinary people and developing + excellence. "Only a fool would structure a sporting strategy without linking + it to education. We will never get world champions unless we encourage sport at+ the earliest possible opportunity - starting at nursery school to adulthood, + with no gaps. Sport isn't frippery, an add-on; it is central to the lives of + virtually everyone in the country."We want to ensure that sporting + opportunities are available and easily accessible to the entire community + regardless of age, social background, location or ability."He said he was + "intensely frustrated" by the "arm's-length" position imposed on him by having + to work through the five sports councils. "Why don't politicians trust + themselves? We think we can't spend money on sports and the arts. Whatever I + want to do, I can't do it. I'm a supplicant at my own table. I always have to + convince Trevor Brooking [chair of the English Sports Council] that something + is a good thing to do.We are going to find ways of doing things effectively and+ speedily."Mr Banks was bemused by his conflicting responsibilities at the + Department of Culture, Media and Sport, where he is also in charge of listed + buildings. "It reminds me of the old days of local government when there were + oddly-named departments of tramways and fine arts. I now find that when I want + to preserve something, the council wants to knock it down."

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