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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 16 January 2018

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, International Policy Framework and Priorities 2018, Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Bill: Financial Resolution, Decision Time, Scottish Sports Association


Contents


Scottish Sports Association

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-09652, in the name of James Kelly, on the Scottish Sports Association. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the contribution of the Scottish Sports Association (SSA) in raising the profile and promoting the benefits of sport, and to over 13 policy areas in the Scottish Government; considers that the role of the SSA as the independent and collective voice for sport in Glasgow and across the country is vital; is concerned that, after 18 years of core funding, there are reports of a proposed withdrawal of funding for the SSA from both the government and sportscotland; believes that this is an unacceptable situation; understands that the government funds other membership organisations across the voluntary sector to enable their voices to be heard, and notes the view that, to ensure a sustainable future for the organisation, the SSA’s funding should be restored in 2018-19.

17:08  

James Kelly (Glasgow) (Lab)

It gives me great pleasure to open tonight’s members’ business debate in support of the Scottish Sports Association and retaining the crucial funding for the important role that the association plays. I thank all the members who signed up to support the motion; they include party leaders Richard Leonard, Patrick Harvie, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie, all Labour MSPs, all Green MSPs, all Liberal Democrat MSPs and the vast majority of Conservative MSPs. I think that that shows the gravity with which people view this very important issue.

It is a matter of real regret for me that I have had to bring this debate to the chamber. The Scottish Sports Association is well respected for the work that it does, not just in the Scottish Parliament but out in the community in the networks that the association has built up through the bodies that it represents. That regret is reinforced because of the consensual debate that we had last week to celebrate the European championships being held in Glasgow and supporting venues throughout the country this year. Members will recall that there was a lot of agreement in that debate about the importance of building a legacy from the 2018 games by increasing participation in sport and giving a profile to participants in sport and the different sports that are involved in the games.

When there are so many aspects to support in the 2018 European championships, it seems bizarre to cut off a major strand of support for that work. I do not understand the Government’s decision.

There are three important strands to the work of the Scottish Sports Association. The first is the fact that it is an independent representative body that represents 900,000 members of sports clubs throughout Scotland, in a total of 13,000 clubs, which encompass 195,000 volunteers. The association plays an important role in representing those groups and individuals, and it is a key link between them and the Scottish Government through its work with 13 different Government departments. There have also been two recent requests for new work.

The association is an independent body and that representation demonstrates itself in the policy aspect of the association’s work. At the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections, as it did in 2011, the association produced a manifesto that was broadly supported by all the parties—there was a 92 per cent uptake of the ideas in that manifesto, which shows the real breadth of policy commitment of the Scottish Sports Association and in the political parties.

Secondly, the association has strong links with the Government and Parliament and it has been successful in influencing some of their agendas. It regularly makes representations to the various committees of the Parliament and in a number of budgets, it has made the point that it is important to retain the sports budgets for the successful enjoyment and participation of individuals in sports and sports clubs, and for the knock-on effect across other portfolios for which the Scottish Government is responsible. As was said a lot in last week’s debate, healthy people participating in sport will improve the overall health of the nation, and that will help to ensure that we do not have to divert as many resources to the health budget, for example. The association has recently been involved in the increased use of access to sport in schools.

The third strand of the association’s work is about encouraging volunteers in sport. There are 195,000 volunteers throughout Scottish sport. If we are going to achieve the sort of things that we spoke about when we discussed the games in Glasgow this year, we need to have a strong support network. The Scottish Sports Association has been key in building that up.

As I said earlier, I simply do not understand the decision. Aileen Campbell is a reasonable member of the Scottish Parliament and minister, but this decision is completely unreasonable, especially when we look at the amount of money that is involved—£70,000 is to be moved to sportscotland. That is a small amount of money. I cannot understand the logic, even if we are looking for efficiencies. The Scottish Sports Association has done some work on pensions for some of its members’ groups and saved £105,000 in set-up costs and £13,000 across 33 different groups. The minister is well aware of that; she spoke at the annual general meeting of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on sport and endorsed the importance of the Scottish Sports Association and the work that it is doing.

There really needs to be a rethink on the decision, because otherwise we will lose that independent voice; we will lose the representation; and we will lose the quality work that the Scottish Sports Association does and the links into the Scottish Government and to the committees of this Parliament.

I say very seriously to the minister that there needs to be a rethink on this decision. It is completely the wrong decision in terms of this organisation’s support for sport and it takes away a key leg of the representative sports body. The minister needs to think again; she needs to talk to those who have lobbied her in support of the Scottish Sports Association, look at the case, and take this decision off the table, because it is completely the wrong decision.

17:15  

Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I am very grateful indeed to James Kelly for bringing this debate to the chamber and for what he has just said. I concur that this is a very pressing issue.

I want to make my contribution this evening as one of the co-conveners of the cross-party group on sport. Alison Johnstone, who will speak shortly, is the other co-convener. We have both had first-hand knowledge of the role of the Scottish Sports Association, not just in terms of its significant assistance with the secretarial work of the cross-party group but in the promotion of Scottish sport. I know that our predecessor, Margo MacDonald, would have said exactly the same thing. It was with very considerable dismay that we learnt about the proposed withdrawal of investment funding for the SSA by both the Scottish Government and sportscotland—a matter which, as co-conveners of the CPG, we will discuss in detail with the minister next week.

Following the royal charter of 1982 that established sportscotland, the SSA came into being; it has been a strong and effective voice, which has helped to shape and enhance policy and practice across Scottish sport and champion the views and contributions of its members. I believe that the SSA fills a unique and vital niche and, as such, it provides exceptional value for money—both for its governing body membership organisations and for the public purse—through its small but highly dedicated team, led so ably by Kim Atkinson.

As members are well aware, there is cross-party support across the chamber for getting the nation to be more active, not only for people’s own sake but to achieve the policy objectives of improving the nation’s physical and mental health. That is very much the right focus.

The largest delivery mechanism for sport and physical activity is through community sports clubs, coaches and volunteers, whose voices and views are uniquely and independently conveyed through the SSA. Sport should be a powerful tool in the fight against deep-rooted health inequalities and in supporting community networks. In 2014, the Scottish Government published its active Scotland outcomes framework, which includes, among other policy outcomes, improving

“our active infrastructure”,

supporting

“wellbeing and resilience in communities through physical activity and sport”,

and improving

“opportunities to participate, progress and achieve in sport”.

It is difficult to see how such outcomes will be achieved by withdrawing funding to the SSA. That would also run contrary to previous statements made by the First Minister about the vital importance of the voluntary sector in helping to develop and better implement policy by working together with the Government.

It seems inconceivable, therefore—just as James Kelly has said—that the Scottish Government would not wish to have an independent representative body to help to aid that collaboration and prioritisation and to help to develop and implement policy, while also providing support to and representation for members’ interests to Government and national agencies.

The Scottish Government has rightly outlined the importance of sport in relation to the physical and mental health and wellbeing of the nation. However, the threats posed to sport, including through the recommendations of the Barclay review of business rates, ensure an even greater need for the SSA. Without the SSA, the voice of voluntary sector sport in Scotland would, in my view, be severely diminished—perhaps even lost. There would be no independent and collective voice for the 50 Scottish governing bodies—which very regularly and in great numbers attend meetings of the cross-party group on sport—and their 13,000 sports clubs and 900,000 sports club members.

As one of the co-conveners of the cross-party group on sport, I know at first hand the significant contribution that the SSA has made to the work of both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Government. As I mentioned, I know that that view was deeply shared by our predecessor as convener, Margo MacDonald.

There is always a strong attendance at SSA receptions and exhibitions by MSPs and their staff and by sports professionals. I join James Kelly in calling for a rethink. After all, sport is about our volunteers and our grass roots, and we cannot have elite sport without those foundations, which is why we need a rethink.

17:20  

Anas Sarwar (Glasgow) (Lab)

I am pleased to speak in support of my colleague James Kelly’s motion.

Last week in the chamber, members, including the minister, spoke at length about the positive impact of sport and physical activity on people’s lives and the potential positive impact that the European championships could have on sports participation in Scotland. However, this week, James Kelly’s motion and debate go to the very heart of the Government’s behaviour—we have warm words one week and cuts the next. The Government likes to talk up all that it is doing to support and promote active and healthy lifestyles but, when it comes to putting its money where its mouth is, I fear that it may fall short. I hope that, when the minister responds, she will pay more than lip service to the concerns that have been raised.

The Scottish Sports Association is a unique organisation, as it is the only umbrella body that covers sport and speaks up for the role that sport and physical activity can play in addressing some of the serious challenges that we face. The SSA is an independent voice for 50 Scottish sports governing bodies, 13,000 sports clubs, 195,000 volunteers and 900,000 sports club members. It speaks up not just for the bigger sports but for the smaller ones, whose voice might be lost without the SSA’s support.

The association’s aims are clear: it seeks more opportunities for sport and physical activity to grow, increased opportunities for people to participate and a greater emphasis on sports development. I hope that everyone in the chamber can agree with those aims. The association carries out its work with the support of those that it represents. It has almost 100 per cent—the figure is 98 per cent—membership retention, which shows how effective an organisation it is, and it has high levels of satisfaction, efficiency and effectiveness. Quite simply, there is no other independent voice for sport that does the work of the SSA, which is why the Scottish Government should provide funding, either directly or through its agency sportscotland.

Frankly, I do not know why the Scottish Government has decided to withdraw funding. It feels able to fund the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations directly, which is the right thing to do, but it does not wish to do so for the SSA, despite the fact that sport is the largest single part of Scotland’s voluntary sector. The debate comes just a week after we discussed the European championships in Glasgow, the aim of which is to deliver increased participation in sport.

James Kelly, who is himself a reasonable MSP and finance spokesperson, made a plea to the minister, whom he called a reasonable MSP and minister. I hope that, when the minister responds, she will tell us positively how she can find what is, in the grand scheme of things, a very small fund to help to deliver a sustainable future for the SSA. The minister promised the SSA and its members at its annual general meeting in 2016 that the Government would deliver that. I hope that that does not become another broken promise.

In November, the minister said that the Scottish Government directs support for Scottish governing bodies through sportscotland, and the Scottish Government website is clear that it will use its third sector core budget—a budget of £24.5 million—to support local and national third sector infrastructure. I am sure that we can find the £70,000 that is needed from within that £24.5 million to support the SSA. That is the right thing for the minister and the Government to do.

If we are serious about tackling inequality in our country and about the link between health, wellbeing, health outcomes and the pressures on our national health service—especially at a time of winter pressures on the NHS—we must see the direct link between sports participation, youth clubs, the voluntary sector and the wider NHS budget. I hope that the Government can see that today and that the minister will make the right decision.

17:24  

Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I draw members’ attention to my entry in the register of members’ interests.

I thank James Kelly—a long-time member of the cross-party group on sport—for bringing the motion for debate. I, too, wish that we were not having the debate but, as we are, let us regard it as an opportunity to highlight the excellent work of the Scottish Sports Association and ensure that no one who hears the debate is in any doubt that the SSA is well worth funding.

I sincerely hope that our contributions lead to on-going support from the Government and/or its agencies for the SSA. We need the independent and passionate voice of the Scottish Sports Association. In a country where physical inactivity is as great a health risk as smoking, and where adults who are not considered overweight or obese are in the minority, we need to ensure that that independent voice can continue to be heard.

In the run-up to the Holyrood elections of 2011, I was invited to meet the Scottish Sports Association outside Parliament for a photo call, where I was given a “Vote for Sport” T-shirt and where I pledged, if elected, to be a Scottish sporting champion. That role is a great honour and privilege and the role that the SSA plays is different from the one that sportscotland undertakes. Those two organisations can work together and complement each other; they are not in competition and we need them both.

Meeting Kim Atkinson, the chief executive officer of the SSA, in the car park at dawn—it felt like dawn—was only a taste of things to come. The organisation gets things done. If members would like guidance on how to truly champion sport, they should follow that small but mighty organisation in action. How many organisations with four staff would achieve 100 per cent support from prospective parliamentary candidates across the five parties represented in the Parliament?

As we have heard, the SSA’s manifesto for Scottish sport remains the only manifesto across Scottish sport and it received 92 per cent uptake of its key messages across all five party manifestos. That is an important point. Members might consider that it would be inappropriate for sportscotland, as an agency of Government, to have a manifesto, so that is another area where the SSA’s work is essential.

That liaison with parties and parliamentarians is hugely important. The SSA is very effective in bringing sport, politics and Parliament together. It is hugely important to learn from expert voices from outwith the Government and the parliamentary bubble. I appreciate that the Minister for Public Health and Sport will spend a great deal of time with sportscotland officials in her work. However, I am regularly updated and contacted by the SSA on how the Barclay review and the water and sewerage rates review, for example, will impact on grass-roots clubs in Lothian and Scotland.

As members have heard, I, with my colleague Liz Smith, have the privilege of co-convening the cross-party group on sport. Members can only imagine the strength of the contribution that our predecessor, Margo MacDonald, made to the debate. On more than one occasion, the cross-party group has had to seek a bigger venue or turn people away because 100 or so people have registered to come along to hear from the relevant, inspirational, sometimes expert and sometimes grass-roots, speakers who are a regular feature of the group.

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee monitors groups where external attendance or membership is low. The interest in the CPG on sport is consistently immense. That is due in no small part to the SSA’s contribution and its first-class secretariat skills. It is testimony, too, to its contacts in the wider sporting world.

The Scottish Government drafts proposals regarding how public money should be spent in Scotland to deliver a wide range of outcomes. That is a huge responsibility and one that we debate passionately in the chamber. I ask the Scottish Government to continue to invest in the Scottish Sports Association and in the health of the Scottish people. The SSA adds real value to sport in Scotland. Unlike sportscotland, it is member led and independent. It is not a weakness to have two organisations that advocate for sport. They are not in competition with each other; they complement each other. Every pound spent on the work of the SSA is a pound well spent.

17:27  

Tavish Scott (Shetland Islands) (LD)

James Kelly’s most reasonable point, among many reasonable points that he made, was about money. If we had been debating £70 million, would the chamber have been so full? If we had been debating £7 million, would so many members from across the parties have supported his motion? We are debating £70,000. It is inconceivable to me that the Government cannot find some way to resolve the issue given the fact that it has found £2 million of extra money for the sportscotland budget, given the strength of parliamentary support and given the extremely sensible and learned—nay, reasonable—arguments that members of all parties have made.

If the Scottish Sports Association did not exist, we would have to invent it, for the reasons that members have already suggested. It is independent. It cannot do and does not do the same job as sportscotland, which is, after all, the agency of the minister and the Government. That is why it produces a sports manifesto, which Alison Johnstone mentioned, and is why it does the things across political parties on behalf of the governing bodies that make it independent and make it different.

I, too, donned the T-shirt that said “Vote for Sport”—I think that that was when I was a party leader during the 2011 election, and I have to say that that message was a darn sight easier to sell than “Vote Lib Dem”.

The important side of that issue concerns the work that the SSA does with every political party and with the Government. The most striking side of the submission that Kim Atkinson and her colleagues made to members of all parties in advance of today’s debate involved the work that she does for the Government with regard to helping it to devise better policies on volunteering, better approaches to the kind of initiatives that the Government rightly wants to take forward on obesity and widening out sport into lifestyle choices and better ways of ensuring that its consultations are much more meaningful, for the reasons that Alison Johnstone, Liz Smith and James Kelly have outlined.

The minister will want to respond to a number of questions at the end of today’s debate. The first is, what is the rationale for cutting the funding? I have every sympathy with the minister if the argument is simply that the Government wants to cut the budget for financial reasons, and I am sure that she would want to tell the Parliament if that is the case. However, if there is a genuinely sport-related rationale, or some other rationale, let us hear it and debate it. I am sure that Liz Smith and Alison Johnstone, as the co-conveners of the cross-party group, will want to have that issue out when they meet the minister in due course.

If there is a non-budgetary reason for the withdrawal of that funding, that is quite serious, for the simple reason that all the governing bodies and organisations that are members of the Scottish Sports Association make the argument that their independence enables them to lobby Government in different ways, particularly when the pressures are considerable, which they are at this time, following the downturn in spending that has inevitably taken place after the Commonwealth games. It seems to me that that is an essential argument and an essential part of the response that the minister will want to make as to why the current position is not to fund the Scottish Sports Association in the way in which it has been funded in the past.

What has it done wrong or what has changed in the organisation that we and, rightly, the Government have supported over many years? If we were to lose this organisation, there would be no independent and collective voice for sports, no independent networking groups and no collective responses to consultations. Those all seem pretty strong arguments for retaining the organisation. There would be no connection between sport and the rest of the voluntary sector; that is an essential argument for retaining the organisation. Having no manifesto for Scottish sport would certainly be a severe loss to politics and the good governance of Scotland.

A Government rethink would be very welcome. If the minister could find a way to announce that this afternoon, she would have my full support.

17:33  

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab)

I, like others, congratulate James Kelly on securing the debate. Although, in fairness, thus far it has not really been a debate but more of a rally. It is quite striking that we have yet to hear from any Scottish National Party back benchers, but there is time yet.

As a matter of full disclosure, I say from the outset that I have known Kim Atkinson, the chief executive officer of the Scottish Sports Association, for a ridiculous 15 or more years. She was the president of the sports union at the University of Aberdeen when Alex Cole-Hamilton, Mark McDonald and me were all students there in the late 1990s and early noughties. She has had a lifelong passion for advocating participation in sport and she brings that passion into her professional capacity. I speak tonight not as her friend, but as someone who has been consistently impressed by the professional job that she does, advocating for Scottish sport. I also speak on behalf of the successes that the Scottish Sports Association has had over a number of years.

The pledge, which has been mentioned already, that party leaders signed ahead of the 2016 elections was signed by me in a T-shirt—I am sure that Alison Johnstone remembers her occasion too—at the Astley Ainslie centre in Edinburgh. I will never forget that day because my right hook at a football nearly took out a press photographer—you can watch that video online if you want a good laugh.

I took that pledge very seriously. I think that all of us who are present in the chamber have taken seriously the decision to sign the pledge to champion Scottish sport and, on that basis, we have to do everything that we can to protect the future of the Scottish Sports Association.

I also speak as an MSP for Lothian, where 25 of the 50 Scottish governing bodies for sport are based. This issue matters to my constituents.

Last week, I listened to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs and the Minister for Public Health and Sport speak in the European championships debate, in which we consistently heard the words “legacy”, “grass roots”, “participation” and “active kids”. Those are the bread-and-butter issues and work of the Scottish Sports Association. If we need proof of that pudding, so to speak, we need only look at the success that the SSA has had in opening up access to the school estate to see what it gets in response to its calls for action. The SSA is member-led and an independent voice for sport. That has to be understood—its work cannot be replicated by sportscotland, because sportscotland is a Government agency. The independence of the Scottish Sports Association is so important.

We have heard from Tavish Scott some of what we will miss if the funding disappears and the Scottish Sports Association no longer exists. There will be no independent and collective voice for sport, which means that we will see less participation and less engagement in sport issues in this place. There will be no independent networking groups or forums for sports governing bodies. There will be no collective responses to consultations, which means one of two things: either our committees will receive 50 almost identical responses from the 50 governing bodies or we will receive none, and we will not hear the voice of sport in this place. The representative voice of sports governing bodies will be lost to key Scottish Government groups and Scottish parliamentary committees. We have heard from Tavish Scott that in the last year alone, the Scottish Sports Association and the Scottish Government have conducted 13 pieces of work together. In fact, since the proposal to remove funding from the Scottish Sports Association, the Government has made a further two requests for work from the SSA. The evidence that the SSA makes a difference is there for everyone to see.

It is clear from James Kelly’s opening remarks that if there was a vote in this Parliament to remove funding from the Scottish Sports Association, the Government would lose it, so it should listen very carefully to what is being said tonight. We are talking about a relatively small amount of money that makes a tremendous difference. I ask the minister to please revisit and rethink these plans.

17:37  

Fulton MacGregor (Coatbridge and Chryston) (SNP)

I thank James Kelly for bringing the motion to the chamber for debate. I should state that I am the parliamentary liaison officer for the health portfolio. I also thank the Scottish Sports Association for its work, for which it is respected; other members have mentioned that. I agree with many aspects of the motion. I agree, too, with what James Kelly said about people getting involved in health and sport, and about making opportunities in sport as available as possible. That is important, and many of us have spoken about that in many other debates. I, too, was present for the debate on the European championships. That is an issue that, as a Parliament, we all agree on.

Although there is lot in the motion to commend, I understand that there is no Scottish Government core funding to the Scottish Sports Association to withdraw. Having said that, it is important to note, as others have done, that MSPs from all four of the other parties have signed the motion and that, in the grand scale of things, the money involved does not appear to be an insurmountable amount. I am sure that the minister will take that on board.

I want to talk about the positive investment that has been made. In 2017, the Scottish Government provided sports governing bodies with an additional £2 million to target work specifically on inequalities. In addition, a £300,000 sports equality fund has been established, and I am sure that the women and girls in sport advisory board, which is aimed at increasing female participation in sport, was welcomed by everybody. There is much to be proud of there.

I agree that there are issues around funding for sportscotland. The national lottery is a crucial source of funding for sport and other good causes.

Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

This is all very interesting, but it is not relevant. If there was a vote tomorrow on a motion to withdraw funding from the Scottish Sports Association, would the member support or oppose that motion?

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I am very lenient in members’ business debates, but I was beginning to wonder whether the member was straying too far from the motion, which focuses in its entirety on the Scottish Sports Association.

Fulton MacGregor

I respect that, Presiding Officer. I will not get into a debate with Johann Lamont about how I would vote on such a motion. There is no such vote tomorrow. We are discussing the issue in a members’ business debate and I am setting out my position.

Sportscotland is mentioned in the motion, and I was simply reflecting the fact that the income for sportscotland has been cut through the national lottery as well. We need to take that on board, because it affects sportscotland’s ability to provide full services. For example, North Lanarkshire disability sport received national lottery awards for its work with Impaired Skating—known as ISKATE—in my community of Coatbridge. Recently I was at Chryston high school, which is working with sportscotland and others.

All members have said that we need to get more people, particularly kids, involved in sport. As members know, I convene the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on the future of football in Scotland, and a lot of the organisations that are involved in that have committed to breaking down inequalities and barriers and have been able to do presentations on how they have got more women, girls and others involved in sport.

We have talked a lot about getting people involved in sport and making opportunities available. I have been contacted by quite a few constituents who are concerned about the possible closure of the athletics facilities at Ravenscraig. I wonder whether the minister will get involved in that and put pressure on NL Leisure to reverse any possible changes, because the communities around Lanarkshire are deprived enough and we do not need to lose those facilities as well.

17:41  

Graham Simpson (Central Scotland) (Con)

I was not going to take up too much of your time, Presiding Officer, but I must respond to Fulton MacGregor’s somewhat bizarre contribution. The motion from the highly respected James Kelly is all about a cut in funding to the Scottish Sports Association, and unfortunately Fulton MacGregor did not address that. Instead, he went off on a bizarre ramble, talking about other funding pots.

Fulton MacGregor

Does the member acknowledge that the motion refers to

“withdrawal of funding for the SSA from both the government and sportscotland”?

The motion mentions sportscotland, and I was talking about sportscotland funding.

Graham Simpson

Fulton MacGregor did not say whether or not he supports the withdrawal of funding from the Scottish Sports Association. I cannot quite see the point of his contribution.

I first came across the Scottish Sports Association some years ago, when I was a councillor in South Lanarkshire. I was also chairman of our party’s councillors association, and representatives from the Scottish Sports Association came along to inform councillors about the value of sport; I am sure that they have done that with all parties. In particular, we got talking about the value of sport in schools and about opening up school estates so that people could use facilities in schools for nothing. I managed to get that set as a policy in South Lanarkshire on the back of that presentation. It was the SSA’s inspiration that got me fired up about opening up school pitches across South Lanarkshire, and it is thanks to the SSA that we got that done.

That is what the Scottish Sports Association does. It is there to advocate for its members. We have already heard a lot from James Kelly, Liz Smith, Alison Johnstone, Tavish Scott and Kezia Dugdale about the 50 sports governing bodies that it represents, as well as 13,000 sports clubs, 195,000 volunteers—we should not forget the volunteering that goes on to deliver sport—and 900,000 sports club members. They have an independent voice through the Scottish Sports Association. If that is taken away, they will not have that.

What is it all about? Tavish Scott asked that question, and he was absolutely right to do so. What has the association done wrong? What is behind the decision? It cannot simply be money. We are talking about only £70,000, which is a drop in the ocean, so what is it about? Is it about power and control? Is it about the Scottish Government saying, “We control sportscotland, we fund sportscotland, and we do not want an independent voice for sport”? Maybe that is what this is about. Perhaps the minister, however reasonable she may be, can address that point.

The decision to remove £70,000 of funding is inexplicable. We will lose that independent voice for Scottish sport.

When we want to get people into sport and we want to get people active, as we all say we do, we need a body like the SSA. The minister should stand up this afternoon and tell us that she is going to reverse this decision.

17:45  

The Minister for Public Health and Sport (Aileen Campbell)

I thank James Kelly for bringing the debate to the chamber.

The Scottish Government has a strong relationship with the SSA and we appreciate the support that it provides to Scottish sports’ governing bodies. We recognise and respect the right of Scottish governing bodies to come together under a representative body, and we acknowledge the value that some SGBs and members of the SSA attach to the role of collective voice that is played by the SSA.

As I have stated in the chamber in answer to parliamentary questions regarding the funding of the SSA, it is a membership organisation, so it is for its membership ultimately to determine how best to fund and support it to promote effectively the views of the sector.

My commitment to sport is complete, and is backed by our financial intentions, as set out last month in the draft budget, in which the Government committed to increasing funding for sportscotland by £2 million.

We will continue also to invest in our communities, clubs and schools. That will include a specific focus on equalities, which will ensure that our world-class system is truly for everyone.

We have also pledged to underwrite any potential shortfall in funding from the National Lottery for sportscotland up to £3.4 million. That has an impact on grass-roots sport and the voluntary sector—two things that are cited in the motion. That will help to provide certainty for the sports sector in the absence of action from the UK Government. This is a serious issue on which I would welcome cross-Parliament support in addressing, even if opinions that are expressed on the issue tonight differ.

Liz Smith

Alison Johnstone talked about the importance of our having both sportscotland and the Scottish Sports Association. Does the minister agree that there is a role for both and that the most important role of the SSA is as an independent advocate of the governing bodies?

Aileen Campbell

I agree absolutely with that: it is what I said at the start of my remarks. We recognise and respect the right of governing bodies to come together under a representative body that provides the independent voice for which many members have tonight articulated the need.

I recognise the distinct role that sportscotland plays as an agency of the Government. There has never been any lack of recognition of the role that the SSA plays and the independent voice that it provides. Equally, we should not shy away from the fact that sportscotland provides a good service in promoting sport across the country.

Kezia Dugdale

It is a debate, so I welcome the minister’s response to Liz Smith and would like to continue along those lines. Having just announced that she is going to spend an additional £2 million on sport, will she explain in very simple terms why the SSA will have a reduction of £70,000? That does not add up.

Aileen Campbell

I will go on to talk about the funding that we have provided for and our relationship with the SSA.

I have also heard a lot from members who are keen for us to drive participation. Some—indeed all—of that is done through sportscotland, whether through active schools co-ordination or community sports hubs. Many members mentioned legacy: community sports hubs are a direct legacy, and are driven forward by our agency, sportscotland.

I will continue with my speech. The Scottish Government’s draft budget makes clear our commitment to the sport and physical activity sector, and to helping to improve the health of our nation. As part of the package, the Scottish Government provides significant funding for supporting governing bodies, through the national agency for sport—sportscotland.

The Scottish Government does not provide core funding to the SSA. In tonight’s debate, that is an important point to note. In the financial year 2017-18, we provided funding for the SSA to carry out short-term projects: an audit that focused on assessing equalities within sports’ governing bodies, which was important in our endeavour to create opportunities for all to enjoy sport, and work to highlight and celebrate the work of grass-roots volunteers and coaches, who provide so much opportunity for so many people. We intend to continue working with the SSA on bespoke project work in recognition of the role that it has and the work that it does.

This evening’s debate has rightly highlighted the various roles that the SSA carries out, including the administrative support that it provides to governing bodies. I truly value the correspondence that I have received from those governing bodies, which have described to me the support that they get.

James Kelly

Will the minister take an intervention?

Aileen Campbell

I have taken two interventions, Presiding Officer—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Taking interventions is a matter for you, minister. You can have the time, if you wish.

Aileen Campbell

Okay—I will take an intervention from Mr Kelly, as that would seem to be appropriate.

James Kelly

I thank the minister for taking the intervention. We have heard five minutes of her speech, but we have still not heard an explanation of why the decision has been made to take £70,000 out of the funding stream and, in effect, to cut the legs from the Scottish Sports Association. Can the minister at least give us an explanation of the Government’s thinking?

Aileen Campbell

As I have said, we do not deny that there is a role for the SSA and a right for our governing bodies to the independent collective voice that it provides, but we do not give it core funding. That is why we will continue to work with it on bespoke projects that we know can add value. That is the situation. We have given it project funding in the past and will continue to work with it.

Sportscotland is also committed and it provides a significant amount of time, expertise and investment to help our governing bodies to deliver on their objectives. Through its partnership managers, it works in close and effective partnership with governing bodies and provides advice on governance and finance. That relationship with governing bodies is at a senior level, including with chief executives and boards of directors.

In addition, sportscotland has, according the sport’s nature, named members of its school and community coaching and volunteering, facilities development and high-performance teams that have been assigned to each sport. That will provide access to expertise and services. Many people have discussed and described the necessity of driving forward participation and legacy. That is absolutely the priority of this Government, and it is what our agency is charged with doing. It is sportscotland that co-ordinates the active schools programme and is fundamental to the community sport hubs that are a direct legacy of the Commonwealth games.

I repeat that we absolutely respect the right of our sports’ governing bodies to come together under a representative body, and we recognise that although the SSA does not represent everyone in the sector, some members of the SSA value the role that it plays as a collective voice of sporting bodies.

Mr Kelly’s motion mentions that the Government provides funds to other membership organisations in the voluntary sector. A number of membership organisations across the third sector in Scotland have a funding relationship with the Government, either for specific project funding or for support for core activity. There are also a significant number that do not.

It is also important to recognise that a number of other representative bodies in the sporting world that work on behalf of other elements of the system, including Sporta, VOCAL—the association for culture and leisure managers in Scotland—and the Scottish Association of Local Sports Councils, are not funded by the Scottish Government. As I mentioned earlier, the representation work by the SSA has never been funded by the Government. We believe that it is for its membership to identify appropriate financial resources for the role that they wish the SSA to play on their behalf.

As Minister for Public Health and Sport, I have met numerous governing bodies—groups and individuals—and I will continue to do so. I intend to meet those who have written to me, as I always do, and to listen, engage and have a frank dialogue. I will meet Liz Smith and Alison Johnstone in their roles as co-conveners of the cross-party group on sport to discuss the situation. I pay tribute to them for their continued interest in the matter.

Work has been on-going between sportscotland and the Government to encourage the SSA to move to a more sustainable funding model. We will continue to work with the SSA on project work, as we have done in the past. However, I reiterate that I will continue to recognise the importance of the independent voice to our governing bodies. I again thank James Kelly for bringing the debate to Parliament.

Meeting closed at 17:54.