Coffee House

Ministers fail to sell themselves on playing field sell-offs

17 August 2012

17 August 2012

If you’re a minister, or even the Prime Minister, and you take to the airwaves holding a page of figures aloft, it’s always a good idea to make sure the figures are actually correct before you enter the studio. When David Cameron read out a break down of playing field sales on LBC radio during the Olympics, he was trying to crush reports that under this government, schools are continuing to reduce their sports facilities in return for money. You can watch the film of Cameron with his sheet of paper here.

The problem is that this sheet of paper wasn’t actually correct when it said there were only 21 sell-offs, and as Christopher Hope reveals in today’s Telegraph, there were actually 35 applications to sell school playing fields, of which 30 were approved. There are still two outstanding decisions, while the others were either rejected or withdrawn. In a statement this morning, the Education department said:

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‘We are sorry to say that the Secretary of State was provided with incorrect information about how many playing fields were disposed of since May 2010. The figures presented to the Secretary of State, and published by the department, related to applications received between May 2010 and June 2012. Those figures should have included requests received by the previous government and then approved by the coalition.’

It’s embarrassing that officials got these stats wrong, and that there were nine more sell-offs than the department had originally claimed. It’s never particularly impressive when ministers and advisers are trying to shoot down a row using statistics that are wrong.

But what is more significant and far more interesting is that Michael Gove’s department overruled the School Playing Fields Advisory Panel five times in the past 15 months. By contrast, Labour overruled the panel just four times between 2001 and 2010. This weakens ministers’ case when they attack the Labour government’s record on school sport, and claim they are being tougher when it comes to ensuring schools are providing adequate facilities. Hugh Robertson has expressed some of his exasperation with the way this debate has been conducted so far: today’s revelations will not help the sports minister, either.


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Show comments
  • 2trueblue

    The person who supplied the incorrect information should be named and shamed. If this was done each time a minister was given incorrect information then it would stop. The person should also be sacked or at least move backwards in their grade.

  • John_Page
    • Irascible Old Git

      If Guido F*wkes won’t give us the info on how often Labour ignored the impartial advice on which plots should be sold, then his rebuttal isn’t worth a bean.

      • Irascible Old Git

        No-show from Guido? OK, here’s the info…

        The panel is legally bound to make a recommendation on each sell-off and the documents show Gove ignored five recommendations not to sell between February last year and this July – more than in the previous nine years.

        • toni

          It also
          emerged that Mr Gove has overruled independent advice to approve sales of
          playing fields five times in the last 15 months. This was more often than
          Labour ministers rejected advice between 2001 and 2010. They overruled advisers
          on four occasions, the Daily Telegraph reported

      • Irascible Old Git

        No-show from Guido? OK, here’s the info…

        The panel is legally bound to make a recommendation on each sell-off and the documents show Gove ignored five recommendations not to sell between February last year and this July – more than in the previous nine years.

  • Johnb

    So it’s the poor old Civil Service’s fault is it? The truth is that May is incompetent, as is Gove etc. etc.

  • TonyB58

    Politicians being made to too look foolish by slapdash civil servants or researchers giving them inaccurate or out-of-date statistics goes back the start of the last century, perhaps further.

    The problem for Cameron is that most of the public who cares, quite rightly on their past performance, don’t trust Tory claims that school playing fields are safe in their hands. In fairness local education authorities and schools have been given every encouragement to sell off playing fields by all governments and local authorities of all political persuasions since the late 1970s.
    Although I loathed it myself I recognise that sport is beneficial to those children/students who enjoy it and should be encouraged. For this reason unless an overwhelming case can be made by a school that a playing field is really surplus to requirements permission to sell and any associated application for planning permission should be thrown out.

  • Alan Eastwood

    So Hague has dirtied his copy book, with his foolhardy statement to send the police into the embassy, without any consideration of what would happen to our diplomats. May has made a real mess of the Home Department and now Gove.So Boris has no opposition for the leadership. So hurry up and get in the commons, Boris, and take out Cameron.

    • http://www.facebook.com/amergin.selby Amergin Selby

      How easily you forget that BJ is a serial adulterer,lied to his party leader about an affair he was having and got sacked, falsified a quotation and was sacked by a newspaper, invited a press mogul to the Olympics while the said mogul’s journalists were being arrested and charged for phone hacking, which the said BJ had dismissed as codswallop, was late in returning from holiday while the riots raged , has said he will do the mayor’s job part-time now the Olympic’s limelight dims and he has no stage to boogie and prance across.
      If you think this mendacious self-promoting cheat is fit for any office you are as bad as he is.

  • Mudplugger

    After Home Secretary May was acutely embarrassed by her own officials feeding her duff data on extradition, I’m surprised a minister as smart as Gove would accept any data from the civil service ‘in-house opposition’ without having it rigorously checked for planted lies.
    The opposition isn’t just on the other side of the Commons.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    Unfortunately, the Cameroons have convinced themselves of an old Treasury canard: that only by concreting over every blade of grass can we have economic growth. The school fields sell-off and the mooted return to the argument they lost earlier this year over the green belt are part of that belief.
    That the pressure for more housing comes almost entirely from immigration, which actually reduces our average wealth, seems to have passed them by.

  • ScaryBiscuits

    Unfortunately, the Cameroons have convinced themselves of an old Treasury canard: that only by concreting over every blade of grass can we have economic growth. The school fields sell-off and the mooted return to the argument they lost earlier this year over the green belt are part of that belief.
    That the pressure for more housing comes almost entirely from immigration, which actually reduces our average wealth, seems to have passed them by.

  • Irascible Old Git

    Gove’s in trouble – even Toby Young has stopped licking his arse.

  • Irascible Old Git

    Gove’s in trouble – even Toby Young has stopped licking his arse.

  • Daniel Maris

    I am more concerned about the schools BUILDING on their playing fields because of mass immigration and the resulting huge pressure on school resources.
    The government doesn’t even admit the connection between its mass immigration policy and the pressure on schools.
    Kiss goodbye to growth, say hello to resource pressure.

    • tele_machus

      How on earth you get from playing fields to immigration is beyond me.
      The influx of new blood and ideas to a revitalised economy is as good as any education.
      The bigotry and racial intolerance inherent in these bon mots is breathtaking

      • anyfool

        Can you tell us what benefits third world peasant farmers bring to Britain. most are illiterate in there own countries language, but very good at benefit mathematics.

        • tele_machus

          Energy

          • Nicholas

            You mean the energy generated when a specific material decomposes or rearranges with extreme rapidity, yielding much gas and heat?

        • JohnB

          It’s funny that ‘anyfool’ is criticizing illiterate foriegners, but is so obviously semi-literate him/herself. Why are rancid racists always so self-defeating when it comes to intelligence and learning?

          • anyfool

            JohnB, does me being semi-literate make third world peasant farmers literate, and when has the truth been racist even the rancid type, you are just the type of person who thinks other races need you to think for them, condescension is something most other races despise about the British, you and others like you are the epitome of this trait.

    • HJ777

      I rather thought that it was the last government’s mass immigration policy?

      I was under the impression that the policy of this government is rather different, albeit it is a moot point whether the implementation of that policy is effective.

    • https://mikestallard.virtualgallery.com/ Mike Stallard

      Good point here. That is just what has happened where I live.
      But who knows best what is best for an individual school? The governing body or the experts like Mrs Gupta of the DfE in London?

    • dalai guevara

      What a pile of utter tripe – I have designed several schools/ academies in the UK, some for mixed communities, some completely white (Rochdale BSF).

      The real issue is that the budgets set for a school built in the south of the country is easily 25% higher than that for the north/north west. Hence, this results in the implementation of completely different space standards, finishes and equipment fit-out et al. In the North West, some contracts have blatantly ignored Sports England space standards for years…

      Talking about pessure? It’s the North-South budget divide that causes the biggest pressure with respect to BUILDING design.

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