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Opinion Jim Sweeney, chief executive of YouthLink Scotland, the National Agency for Youth Work

The Scottish Government's draft Youth Sport Strategy, which was published this week, is an excellent example of what happens when young people are fully engaged in the policy-making process.

The draft Strategy was shaped by the views of the Young People's Sport Panel, who told the Government that they wanted sustained services and activities, not projects or one-offs. They want high-quality opportunities to get involved, and stay involved.

This draft Strategy talks the talk but it is important we work in partnership to ensure it delivers the vision our young people have set out. It needs investment in physical activity opportunities at all levels, as participation and engagement takes a higher priority over the winning of trophies. Youth work uses sports activities both indoor and out, it needs to be valued and space made both available and affordable. Young people also asked for the provision of quality equipment and facilities, and support for volunteers, who are the backbone of local sport activities.

It is essential that as the Strategy moves forward it looks at how to sustain young people's interest in sport across the transition into the teenage years, when there tends to be a fall-off in participation. Government needs to ensure that the school estate is accessible - and affordable - for all. In this week's Parliamentary debate on the draft Strategy, SNP MSP, Mark MacDonald raised the issue of costs for facilities and suggested this needs looked at going forward. We would add our voice to that. The problem of access is particularly acute for schools built under the Public Private Partnerships model. The legacy of the PFI/PPP era in Scotland is unfortunately one of inequality of access to facilities. There are large variations across the country and some local authorities do not have control over their own school estate out of hours.

A recent report from sportscotland found that across the whole school estate only 35% of available indoor space is utilised during term time and this drops to 17% during school holidays. The report also states that PFI/PPP contractors manage the community use for 10% of all our secondary schools.

The Cross Party Group for Children and Young People took evidence from a number of groups earlier this year on the issue of young people's participation in sport. During the evidence session, Clare Mackle, City of Edinburgh Basketball Club, said that with indoor sports the biggest barrier is the cost of premises for training and sport practice. In Spain, there is no cost for after school activities and premises are opened up for community use but currently in some parts of Scotland, clubs are paying between £19 and £45 per hour for school sports hall hire and more for sports centre hall hire.

YWCA Scotland also cited cost of facilities as a significant barrier to sports participation for girls and young women.

YouthLink Scotland members have told us of instances where groups have had to fold or they feel forced into using ramshackle premises due to cost. This problem is not confined to the youth work or wider voluntary sector, it also affects our Local Authority members where Community Learning and Development teams are often charged internally for the use of what were previously their own buildings. PFI/PPP was at the time hailed as the answer to crumbling facilities and dilapidated school buildings but the unintended consequence is that many of these buildings are now unaffordable for local and national voluntary organisations and the community at large. Discussions need to take place, locally and nationally, with the contractors and private operators of these schools, central and local government, to find a way to allow these magnificent facilities to be better used for the benefit of all. Thousands of volunteers give of their time to run youth and community organisations and sports and arts activities and they are passionate about what they do. Unfortunately they spend much of their time organising bag packing at supermarkets and selling scratch cards and bingo books in order to afford the high costs of renting community premises. To build community capacity and cohesion we need to support local services and local groups.

There are many challenges facing the whole youth work sector but we have been tip toeing our way around this particular issue for too long. If we are serious about increasing young people's participation in youth work, sport and healthy activities, it is important community and educational facilities are there for public benefit first and foremost. YouthLink Scotland would like to work with the Scottish Government in partnership with COSLA to carry out a strategic review of both costs and availability of facilities across Scotland. We feel that those companies who are profiting over a long period of time from these PFI/PPP contracts should put something back into communities by way of a subsidy, a social contract that would help us achieve equality of provision across the country.

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