Before the meeting, the President visited the Zerkalny Youth Creativity Centre. Mr Putin toured the centre’s new residential halls, athletic fields and playgrounds, as well as the sports and recreation centre.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon,
It is not by chance that we have met here in the middle of the summer holiday season. I think this is a model facility and I found it enjoyable and interesting to find out for myself the level and class of services offered at this centre. I hope you enjoyed this visit too.
We must give credit to the former and present Governors of St Petersburg, as well as the government of the Leningrad Region for their support to this institution and for their improvement of its quality, as well as to the centre’s management and counsellors.
However, we haven’t met here just to pay tribute to everyone involved in running this centre. Our task is above all to discuss the progress in arranging children's recreation holidays this year, both in terms of organising holidays and improving children’s health. I want to emphasise that the organisation of children’s holidays has changed, in accordance with decisions adopted earlier.
The change has been substantial: the responsibility for organising children’s summer recreation has been transferred to the regions and municipalities. I would like to ask you to analyse how this work has been proceeding this year. Perhaps there are some problems. In fact, I am sure there are problems you would like to highlight. Let’s talk about it, analyse the situation and see what can be done to change some things for the better, and perhaps there are some changes that can be made before the end of this season. Most importantly, we will consider what must be done next season.
I would like to point out that Russia has an extensive infrastructure of children’s recreation facilities: all in all, there are over 48,000 institutions. It is planned that 8 million children will have enrolled in them by the end of the year, and that is more than 50% of all school-age children in the Russian Federation. The funding allocated for this sector is also substantial: over 40 billion rubles [over $1.25 billion] from municipal, regional and federal budgets. This includes municipal and regional funds, plus 4.5 billion rubles from the federal sources for co-financing summer holidays for children in difficult situations.
The total amount of funding is 10% higher than in 2011. That is not 10% only in absolute terms but also adjusted for inflation, which was 6.1% last year and the forecast for this year is about the same. We will see as we review the results of the year, but I think that both in absolute and in relative terms we will have a small increase in funding.
However, no matter how good these numbers look, we all realise that unfortunately they do not address all the issues of summer recreation for children. Of the 48,000 establishments almost 41,000 are so-called camps that provide day care; that is, children spend only several hours a day there. There are only 463 institutions like Zerkalny, where children can enjoy a real holiday and improve their health at any time of the year.
Clearly, there is a need for more year-round facilities and summer camps in the countryside, and most importantly, they must be affordable: both the price and quality should be higher. Sorry, I meant to say that the quality should be higher and the price must certainly be lower. (Laughter). I don’t think it could get any higher – it’s very expensive as it is.
I want to emphasise this point: the cost is too high for families. Yes, the regions subsidise some of the fee, paying it for the parents, and different regions pay different amounts, from 10 to 50%. Therefore, the subsidies are only 10% in some regions. Nevertheless, the overall cost is too high, and I will come back to this later.
Many of the resorts are in dire need of renovation and new equipment, but the content of children’s activities is equally important. In addition to good medical care, which is absolutely necessary, they must provide food, accommodation, and interesting recreation activities. It shouldn’t be just free time spent at a camp or health resort; they must learn new skills and develop, engage in artistic and scientific activities, learn foreign languages, do sports, and enjoy every opportunity for self-fulfilment and growth.
Naturally, it is essential to have high-level professionals in order to upgrade the quality of children’s holidays, but that is a separate issue. We must promote the development of student tutor teams, to continue and develop this practice in active cooperation with the regions.
Special attention should be paid to the staff. Heads of federal and regional educational institutions must give particular importance to this aspect of their work. We all realise – and you as professionals in this field know it better than I do – that it is not easy to gain the respect of teenagers today. Teachers need more than knowledge; they must have character, good comprehensive training, and the ability to earn the teenagers’ respect. That is not easy to achieve.
Our approach should be that that this very important social sector must have real competition, that funding must be available for the state, municipal and, most importantly, private institutions. That is a major challenge. Why? Because if the money comes from the regional budget, to whom will the regional authorities allocate the funding first? Who? To their own institutions, right? But they should give money to those who provide the best services, and not to their own institutions. How should this process be organised? It is not easy, but we must succeed, and then we will improve the quality while the price can be decreased. I want to go back to my slip of the tongue: the price will be lower and the quality will be higher.
The Government will also participate in this effort. Mr Livanov [Education and Science Minister] and Mr Govorun [Regional Development Minister], you should consider together with the regions how to organise the allocation of funding. Naturally, the regions must work on this on their own as well. I will ask the Agency for Strategic Initiatives to return to these issues, especially since it has a strong department for social projects.
This meeting is taking place in a broad format. Its participants include representatives of relevant state agencies, as well as those who work at children’s health facilities. I hope that today we will have an informative and productive discussion.
Let's get to work.