Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 240 - 247)



  240. I say that because he appeared to suggest that he enjoyed the support of Ministers for the project whilst you were in office but things changed when you were not in office and he certainly believed, as you outlined earlier, that Government should have no involvement and no influence in these sort of projects.
  (Mr Banks) He is entitled to his views. A change certainly did come about after I ceased to be Minister. I have to say in fairness to the Secretary of State who is a good friend of mine, both personally and politically, he was expressing doubts at the time about the deck, and I said this in the Committee as well. He went along with it in the end and made the statement that he did about the design because I felt that he was convinced by the case; clearly time showed that was not so. I just feel why Ken Bates felt he could get on better with me than perhaps with others was because I was prepared to acknowledge that Government had a role to play here, but since we were not paying, as it were, I did not see why we should be laying down the law all the time. I would have loved to have just been given the budget myself and been asked to get on with the job but, unfortunately, that was not the case. I felt that we needed to be as supportive as we possibly could, not of Ken Bates but of the Football Association, because I desperately wanted Wembley to be constructed. As I said in an Adjournment Debate on Wembley, we must not allow this to go badly wrong. This was a scheme of national significance and although the Government were not paying for it clearly we were going to be blamed if something went wrong. They were not necessarily prophetic words, they are the obvious words that you say as a Minister involved in this. If it goes wrong the Ministers always get the blame and if it goes well then everyone else takes the credit. I understand that, that is the nature of politics, we all understand that. I just had a different approach to all of this. I just wanted to get that thing working. There was all this chopping and changing, when you have made a decision stick with it. There might be some problems but the worst problem of all is not to make up your own mind or to muck around with things, to have it in one day, to have it out the next day, to have it in the next day, and then you see the mess that we are in. I do not see that we have moved on from July 1999 to be perfectly honest that I can discern. Again, I hope that I am going to be proved wrong on this one but so far I have not been and it is a matter of great distress. There is no satisfaction in pointing that out to the Committee or to anybody else.

  241. That leads me on to what is confusion, not just in my mind but probably in the minds of lots of other people too, as to why the Secretary of State gave you support at the time for the project and then changed his mind.
  (Mr Banks) I do not think you want to describe it as my project in that sense. It is the Secretary of State's project. The Secretary of State is the man in charge of the department. I was always, and remain, a loyal junior Minister to the Secretary of State. I believe that loyalty is an important thing that junior Ministers should give to their Secretaries of State, and I cannot be faulted on that at all, but I am now entitled to express my opinions, and they are only my opinions. The Secretary of State clearly listened to others. It was certainly something that was in the conclusion from the last hearing with regards to Wembley that the BOA certainly exercised a great deal of influence, perhaps excessive influence, on what subsequently happened and perhaps they found a more sympathetic ear than they found with me. These are matters that are best answered by the Secretary of State.

  242. Do you think that Picketts Lock is viable?
  (Mr Banks) It will be viable providing we are prepared to spend enough money to make it viable. The transport is a very important matter. I keep saying this. I know the area pretty well, it is not a million miles from my own constituency of West Ham. Of course it can work. It cannot work as an Olympic site in my opinion, certainly not, but I have heard some pretty wild talk that it might be viewed as such. It cannot work as an Olympic site apart from some attendant sporting activities with regards to Olympic Games. It cannot be the main site for an Olympic Games. The transport is going to be a problem but I think the real problem is where is the package coming from. There is a bit here, there is a bit there, there is a bit there maybe. If you can get all of that together and get agreement on the transport infrastructure it will certainly work, but looking at it from this end of the spectrum and viewing it from the experiences over Wembley you have got to be a very, very optimistic person indeed today to believe that this is going to work.

  243. That underlines, I think, the real problem of a lack of a strategy for where we want to go in terms of bids for events.
  (Mr Banks) Yes.

  244. Do you think that we should actually be putting some money, whether it is public money or Lottery or other form of Government money, into Picketts Lock when there are alternatives that may actually be far more cost efficient?
  (Mr Banks) It is probably too late now because we have moved down the road but I personally think for the 2005 World Athletics Championships Wembley should be the venue, and should be the venue for a future Olympic Games bid as well. I have not changed my mind whatsoever since July 1999. I certainly believe that there should be more direct Government involvement in these decisions and there should be far more Government resources placed following the decisions as well. I prefer the way the French do it, the Japanese do it, the Australian state government and federal government have done it, the way the Greeks are doing it. It is not as if there are not examples around the world where it has actually operated successfully. I do believe that we should do this. The trouble is every time you now talk in the City, and I have discussed this with a number of financiers in the City, when you start talking national prestigious projects they all run for cover, they think over-run, they think bad publicity, they think re-budgeting, re-financing. There is something called the Dome Syndrome around at the moment, I am afraid, and it certainly affects financiers in the City. We really have got to get away from this thing about how can we find someone else to pay for it. I say this passionately because it distresses me to see the way that we cannot do things in this country that other countries can do. I do not want to divert the Committee or myself excessively but even when I travel on Eurostar I still feel a sense of shame crawling through the Kent countryside and then straight through the tunnel and out the other side. I still feel a sense of shame thinking what do visitors from overseas feel when they come through the other way and see it all happen. It is a sense of shame frankly. If we really are concerned about the reputation of our country and the image of our country as a can-do place around the world then Government has got to take more of a leading part in that. This means not just standing around and telling other people how to spend their money but actually doing it by spending our money, which of course is taxpayers' money.


  245. Mr Banks, you talk about the Dome Syndrome but the interesting thing about the Dome is it is practically the only public building project that was delivered on time and to budget, whatever other controversy has surrounded it. We see what is happening to Wembley, we see what is happening to Picketts Lock. The Millennium Bridge was planned in 1996 and we still cannot walk across it. The British Library took 20 years from inception to completion and cost six times more than was originally budgeted. I am a great admirer of your enthusiasm and willpower but it is an interesting question, is it not, as to whether governments are the best bodies to get involved in construction projects?
  (Mr Banks) They are when they are in that sense. I would not suggest that the Government should be responsible for building every single project that we can think of. There are some that clearly they are best left out of altogether, but there are others that they clearly must be involved in. If I might just come back to the Dome, you are absolutely right, it is a fabulous structure which regrettably now looks as though it could be going. It was the contents more than anything else because they said "How can we fill this up? Let's go to Ford's and ask `if you put some money in what would you like'", "we would like a travel zone", obviously they are going to say that. You go to the Hinduja brothers and they say "we would like a passport zone". These are other matters. That is where I would be critical of the Dome, it was the contents. I am one who still gets misty eyed when I think of the Festival of Britain in 1951 that I was old enough to attend.

Mr Maxton

  246. You are far too young.
  (Mr Banks) There are a number of projects where clearly governments must be involved. Having said that, there must also be political will to get things done. It is not just a question of paying. This comes back to the recommendation of the Select Committee to have someone put in charge of it as a Minister because in the end someone has to be held to account. We are great believers in this place, Chairman, are we not, in holding people to account? If someone is given the job and the resources then Parliament can hold them to account and if it goes wrong then hopefully heads will roll and it will start with the Minister's head. I am perfectly prepared to accept those sorts of conditions. It is not just a question of putting the money in, it is also taking political control and having the political will to drive the project through.


  247. I think this Committee will agree with you. I think this Committee has got many achievements which it has the right to be credited for. Following the recommendation the Prime Minister did appoint Mr McCartney for the Commonwealth Games. It is always a great pleasure to have you here, Mr Banks, and hear you speak. Every word is a privilege.
  (Mr Banks) Thank you, Chairman. May I say I am a very happy man this morning having witnessed my team, Chelsea, getting their first away victory, unfortunately at the expense of my constituents in West Ham. Hopefully the Budget will have given them enough comfort to get over the tragedy of last night.

  Chairman: Thank you, Mr Banks.

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