Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 460 - 479)



Ms Ward

  460. Secretary of State, I am interested to note that when you came before us last time you told us that Sport England had made an in principle allocation for Picketts Lock. When we had Sport England before us the impression that we got from questioning them was that they had not actually made a decision in principle in favour of Picketts Lock. Do you accept then that there would be no case in which Sport England could support Picketts Lock if it did not comply with the usual criteria for allocation of money for that sort of capital bid?  (Mr Smith) Of course any bid for this stadium, as indeed any bid for any of the parts of the Manchester infrastructure, it has always been accepted have to be looked at and examined carefully on their merits by Sport England. They have a legal duty to do so. What, however, they have done is to earmark within their budget a sum of £60 million to contribute to such a stadium if they are satisfied with the details. Indeed, the Lottery Panel minutes of 24 October last year state very clearly that the Panel agree that the feasibility study money which they were committing should form part of the £60 million committed to the project if the recommendation was endorsed by the Council, and the Council agreed to that subsequently on 6 November. They have earmarked within their budget the funding. They of course need to look at the details. They need to assure themselves that this is right and proper and sensible expenditure, but it does seem to me that that provides us with a very good platform to build on.

  461. But you appear to have given a lot of assurances and stated a lot of confidence that Picketts Lock will be built and that they will receive the funding from Sport England. Surely you are not in a position to do that.  (Mr Smith) I have indeed expressed a lot of confidence because I believe it is a good project; it has the possibility of being a real success story, and I have to say that on this I have a "can-do" approach which I believe is the best possible approach you can take to ensuring that we can successfully stage a major international event of this kind. I do believe very strongly that the potential for a world class dedicated athletics facility at Picketts Lock with a long-term legacy for the future of athletics in this country is something that can be of real benefit to athletics and to this country. I am absolutely firmly convinced that that is the case.

  462. Does your "can-do" approach also extend to picking up the bill for the main cost of the budget between £60 million and the projected £90 million it will cost?  (Mr Smith) First of all, we have done further work on the costs and I am told that when the designs are unveiled by the architects tomorrow they will indicate that their best estimate of the costs is between £83 and £87 million rather than the £95 million that was previously being talked about. Secondly, we already have in place not just the earmarked £60 million from Sport England, which includes of course the £20 million return from Wembley, but we also have a commitment to £7 million for the high performance centre which is an integral part of the concept, and also a £5 million contribution from the Lee Valley Regional Authority. There is still a gap to fill. It is not an insuperable gap. There is considerable interest already, even before the designs have been unveiled, from the private sector, and I have every confidence that that gap will be bridged.

  463. And if it is not will you underwrite it?  (Mr Smith) At this stage I cannot give such an assurance because that would undermine the possibilities of seeking other commitments, but we are actively seeking other commitments and we will look at all possibilities.

  464. You are that confident that it will go ahead but clearly you would make provision if you had to?  (Mr Smith) I am very confident that it will go ahead. I do not think that necessarily involves making a specific commitment at this precise moment.

  465. Ms Hoey, I wonder if I could ask you a little bit about the comments that were made by Ken Bates when he appeared before the Committee. I think it would be honest to say that he was not terribly complimentary of you.  (Kate Hoey) Really?

  466. I wondered if you had any comments to make about your involvement in Wembley Stadium?  (Kate Hoey) I think that could be useful. I hope members did receive the letter which I have sent round which really put down the idea that I had never invited him in to give me a briefing and that quite clearly that happened. He chose not to come on two occasions. I am not responsible for his diary. I think he was abroad on one occasion. On a lot of the other comments, frankly, I do not think there is much I would want to say other than that whatever people think about the decision to take athletics out of Wembley, and I know there are some people (including this Committee) who felt it may have been wrong, the fact that we did do that in the end made no difference whatsoever to the delay in terms of when they went to the City for their money. I think his interpretation that somehow we had caused 19 months of delay and that somehow that was the reason why they did not raise the money is just absolute nonsense. If you look through what you have got with you, you will see that at the end it went to planning I think one month later than the very original deadline that they were aiming for and that was because of some difficulties with the section 106 agreement. We did not delay the project. Whatever you think about taking athletics out, that was not the reason for the delay. The reality was that they did not have an overall package that was acceptable to the City and the fact that athletics was in or out actually made no difference to whether they could raise the money or not. Mr Bates was chair of WNSL. He has said what he said. Frankly, I am too busy and I have been too busy getting out the sports strategy and the very important things that we are doing for school sport and huge numbers of other areas to worry too much about what Mr Bates says.

  467. Would you accept that all of the debate and the public debate, particularly the commenting by the media on the Wembley project, has not helped to give confidence that we can as a country with both public and private sectors organise ourselves sufficiently to have a national stadium that is well funded and that is delivered on time, and that that will give the impression to others that we may not be able to deliver other projects on time, particularly when we have got the Athletics Championships coming in the next few years?  (Kate Hoey) It is not good to be reading in the papers week after week speculation and outbursts from people about Wembley, but I have to say that certainly any major project that I am involved in, and I do consider myself now to be extremely involved with Picketts Lock, if I say I have confidence that it will happen then I intend to make sure that that will happen. I was not involved in the Wembley—dare I use the word—saga from the beginning. There were all sorts of other factors involved, including the World Cup bid, huge pressure on people to deliver to deadlines that were perhaps not possible from the beginning and, as far as I am concerned, the day it was launched, was the day I was appointed. I had a meeting shortly after that and saw the details and the first question I asked was, "Where is athletics?" because it was meant to be a national stadium that had athletics. I envisaged that we were coming up with something rather like the Stade de France and of course we had not done that. From then on it was very much in the hands of Wembley and Mr Bates' speculation about my involvement and my stopping things and so on is really just nonsense.

  468. I think it would be fair to say that there are some of us who believe that this is not a satisfactory position to be in and whilst you were not involved in the Wembley saga, as you put it, from the beginning, you, Secretary of State, were. Why did you change your mind from praising the project at the beginning?  (Mr Smith) As I indicated in the evidence that I gave to your last inquiry, the precise proposals for the inclusion of athletics, which involved, as you will recall, the construction of the concrete platform, were only revealed to us at a late stage in the public promotion of the designs which had been put together. Right from the outset of hearing about the concrete platform solution I raised my anxieties with Wembley National Stadium Limited. It became very obvious once they worked those proposals up that there were serious concerns to be addressed, in relation to the cost of the platform design itself, the amount of time that would be taken for construction and for demolition, and, more importantly perhaps, the very inadequate work which had been done prior to that point on the provision of any warm-up facilities for a potential world championships. It became increasingly clear to me, as the later part of 1999 went forward, that the Wembley athletics option which was being presented to us at that point did not offer good value for money and did not provide a sustainable legacy for athletics. It was very much for those two reasons that we took the decision that we did in December of that year that athletics should be removed as a requirement from Wembley and that we should urgently look at other alternatives. What has happened subsequently has demonstrated, I think very clearly, that we were completely right to make that decision because had we continued to put our faith in Wembley as the venue for athletics not only would we have had the problems of the inadequate design but we also would now have had serious problems about meeting the timescale for the World Athletics Championships.

  469. I am surprised that you still have such great confidence that we will meet the timetable now, given that there is very little progress to guarantee completion of Picketts Lock, that it is not a site that has particularly good transport access, and there will be some concerns over the long-term legacy of it and the cost of providing that site.  (Mr Smith) As I mentioned earlier, when we see the details tomorrow from the architects and the quantity surveyors that have been working on it, I think that we will see much more clearly what the costs are and indeed what the opportunities are there.

Mr Maxton

  470. I wonder if you perhaps could tell me whether the Government has made any assessment of when Britain is likely to be able to bid successfully for the Olympic Games?  (Mr Smith) Any such bid will of course be ultimately a matter for the British Olympic Association and not for Government. However, clearly, if a successful bid is to be mounted there has to be very close partnership between the BOA, the host city and the Government. The first imponderable is what decision is made later on this year as to the venue for the 2008 Olympics. One of the very strongly bidding cities is Paris. If the 2008 Games were to be awarded to Paris then it would almost certainly mean that there is no realistic prospect of another European city after Athens and Paris in rapid succession being able to bid for 2012. That is clearly a parameter to the debate that at the moment we cannot determine and will not be able to until July when the decision is made. Secondly, if, for example, the 2008 decision is made for Beijing or for Toronto, then the possibility of a European city being capable of being in the running for 2012 becomes a possibility. We will then need to look in detail with the BOA at whether a bid, particularly perhaps a bid for London because many of the indications coming out of the International Olympic Committee at the moment are that if Britain is to be successful it may well have to be a London bid, we will then need to look at what the possibilities are, at what the potential for hosting the Olympics is, and also what the costs are likely to be because any such undertaking would of course involve very substantial costs.

  471. If the regeneration aspects of the Olympics on a city or on an area in a city or in a country are as great as people make them out to be, should we not morally not be bidding for the Olympics ourselves but making sure or putting our weight behind ensuring that they go to Africa, where they have never been, or if they go to Beijing that will only be the second time they have been to Asia, or to South America where they have never been, rather than bidding ourselves when, to be honest, London does not need the tourist impact of the Olympic Games? It gets enough tourists; it probably gets too many tourists, many Londoners might think, already. Should we not therefore be putting our weight behind ensuring that the Olympics are used in a way to help those who perhaps need more help than we do?  (Mr Smith) Of course the major advantage to a country of hosting the Olympics Games is not just in the area of the immediate tourist impact, although that can be substantial. At the moment of course London, along with the rest of the country, is suffering grievously in terms of its tourism industry and we hope that will be a temporary phenomenon. Secondly, the most important impact of hosting an Olympic Games is both the lift to national morale which can come but also the long-term regeneration impact. That is certainly something which, for example, is demonstrable in Barcelona. The third point I would make is that there are substantial parts of London, as indeed I know from my own constituency experience and I suspect my colleague the Minister knows as well, that could very much benefit from major large scale regeneration. This is not a case of a very rich city becoming even richer. It may well be a case of very substantial under-investment of parts of a large city receiving substantial investment. But—and the "but" has to be in there—we have to make a realistic assessment together with the BOA and with the Mayor of London about what the possibilities are when we know what the decision for 2008 has been.

  Chairman: Can I intervene there to say that our Committee, when we were in Manchester on Monday and Tuesday of this week, were deeply impressed by the regenerative progress in Manchester, which is partly due to the Commonwealth Games. Obviously the Committee will be unanimous in believing that more could be done in the Gorton constituency.

  Mr Maxton: The whole thing should take place there.

  Chairman: But what is taking place in Manchester is quite remarkable and could I, quite tangentially, nevertheless say that we were deeply impressed by the regeneration on Salford Quays when we visited the Lowry Centre.

Mr Maxton

  472. My concern almost for my whole time on this Committee has always been the participation in sport, people playing the game rather than actually watching it. I am not convinced that holding major sporting events in this country actually necessarily produces any effect on the number of people playing the game. Every year we hold one of the major sporting events in the world at Wimbledon, which is probably the premier tennis tournament. For a fortnight you see children running around with tennis racquets in their hand looking for a tennis court to play on and a coach to show them how to play the game. Is that not where we should be putting our money rather than trying all the time to get these major events?  (Mr Smith) The Minister may want to add a word or so but I will make two observations. The first is that we are of course already putting very substantial investment now into sport for young people and particularly into sport in schools. The earmarking of £750 million from the New Opportunities Fund for this purpose is part of that commitment. Secondly, we also ought to recognise the commitment that the Lawn Tennis Association make with the proceeds of Wimbledon to develop and enhance grass roots facilities for tennis across the country. It is a very substantial commitment. It has been there for quite a number of years now and there are many tennis facilities in many less well off parts of the country that are a testimony to the cascading through of the profits of the Wimbledon tournament into tennis.  (Kate Hoey) I agree with you, John, that there is a dilemma of chicken and egg because clearly having the Olympics with the focus of the whole country on sport, if we could do it in the way that Sydney did, is a huge motivator for young people. We saw just in the few weeks after the Olympics that all the physical education teachers, when you went round to speak to them in schools, told of the interest that there was in other sports and the desire to get involved. Clearly I would not want to see us hosting an Olympic Games and then discover that we had got very few medals and no winners and actually did very badly at it. Therefore what is important, if we do decide to have an Olympic Games bid (and of course the Secretary of State said that the BOA would have to be the first to say what they would like to do) is that it really has to be a commitment not just from the Government in that sense but also from the country that they want to deliver it and they want to do it. I would not want to see that happening at the expense in the meantime of all the work that is going in in terms of long-term investment to grass roots of sport, because if we do not continue to invest money and there has not been huge amounts of investment over many years then we will not have given the children opportunities at the moment, which means that by the time we come round to having an Olympic Games we will not be having people who are coming through to win. There is no point having an Olympic Games, I believe, unless we are really not just going to do it brilliantly (and that is going to be extremely difficult after the wonderful Sydney Olympics) but also be doing well at it and using sport as a vehicle for all sorts of other things as well.

  473. In a sense that is all making my point. I think that our success at Sydney by the investment that we put into it through the Lottery did more for athletics and for sport than holding the Olympics in this country would ever do. I asked this as a question of the FA, that if in fact Germany had beaten Argentina in 1966, (a) they would not be showing that game very three weeks on British television, and (b) probably nobody would remember that we actually held the World Cup in England in 1966. Is not success in sport a bigger stimulus than actually holding the sport in your own country, particularly in the days of modern communications?  (Kate Hoey) I think there is a fair argument that would agree with you. On the other hand, if you talk to some of our athletes they will tell you just how wonderfully inspiring it is to win on home territory and to have home crowds and home support, particularly when you see people who have come from their community and then, for example, win something in Birmingham when it is one of the championships that we are holding there in athletics or any other sport. It was terrific for Jason Queally, even though he did not actually win in the World Championships in cycling, when he came back to the Manchester Velodrome to be there with a huge crowd of support; it was tremendously stimulating. This is not a simple issue. We are not going to wake up one morning and say, "We are going to host an Olympic Games. Hooray!" There is a huge amount of effort and time and thought and honesty that goes into it. I think we have to be honest as a country and honest as politicians and as sports people about our capacity to do it. If we are going to do it, let us do it well. If we cannot do it, let us be honest about that as well.

  474. Given the limited resources we have for sport—and it is a lot more now than it has been in the past—is it not better spent ensuring success than, as you say, large sums of money being spent to ensure that we will get the Olympics?  (Kate Hoey) I honestly do not think that it would be sensible for me to say yes or no to that question. I genuinely do think that there is a debate to be held and I can see both sides of the argument on this. We have a commitment as a Government to help and support putting international events on the world stage in this country. I want to make sure that collectively we do as much as we can so that we get to the point where we can make that decision with all the factors weighed up.

  475. Lastly can I say that, given modern communications, modern travel, and a changing political scene in the world, not in this country, does that not perhaps mean that the time has come when an individual city in one country is not the best way to run major sporting events? Why cannot we have an Olympics that is based in Europe with the sporting events spread throughout Europe, when World Cup football can be played in Europe and not in one particular country and one particular part of Europe?  (Kate Hoey) Those are all very important points. One of the reasons why we have failed perhaps to have our influence felt in international sporting bodies generally is because as a country we have not seen the importance of having our voice heard on many of these international organisations where I think perhaps sometimes the sensible views and realism that we have would help to make differences and changes to the way international sport is run generally.

Mr Fraser

  476. I am looking up the debate we had in Westminster Hall the other day at the same time as this Select Committee and, admittedly, by all the contributions that happened there, Minister, you were not able to answer all the questions and you did say that you would be happy to answer them today.  (Kate Hoey) No, I did not. I said I would be happy to write, but I will try and answer them today.

  477. I have not seen a letter.  (Kate Hoey) There is a whole number of questions, not just to you, Mr Fraser, but from all sorts of Members who asked things.

  478. You did say, "I shall make some points about Wembley Stadium in the Select Committee".  (Kate Hoey) I have been asked so I will. I do not make points. I am asked questions and I answer them if I can.

  479. It was a general comment; it was not a pointed comment. Can you refresh my memory about the costs of other stadia? What sort of cost was the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff? Either of you?  (Mr Smith) I think I am right in saying about £120 million.  (Kate Hoey) It is a lot less than Wembley.

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