Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  Chairman: Lady and gentlemen, I would like to welcome you here today. Mr Keen will start the questioning.

Alan Keen

  180. I know you have been sitting in the audience and have heard the development of questions and propositions being put by the Committee about the structure of sport and decision-making. I do not need to repeat again what a muddle Picketts Lock has been. How do you view, as Chairman of Sport England, your involvement in this decision-making on Picketts Lock? Was it effective? Was it done in the right way? How would you like things to have been different?

  (Mr Brooking) To go through the fairly lengthy process, going back to when originally we did consult with the three sports on a national stadium. You mentioned, in fact, the World Cup was a distraction and really the World Cup bid was not even in place when we went out with the national stadium idea. We did the bidding process and then decided on Wembley and it progressed from there. That took us to July 1999, when the designs were actually launched and all sports were on board. Up until that stage there had been quite a co-ordinated, cohesive approach. It was then, really, back in October when it became an issue of the Olympics; if we held the Olympics there the BOA would be the bidders for that and they said "How do you get from 67,000 to 80,000?" The report that UK Sport commissioned to look at that issue was on how you got from 67,000 to 80,000 for the Olympics. Then, obviously, on 1 December all interested parties were summoned to the Department and the Secretary of State gave the reports to everyone. Unfortunately, there was not an opportunity to discuss the report and he went to the House of Commons to withdraw athletics from Wembley. Once that was confirmed three weeks later, we had then an issue where we had to look for a national athletics stadium, and from then on is when it all became clouded, because during those three weeks we were not involved in the discussions to withdraw the £20 million and then we had to pick it up afterwards. So if you have an issue it is that you must get (and a minister of events has been mentioned) a certain authoritative person who can lead through all government levels, because whereas the Department of Culture, Media and Sport looks after sport, there are issues of transport, planning and the whole range of infrastructure which is outside that particular department and runs across other government departments. Unless you get that co-ordinated approach we cannot answer those questions.
  (Mrs Simmonds) I think, also, there is a difference between interference and the support we would be looking for on these sorts of projects. I think we feel we have had a huge amount of support and involvement in the Picketts Lock inquiry and we are very much supportive of what the Secretary of State and the Minister have decided, and feel we have had a very good start to our working relationship with them, which we hope will continue.
  (Mr Brooking) I think the big problem—and David said the same thing—is that you cannot have a stand-alone athletics stadium; it will not pay for itself. There are huge costs. It is not viable. Really, when that decision was made in December 1999, right from the early part of 2000, Sport England consistently said "There is a huge funding problem here and you will not be able to make it a viable project. Where is the extra funding coming from?" You can pay for anything, we had this allocation of so-called £60 million that could be set aside if it was a viable project, but there was always a big gap. We said £100 million, and eventually that figure has been proved, as the inquiries here emphasised as well. So from that point it was trying to solve a problem that had a funding gap for an 18-month period.

  181. Looking at it from our point of view, there seemed to be undue pressure on Sport England to agree to Picketts Lock without a lot of logic behind it. Why do you think that was? Can you describe how that came about?
  (Mrs Simmonds) I do not think we do feel that was the case. As you know, I have appeared before this Committee before as a member of the Lottery Panel and we are a very independent panel of about 25 people who come from all walks of life, with several well-known sports personalities, like Steve Cram, who actually sit on it. I think we feel that our decision was independent. What we have to make clear is that Sport England has always believed that we should be holding international events in this country. We wanted the World Athletics Championships for all the reasons that, perhaps, you raised earlier: what it does for grass-roots sport, for social inclusion, for involvement and, coming from the commercial sector, also what it does—as Euro 96 and the World Rugby Cup showed—in terms of economic benefits. We were very keen to see if we could find a way that Picketts Lock would work, which is why we commissioned the feasibility study which looked at whether that funding gap, which we knew was there, could be met by putting more commercial leisure on the site—as you know, perhaps, a multiplex cinema on that site, which is a very good anchor, or you could have put in health and fitness facilities and other types of leisure. In the end, certainly in the timescale we were looking at, the planning problems associated with that would have made that impossible.
  (Mr Brooking) I think one of the big problems is that we said at the start of 2000 that £100 million was a figure that we thought it would cost, but it depended which paper you read or which person you spoke to as to what the costs would be. Some said as little as £60 million, £70 million or £80 million. The Secretary of State was there at one or two of those meetings and he was encouraged to feel, at that stage, that perhaps the gap was not as big as we were saying. In the end, we commissioned a feasibility study and even with that figure, what we came out with at that stage was queried "Was that a realistic figure?" As luck would have it, Patrick Carter had just been asked to do the Wembley report, and we just felt you had to get an independent, definitive cost factor that nobody could dispute, nobody could query. As it happens, it came out significantly above ours, but what that did confirm was that there was a massive gap that you just could not fill. There was our belief and that was confirmed, but it was after an 18-month period, which delayed everything.

Derek Wyatt

  182. Good morning. I think at your September meeting you discussed Sheffield. Who put that agenda item on the board for you to discuss?
  (Mrs Simmonds) We were obviously aware that Patrick Carter was looking at alternatives. Part of his brief was to look not only in London but outside London and that is one of the sites that we looked at. In fact, it is one of the sites where we are investing a considerable amount of money—some £23 million—in English Institute of Sport facilities. There is a club called Phoenix Sport which is immediately adjacent to the Don Valley Stadium.

  183. I asked who put it on. Was it true that it was the Sports Minister who called you to say please put it on the agenda?
  (Mr Brooking) To be fair, it has been an agenda item at every council meeting every month. We have an update on the issue. An update on that, as it happened, was that the Carter report had been received and we were looking at it, and we would be discussing with government the results of that between then and the next meeting. So I asked the council members what was their view (a) on Picketts Lock—whatever that decision was—and, (b) if we were asked to look at our allocation being moved to an alternative site, would we consider that? So I got the feedback on that. Then Ian wrote a letter on 14 September to the Secretary of State and Minister giving our views, and suggested they needed to contact the IAAF and UK Athletics to, obviously, discuss the implications of that. Then, probably, there was a two-week delay between that period, understandably, because of events on 11 September, in which the Secretary of State was heavily involved, and then it moved on in early October to the decisions being reached.

  184. When we looked at the Commonwealth Games at Manchester, Manchester City Council own them—there is no doubt—but no one seems to own athletics at the moment. They keep coming back, and coming back and they keep getting more money. So somebody is doing something right there. Someone has either got a position in the Treasury or in No.10, or wherever. Athletics does not seem to be able to get anywhere. Has that made the difference, do you think?
  (Mrs Simmonds) I think the Commonwealth Games is an event we have got and we must all, whatever we do in this country, get behind the Commonwealth Games and make sure that that event in Manchester is a huge success. I think, although there was great reluctance, I have to say, on behalf of the Lottery Panel for us to give additional money to Manchester, we felt that it was very important for this country that we did so. Can I just put that into context, because on the Lottery Fund we are struggling enormously to put money into sort of community grass roots sport. I sit on the community side and we have already spent 60 per cent of our budget for this year in the first six months. So we have got to look at the competing expectations and requirements of different sports, schools, funding for health facilities and all those things. I think we felt the Commonwealth Games was a priority.
  (Mr Brooking) I think £135 million on a whole range of facilities is a huge legacy on which we can develop sport from a long-term point of view. Also, with the athletics stadium there, again we had the problem of what do you do after the event? We had a consultation and actually the football club took it on solving the revenue problem, which was always a huge problem. Picketts Lock needed £1 million a year, which was another area that had to be resolved.

  185. Did you personally make representations to the Treasury?
  (Mrs Simmonds) We made representations to the Secretary of State. Do you mean about funding?

  186. At Picketts Lock. Did you go and camp at the Treasury and ask for more money?
  (Mr Brooking) Camp at the Treasury? I can assure you I am camping at the Treasury at the moment because there is a Comprehensive Spending Review going on at the moment, and my argument has always been, when I wear my Sport England hat, very much that the problem with grass roots sport in this country has been the lack of investment for the last 20-25 years. What I am arguing for at the moment, and hopefully for a decision in April, is a recognition that sports halls and swimming pools in this country would cost £4 or £5 billion, just to rebuild. We are being asked, through the Lottery Fund, to do all these massive refurbishments. It is impossible. If there is a recognition of a wider value of sport on education, social inclusion and the drug, crime and vandalism problems, the health factors of physical activity—if there is a recognition and I believe there is in government—then this has to be transmitted into Exchequer funding. We cannot keep calling on (as we have done on major events as well) the Lottery money, which started off at £300 million six or seven years ago and is now just £200 million. It is being reduced all the time.
  (Mrs Simmonds) I think it would also be true to say that I do not think it is our role to go and camp at the Treasury. We are the Lottery Fund, which is receiving an application for money and we were constantly assured by the Secretary of State that that gap would be provided. We would suggest that was his role rather than ours.

Mr Doran

  187. As you know from hearing earlier questions, I am interested in the lessons that can be learned from this. Just looking at the plethora of organisations which seem to be involved in this whole process, which I think everyone accepts has been so damaging to our reputation as a sporting nation and our ability to organise, one of the questions that comes to my mind is are there just too many organisations involved? Do you accept there is a lack of focus? Too many cooks spoiling the broth?
  (Mrs Simmonds) I think there are three lessons we would like to learn from this. The first is about the bidding process. At the moment it is UK Athletics and Sir Rodney and UK Sport who take the lead in this, and Sport England is not actually involved. However, we need to be involved with government at that very first stage, and I think there needs to be more organisations who get together, who agree a decision and then stick to that decision. I think that is the first lesson. The second one is that we have got to improve our business planning. As Patrick Carter has shown in Manchester and elsewhere, we must get our figures right. Sport England have lots of experience, we have architects and quantity surveyors who, in fact, came up with exactly the right figure on Picketts Lock, and that there are other things—as Trevor has already alluded to—like transport, which need to be looked at very carefully, so we know what all the costs are to begin with. Perhaps the third one is that government has to decide whether they are going to support international events in this country. The Lottery fund cannot be the only fund that is providing these funds. Our pot is not big enough and we are constantly losing money; we lost money when the Opportunities Fund was invented and we are losing money now because Camelot is not selling as many tickets. We can provide some of the funding but not all of it. If the Government is, as we hope, serious about staging events then they really must put up some funds as well.
  (Mr Brooking) We cannot deliver the planning and transport infrastructure. A minister of events, which has been mentioned at previous inquiries here, has got to have the authority to cut through all that and, also, I think, get additional Exchequer funding. You cannot keep going back to the same pot which is diminishing all the time anyway.

  188. If we consider the evidence we have had earlier from Sir Rodney Walker, UK Sport is responsible for attracting these major events but it seems that it is your responsibility to fund them. I find that a little bit difficult to understand.
  (Mrs Simmonds) There is no reason why we cannot work together on those sorts of things.

  189. Do we need two organisations?
  (Mrs Simmonds) I do not think you can turn back the clock on devolution. We have devolution, whether we like it or not, and it is very difficult. We have a whole range—as David was saying—of governing bodies which are structured in very different ways; some are English, some are UK governing bodies, some have a combination of the two. It is very difficult to move back on that. I think the other issue is to do with our Royal Charter.
  (Mr Brooking) I think the strength of what Sport England have to do has actually grown more and more important, because the lack of investment in sport over the last 20 years means that a lot of people (local authorities, whatever) who used to fund sport have—what I would term—abandoned ship. We try to work with all our partners across the country, and some of them do really respond and are clued up and still believe sport has this wider part to play. Now you have got this growing government agenda on all these other wider issues and I have got to know that half the country do not know how they are going to be able to deliver that in the local community, because all the old sports and leisure departments have disappeared into planning, environment, parks—there is not the expertise out there. So to think that you can hand the money over to some of those areas and they are going to fund sport—you have got no chance. There are some communities which are desperate to get the opportunity to access sport, whether it be schools or those disadvantaged peoples in localities that have not got the facilities. At the moment they are not being provided with that opportunity. We have got to make sure that they are, and that is what we have got to help the Government deliver. However, I can assure you that locally that will not happen unless they get a strong steer.

Miss Kirkbride

  190. Now that we have a new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, would you like to revisit some of the decisions that have already been taken, in particular with regard to Wembley and its dual-purpose use for athletics for future events?
  (Mr Brooking) I think we have always been pretty consistent with what our feelings were on Wembley. Going back, really, to December 1999, I think you saw Rod Sheard last week and we also believed that the platform solution was deliverable and was the best option. You have got to remember we asked athletics "How often would you use this stadium?" It is an 80,000 or 90,000 stadium. They looked at it and said, "Look, to be honest, at that size, we are only going to use it once in the next 10 or 15 years (that is the World Athletics Championships, if we ever get that) and, perhaps, a second time if we ever bid for the Olympics". At that stage, we did not have a bid for the Olympics, there was no government support for it and, also, when we asked BOA "Would it be in the Wembley area?" they said "We cannot say, really, it is one of three options". So on that basis we could not put in an athletics track, and if you asked the question "How often is it going to be used?" actually it would be once in the next 15 years. So we thought that as we wanted to protect athletics, how do we get it in and give them the opportunity to actually bid for a major event—the World Athletics Championship—and the platform idea we thought was terrific. There is a certain irony in that you have heard there are a couple of bids now for 2012 with that very innovation that we came up with two years ago. It was a terrific idea. Even then they said "Look, we are saying six months and the cost is X amount, but to be honest in the next few years that will come down and we can do it quicker but we have got to do that to cover ourselves". I think that is what Rod Sheard indicated last week. It is coming down all the time. That was our argument. The problem was that the report—which, again, was not about whether the platform worked, everyone thought it worked—was about how you get from 67,000 to 80,000. That is why everyone was amazed, when the report came out, that they withdrew athletics. It was not on the Olympics, it was actually athletics has to come out. Unfortunately, there was not the discussion period, because within 24 hours 11 of the 12 criticisms had disappeared, and you were back to the site lines of 67,000 to 80,000. So everyone said that we misinterpreted the instructions. So the actual platform worked, and as I sit here now it still works. The fact is, however, is we have lost nearly two years, and from the time factor now any contractor would not take it on because the risk factor is so tight and the costs then of guarantees and insurance to deliver it would mean it is prohibitive. So, sadly, it will not be taken on because of the risk factors of 2005.


  191. What you are saying is that we were right when we said that Wembley with the platform was the solution. Why do you think the Secretary of State rejected that half-an-hour after we published our report?
  (Mr Brooking) It is a question that, actually, I think you should ask the Secretary of State. We just felt afterwards that certainly we wanted to try and then protect the World Athletics Championships and we were hoping that there was a solution with a stand-alone athletics track. But, consistently, we queried the funding gap. Even the evidence that was given here back in March by the Secretary of State indicated that that issue will be resolved. The funding gap was going to be sorted out at a later date, but we now know that that has not been achievable and certainly, as you say, 18 months, to a certain extent, has been wasted.

  192. The Secretary of State when he rejected our report did not refer to the funding gap in any way. He just said our report was rubbish.
  (Mrs Simmonds) If there is another lesson we have to learn, it is that sports organisations must work much closer together. I think the reason he rejected athletics from Wembley was, really, just to do with the Olympics. As Sir Nigel Mobbs, who was Chairman of the Wembley Task Force then, told everyone, we could not hold the Olympics at Wembley anyway because the whole site will not work in that position. It was more concerned with that than it was with anything else.

  Chairman: If my friend Mr Maxton was with us he would say that the whole idea of a link was chimaerical in any case but we did have the World Athletics Championships coming to us. One of the things that exasperates me is that this Committee is frequently right and always ignored.

Miss Kirkbride

  193. Given, then, that it would seem unlikely that we will produce a dual-purpose stadium, what is your view on whether or not Wembley should keep the national football stadium, or whether it should actually go to Birmingham, which has made a very strong bid?
  (Mrs Simmonds) I think it is difficult for us to answer that question. As Patrick Carter said last week, it is very much under discussion, particularly between the Government and the Football Association.
  (Mr Brooking) All you would say, and I believe Sir Rodney said it, is that this very much has to be a decision now which is led by the FA because they are going to be the main event user. You can build a national stadium anywhere, but it has got to have x-number of matches held there to make it viable. So you cannot have a mix of a few games in the national stadium and then travel around the country for the rest, because the national stadium does not become viable. So it is very much their decision. To be fair, the Secretary of State and Minister now are certainly giving that lead back to Patrick Carter, because I think what happened in the past is there were so many diverse views that the FA were not sure that everyone was backing whatever their decision was. Whatever decision is taken by Patrick Carter and the FA will be very much a joint one between them.

  194. What would happen if it were not to be going to be Wembley and the FA were happy to have it in Birmingham, as quite a lot of people are? What happens to the £120 million?
  (Mrs Simmonds) The Lottery Funding Agreement is quite clear: if they choose not to have it at Wembley that £120 million has to be repaid.


  195. When?
  (Mr Brooking) Ian, do you want to take the Committee through the process?
  (Mr Fytche) It is fair to say we have to go right back to when the Lottery Fund Agreement was signed.

  196. I do not want you to go right back, I want you to tell me when will this £120 million be repaid? It is public money, you are in charge of it, you paid it out and you are supposed to get it back if Wembley is not used—if there is not a Wembley Stadium. When?
  (Mrs Simmonds) If necessary we would have to take legal action to recover it.
  (Mr Brooking) When the decision is made on what is happening to the national stadium.

  197. By who?
  (Mr Brooking) By this current discussion between Patrick Carter and the FA. Once they make a decision where that is going to be, if it is at Wembley then the scenario does not come up, if it is away from Wembley, that is outside the Lottery Fund Agreement so we would request the repayment of that amount.

  198. So it is quite a short time-scale. It is a short, clear time-scale—ie, when the decision is made on the national stadium, if it is not Wembley you will then proceed to act to get that £120 million back?
  (Mrs Simmonds) Yes.
  (Mr Brooking) We have made that clear.

  199. We can get you in. You can tell us you are going to do it and we will have a special little inquiry just for you.
  (Mrs Simmonds) Absolutely.
  (Mr Brooking) Thank you very much.

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