Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 200 - 213)



Miss Kirkbride

  200. You do stand to gain quite a bit, because the Birmingham Stadium would not cost you anything like the amount of money that Wembley would cost. Therefore, you would have more money for other projects.
  (Mrs Simmonds) That would obviously be a good thing.

John Thurso

  201. I have been astounded, as a relatively new member of this Committee, by the poor quality of the processes by which decisions have been made. We have heard already this morning David Moorcroft who said that the strategy and policy discussions took place after we got into all these things rather than before. It seems to me that the primary role of government, which has been expressed by everybody, is that there are two things required: one is leadership and the other is to formulate strategy and policy. There seems to have been a complete vacuum on both counts. How do you feel you have dealt with ministers on this? What improvements would you like to see in the way that ministers behave in these matters in future?
  (Mrs Simmonds) I think we have been very consistent. We constantly wrote to the last Secretary of State and made clear our views, and made clear our views on which we were not consulted about the decision to remove athletics from Wembley. I think what I said before is right, that we want government involvement and support and what we do not need is interference. It is up to the expertise that the sports have within our organisations to take these projects forward.


  202. Can we see that?
  (Mrs Simmonds) Yes, you can see that.

John Thurso

  203. You say you do not want interference—fair enough—but, at the same time, other bodies are saying they want leadership. If you want leadership you are going to get a certain degree of interference, clearly. What I am pressing you on is whether you feel that the ministers responsible in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport have actually served your purposes and are actually delivering leadership and strategy?
  (Mrs Simmonds) I think we saw very clearly that when Dick Caborn was appointed, within three days, he came to the council of Sport England, which was meeting almost immediately, we had a long discussion about his support and his understanding of what we were doing and it is absolutely essential that we see the DCMS as our champion. They have got to champion our cause throughout government, and there is lots we can do. As I said before, in answer to an earlier question, we need to change the structure of getting us all involved at an early stage on deciding on these bids for international events, and then sticking to the decisions we reach.
  (Mr Brooking) I have got to say that in recent weeks the current Secretary of State and the Minister have involved us much more in the discussions. You have to remember that everything went great up until July 1999; everyone was on board, and we went to a stage at which we had been involved in everything up until then. Then you had a report, there was no discussion of the report and then for three weeks we were totally left out of any discussion—the agreement to take athletics out and handing back the £20 million, how that figure was arrived at, how it was to be repaid. After that we were asked to pick it up. You cannot continue in something like that. We are picking up a vacuum that we know nothing about. Then different parties said "No, that is not what was said." How do we know what was said because we were not there for three weeks? You cannot deliver on something like that; you have to be involved in the whole process and be given the authority to carry that through, and then sink or swim on those decisions. You cannot do that if you are not involved in all the decision-making processes.

  204. The lesson for you is that government does have to give leadership and have a strategy in advance, and then you know within what framework you are working.
  (Mr Brooking) Particularly on the major events and major funding issues. You cannot keep looking to a diminishing Lottery pot to bail everyone out, you have got to have dedicated Exchequer funding additional to that in order to go forward.


  205. Have you ever seen a piece of paper—is there a piece of paper to your knowledge—on which the FA have committed themselves in writing to paying you back the £20 million?
  (Mr Brooking) No, I think you will find—again, this is what we were told—the actual agreement during those three weeks was almost a handshake between the Secretary of State—

  206. A handshake for £20 million of public money?
  (Mr Brooking) There is no written evidence, or whatever.

  207. Do you not think that is absolutely disgraceful?
  (Mrs Simmonds) It makes it very difficult. The difficulty we now have is that—
  (Mr Brooking) There is no legality.
  (Mrs Simmonds) There is no legality for us to seek the return of that £20 million, because with our Lottery funding agreement the decision on the £20 million was made by a third party outside that agreement. So that severely restricts our legal position on the return of the £20 million, although we were very encouraged to hear Sir Rodney and the Football Association say that they were—
  (Mr Brooking) Morally they have got that commitment. There is no legal right to claim that money back. We have to rely on their goodwill.

  208. Goodwill! Twenty million pounds of public money, for which you are responsible, which you handed them, which they have no conceivable right to, because there is not going to be athletics at Wembley and you say you rely on their goodwill for them to pay back £20 million to which they have no conceivable right.
  (Mrs Simmonds) I will say it is possible we still could have athletics at Wembley. If they go ahead with the project in its current form you could still have athletics at Wembley. I think we had two positions: the first position is we are very keen for the project to go forward there and, therefore, we were very keen to support it. So we did not want to be making so much fuss about returning this £20 million immediately. Our second position is our legal one.
  (Mr Brooking) The fact is that we have consistently been writing to request that £20 million back. The fact that the project is in limbo at the moment would be the reason that that has not been carried forward any further. The fact is because there is no legal binding to it we have to rely on that, but when it is decided what is going to happen to the project then the £20 million issue will be resolved, we hope. Again, perhaps you can include that in your next inquiry, which you have just mentioned.

  209. We want to know about it in this inquiry. You are custodians of that money. You paid it out, it is your pot. Brigid Simmonds said (and I took her words down) "Our pot is not big enough." Your pot is £120 million short because you paid it out. There is this vague chimaerical, extraordinary commitment that nobody can clarify, nobody can put a time to, a date to or anything, for £20 million back. You could give that £20 million to the Robinson's Sport College in my constituency where they would actually use it properly for a new community sports hall, yet it floats around. I am—well, I am not speechless.
  (Mrs Simmonds) I am not sure it is a question for us, Chairman, because—

  210. It is for you. It is the money you were in charge of. That is money you paid out. You said before that you made an independent decision.
  (Mrs Simmonds) Yes.

  211. The verb could be conjugated, could it not? I am independent; you are unaccountable, he is irresponsible. Twenty million pounds of public money for which there is no clear line of responsibility. This House of Commons, if it is here for anything, is to take account of how public money is spent.
  (Mr Brooking) Then it does relate back to the decision that was taken in December 1999, because we have not got the legal claim to enforce that £20 million. What it would do is come under the umbrella of the £120 million if the project did not happen at Wembley. But, if it goes forward at Wembley, then that separate £20 million, as you say, is an issue and a moral commitment but no legal commitment. That was a decision outside our influence.

  212. Thank you very much.
  (Mr Brooking) You are speechless, Chairman.

  213. We are going to have a little break, and then you can all come back and listen to Tessa Jowell explain how she is going to get that money back for you.
  (Mr Brooking) Thank you very much.

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