Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 214 - 219)




  214. Secretary of State, Minister, I would like to welcome you here for both of your first appearances before this Select Committee. I know the Secretary of State has gone to some trouble to make herself available today and we much appreciate that. I understand that you would like to make a brief opening statement before we begin, and you are very welcome to do so.

  (Tessa Jowell) Chairman, thank you very much indeed for that. I would indeed like briefly to address the Committee by way of introduction, and in doing so introduce my two colleagues: Richard Caborn, Minister for Sport, on my left, and Philippa Drew, who has overall responsibility for sports policy in my department. I am delighted that this is my first appearance before the Select Committee and hope that in the time ahead we will enjoy a constructive dialogue, improving the delivery of the Government's agenda for Culture, Media and Sport. The UK has a strong track record in staging world-class sports events, both one-off events such as the Modern Pentathlon World Championships earlier this year as well as regular annual spectaculars such as Wimbledon, The Open, Henley and the Six Nations Championship. I am keen that all events which the Government is involved in are of good quality and good standing to make sports governing bodies pleased that they have chosen to come to the UK. It is very much in this spirit that we are willing and taking practical steps to ensure the success of the Commonwealth Games next year. When Richard and I were appointed, as Minister for Sport and Secretary of State respectively, in June, one of the key issues we had to resolve was the staging of the 2005 World Athletics Championships. It was very clear to us from the earliest briefing that this was a project in some difficulty. Sport England's Lottery Panel then expressed doubts about the Lee Valley Regional Park Authority's application for Lottery funding on 18 June. I welcomed Sport England's decision, which I informed the IAAF of before it was announced, to ask Patrick Carter to review the whole project, and you will be aware that Patrick Carter had just recently concluded a review of the budget and state of readiness for the Commonwealth Games. As you know, his report submitted to me at the end of August concluded that the level of risk facing the project had reached such a stage as to make it unsustainable. Having discussed his conclusions in detail with Sport England, I had to decide whether to invest significant amounts of new money in the project to make it sustainable or whether to look to alternatives. Patrick Carter was clearly of the view that even with significant additional funding the Picketts Lock project still faced the very real prospect of being a substandard event due to transport, infrastructure and athlete accommodation difficulties. I was not willing to see the United Kingdom, almost wilfully, proceed to stage a substandard event. I concluded that it would not be right for Sport England to be solely responsible for ending the project by declining the Park Authorities lottery application. I therefore agreed, in the light of Patrick Carter's Report, and Sport England's advice that the project should not proceed and that I should be the one to explain to UK Athletics and to discuss options with them before approaching the IAAF. All this, as you will be aware, was conducted in a very tight time frame. Similarly, I regarded it as important that I should explain the rationale directly to the Picketts Lock Project Team. It was clear from Patrick Carter's review that there was no alternative for Picketts Lock in London for staging the World Athletics Championships. While it would have been open to Government at that stage to abandon the staging of the Championships our preference was to offer the IAAF an acceptable substitute, and this we have done in the form of the Don Valley Stadium for the Championships and offering a London venue for the IAAF Congress that takes place at the same time. I will shortly confirm this offer in writing, once I have had the opportunity to discuss the terms of my letter with UK Athletics. We will consider next steps, including whether to enter a competitive process, if it is the IAAF's decision, once we have received their reply to my letter, which makes it clear that Sheffield is on the table as an alternative offer. I am well aware that the decision that we took has been unpopular in some sporting circles, but I am absolutely convinced that it was the right and the only decision to take. I am equally conscious that there are a number of lessons to be learned from having to take this decision and earlier decisions also on a financial package to ensure the vulnerability of the Commonwealth Games. Some of these lessons have already been spelt out in this Committee's previous reports but I am well aware that the Government needs to look at this issue across the piece, not just from a sports perspective, and I have therefore asked the Prime Minister to commission a review of major events policy from the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) which can study recent events and compare this with the best practice overseas. The Prime Minister has agreed to my request and the PIU will scope the extent of the review in the next few weeks and, of course, an announcement to Parliament will be made at that time of the details of the review. Finally, Mr Chairman, let me just say this, Richard Caborn and I have certainly examined how we got to a point where this was the only decision to be taken in relation to the National Athletics Stadium. I think we also have to accept, having been appointed on 8 June, that we are where we are. Our focus, rather than picking over the coals of what might and might not have happened in the past, is to address the way in which we will deliver our commitments to sport in this country for the future.

Michael Fabricant

  215. The President of the IAAF offered the athletics games to London, what makes you think, Secretary of State, it is going to be remotely interested in Don Valley?
  (Tessa Jowell) I accept that the games were offered to London. It became clear, as a result of Patrick Carter's inquiry, commissioned by me and Sport England, that London could not be delivered to the standard that the IAAF had a right to expect. We looked, before reaching the conclusion that Sheffield was the only feasible alternative, at other London possibilities, indeed, they had been pretty exhaustively examined at the point at which Picketts Lock emerged as the best London option at the time the initial bid was made. I informed the IAAF about my intention to Commission a review with Sport England, just before it was announced, on either 1 or 2 July, I spoke to the Chief Executive of the IAAF. It was my sense, and I would not in any way hold the IAAF to this, that the possibility of a non-London option was not one on which the door was firmly closed.

  216. Why was Crystal Palace ruled out?
  (Tessa Jowell) Crystal Palace was ruled out on very much the same grounds that Picketts Lock proved to be unfeasible and the inadequacies of the transport infrastructure, transporting 40,000 people at the start of every day and taking them away at the end of everyday. My constituency adjoins Crystal Palace Park and I know well what the problems with transport in that part of the South London are. Secondly, there was also what became even more pressing, the compound problem of the athletes' accommodation, which was the second new reason, post the Carter Inquiry, that made Picketts Lock an implausible option. As I understand it, there is no other suitable student accommodation offering the number of bed spaces any closer to Crystal Palace than Hatfield is to Picketts Lock. One of the reasons for ruling out Picketts Lock was the difficulty of athletes negotiating that 19 mile journey with the associated problems with transport. The short answer to your question is that the problems in relation to Crystal Palace were as great, if not, in some respects, greater. The existing stadium, in the Carter team's judgment, would have had to be demolished.

  217. Can I now move now to decision-making processes within your Department, which I can say to you were made before you were appointed? John Greenway, one of our colleagues, has been very helpful in giving me some correspondence that he had with your predecessor Chris Smith. In a letter on 19 January, which is only nine months ago, Chris Smith was very, very sure that the decision had been made, which was correct, to move to Picketts Lock. He goes on to say,"WNSL's announcement fully vindicated the decision I took on December 1999 to remove athletics from the Wembley Project and the subsequent decision by UK Athletics to opt for Lee Valley as the venue for the 2005 World Athletic Championships". You will probably have seen this letter, or at least been aware of its contents. Have you since you have been appointed as Secretary of State made any investigation in your own Department as to what advice the officials gave the previous Secretary of State, only nine months ago, as I said, to give him such certainty that that was the right decision, when nine months on we know that decision was completely wrong?
  (Tessa Jowell) If I can begin by saying, I think that from my point of view what is important now is to focus on the lessons learned from the past to be applied in the future in order that we avoid the difficulties that have arisen with this project in the future. I have not seen the correspondence between John Greenway and Chris Smith, I am very happy to study it and to provide a further submission to you in the light of that should you wish me to do so. I think that what is also important is it is clear to me that Picketts Lock became unviable because of two new events, first of all, the fact that the promised upgrading of the transport link did has not proceed and therefore would not have been delivered in time.

  218. When was that decision made, was that after the nine months ago?
  (Tessa Jowell) No. The Strategic Rail Authority, as I am sure you will be aware, re-prioritised a number of their investment projects post Hatfield with projects which were being justified on the grounds of safety taking precedent over those taken on the grounds of capacity, and this is a project taken on the grounds of capacity. I am reminded that the Strategic Rail Authority wrote to Enfield, the responsible local authority, on 14 August this year informing them of two things, first of all that they could deliver an extra station but it would not deliver the necessary capacity for the Championships and that they recognise upgrades for increasing capacity as a priority but that programme could not be delivered before 2005. Having been briefed on the sort of alternatives that were being offered to cope with the lack of rail infrastructure I concluded that they were inadequate.


  219. Secretary of State, back in your introductory remarks you said, "we do not want to pick over what happened in the past, we want to learn lessons from it". That is very fair. In the case of Picketts Lock—I do not know what the view of the Committee as a whole will come to when we draft our report—as far as I am concerned I think you made the right decision. It was a decision made as a result of an external report by Mr Carter. Mr Fabricant has drawn attention to the reaction of the Secretary of State, your predecessor, to the Report that we made, with excellent advice from our then colleague Mr Faber, but it was the Committee as a whole which did it, in which we recommended Wembley with a platform. Mr Brooking this morning has confirmed that that was the right recommendation and we could have gone ahead on that basis. Yet when we published that Report it had scarcely had time to get round to your Department before the then-Secretary of State had issued a statement in the most derogatory terms rejecting our Report. The reason I am doing this is not to mull over the past but so that you can clarify whether you rejected our report on internal advice from the Department—because if so I think it is very important to find out who gave that advice, since it was clearly very bad advice—or that it was not so advised but it was the then-Secretary of State's own personal decision. I think it is very important for us to know that?
  (Tessa Jowell) If I can just start with where I picked this up from and then we can, perhaps, look at how that takes us back in time. What I was concerned about with Picketts Lock was, is this project deliverable, is it affordable and have we contained all of the containable risks? I have to say that when I was first briefed on it and when my right honourable friend, the Minister of Sport, was first briefed on it we were both extremely alarmed. I was fully aware that we had a substantial commitment to the athletics community in the country and to the IAAF to host these Championships. I did not feel that it was right simply at that point to say, "okay, we are going to draw a double line under this", but to commission a robust assessment. I had very quickly developed a very high regard for Patrick Carter and his team, having studied very closely the work they had done on the Commonwealth Games, he understood the nature of sporting projects, particularly those that have, perhaps, an overly ambiguous relationship with Government, which was why we involved him in this. That was how I moved it forward. I think all of these decisions and all of these judgments are on the basis of a continuum of where the risk sits. I was risk adverse in relation to this project and I was quite clear that it would proceed only on the basis that we were certain that it was going to work and that we were not going to find ourselves, as we had done with the Commonwealth Games, almost right up to the event, faced with having to find a lot more public money in order to bail it out, because every million pounds that is preempted in that way is one million pounds that is not going into grass roots sport. On the basis on which my predecessor took the decision I do not know what was in his mind and I was obviously not party to, nor have I seen, notes of the discussions that led him to that conclusion. He reached a decision which I am quite, quite sure he considered at the right time, having taken advice, was the right judgment. I was looking at this project some months on and reached a different conclusion, not least because a number of circumstances had changed.

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