Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1 - 19)




  1. Mr Bates, thank you very much indeed for accepting our invitation for you to come and open the public session of this inquiry. We will go right ahead and I will ask Mr Fearn to open the questions.
  (Mr Bates) Thank you.

Mr Fearn

  2. Good morning, Mr Bates. After your experience as Chairman, do you have any doubts about the conception of the project for a new National Stadium at Wembley?
  (Mr Bates) There is no problem with building it providing, as I have said at a previous presence here, people stop interfering and let the management get on and do their job.

  3. Who do you mean by "people"?
  (Mr Bates) Basically, Government departments and particularly Kate Hoey. If you think about it, on 25 July 1999, the Secretary of State stood up and said publicly that this would be the finest stadium in the world and that the design was first-class for both athletics and football. A fortnight later, Kate Hoey was appointed Minister of Sport and, since then, there has been nothing but criticism, mostly based on ignorance. That is why we have wasted 19 months and lost the confidence of the City.

  4. So you resent the fact that outside parties have had too much influence?
  (Mr Bates) I do not resent it; it is more in sorrow than anger. We are all supposed to be pulling together in this sort of thing and I cannot help contrasting the mess we are having over Wembley with how they built their Olympic Stadium in Australia.

  5. Would it have been a better project not to have sought public funding?
  (Mr Bates) We have not had any public funding. This is a popular misconception. The £120 million that was given by the Lottery is not public money. It came from the Lottery money provided by the ordinary people of this country. My personal feeling—I say it quite clearly and this is why I am not popular in some quarters but obviously I do not give a damn—is that the fact of the matter is that the Government have no legal standing in this matter. They have no finance in it; they have presumed an importance beyond their station.

  6. Talking about the finances, do you think that the agreement with the Secretary of State to pay £20 million to Sport England following the withdrawal of athletics hindered the whole process?
  (Mr Bates) I think the problem was part of a wider process. There was political discussion going on vis-a-vis the Government and football at Number 10 and that was a deal done between the Football Association and Number 10. It actually had nothing to do with Wembley. They merely used Wembley as a conduit to get a wider political settlement. As I said earlier, I was the messenger and not the principal and I think you now have copies of the correspondence which set that out quite clearly.

Derek Wyatt

  7. Do you think there is something strange, odd or unbelievable that the cost of taking out the platform was £30 million—and I think that is right—and the cost of Picketts Lock could be as much as £95 million?
  (Mr Bates) I think that is an academic discussion because I do not think that Picketts Lock will happen and it will probably cost more like £200 million than £95 million. When Picketts Lock was announced, we at Wembley did our own, I must say, cursory survey and, in view of the infrastructure problems which were far worse than at Wembley, I cannot see how it can be justified spending that kind of money at Picketts Lock for a stadium which experience shows will never be used or will very rarely be used once you have had the athletics.

  8. If you could start again and, even if there should have been a competition and let us assume there was a competition, what do you think we should do to stop this? We cannot do the Dome. We cannot seem to get these big projects managed correctly, politically managed correctly or funded correctly. What would you recommend to us?
  (Mr Bates) As I have said already, I do not think that Government should have interfered in the first place; they should have been on the sidelines cheering us on and we could have got the project done. We have had 19 months—I know she will be here in due course to give her point of view—and this has been consistently undermined and she has been feeding it to the press all the time. It is known that she has been using the conduit to feed it to the press based totally on ignorance and unfortunately some members of the press, and Mihir Bose is an extreme example, have just printed what she has told them without any checking of the facts at all.


  9. If I may just ask a supplementary question on that, when private interests build stadiums in Australia, they build their own stadiums, take financial responsibility for them and governments do not get involved in any way. In this country, governments of all parties seem not to be able to keep out of these projects in some way or another. I will not quibble with you about whether Lottery money is public money but certainly it is not money provided by the builders. Would you take the view that, in these large projects like stadiums, taking into account what Mr Wyatt has said about the lack of confidence in any government to get involved in projects of this size, that it would be much better for the interests themselves to get on with it?
  (Mr Bates) I do not think it is Government's job to get involved in these sorts of matters at all, irrespective of the political persuasion. I think everybody would agree that nationalisation has failed and some people might argue that privatisation has failed as well, but I would have thought that the Government's job was to run the country and to provide the environment to enable the private sector to get on with it—that is the way to do it—and to regulate it in a form to make sure that it does comply with the public interest and that you get the private sector to do what they said they were going to do.

Derek Wyatt

  10. I am not sure that I agree with that. If you look at Wembley, the infrastructure is appalling. I am not sure there is enough private money to actually improve the infrastructure, so the Government do have a role to improve the infrastructure.
  (Mr Bates) The infrastructure of Wembley should have been improved irrespective of Wembley Stadium. It was a bloody disgrace and, when you think of the money that is paid out of taxes and the road fund licence which was established in 1930 to maintain the roads, that is a failure of successive governments which has nothing to do with Wembley Stadium.

  11. That is regeneration. I will just say that I disagree with you about that particular aspect.
  (Mr Bates) That is democracy.

  12. Do you feel there is enough confidence in the project at Wembley for it actually to attract other money now?
  (Mr Bates) The problem is that you are starting from a negative situation, are you not? I think you will find—and no doubt you will hear from Sir Rodney Walker in due course—that, at the end of the day, the design we have prepared over the last three years is a perfectly good design. It is properly costed and it is not grandiose. The costs have not escalated. We started originally at £316.5 million and, after three years, we have it signed for £326.5 million. All the rest of the costs are nothing to do with building the project, it is interest, consultants' fees and so on and so forth.

Mr Maxton

  13. If Wembley is such a wonderful project, why does it need Lottery money? Could it not have been funded by the enormous television rights?
  (Mr Bates) With respect, you are talking with the benefit of hindsight. Do not forget that this was conceived in 1995.

  14. TV rights were still growing.
  (Mr Bates) Yes, but they were peanuts, absolute peanuts. In any case, that money went to the Premier League and not to the Football Association. If you want to go right back to the beginning, when I was asked to get involved in 1997—I think you will be rather amused at this—I asked for all the papers to be sent to my home and I then read through them before I did an analysis and, looking through the papers which I think you have before you now, I found a piece of paper on which I had written, "To date this is a total cock-up. Why don't we go to Manchester or Birmingham?" In fact, I personally favoured Manchester but, by that time, the die was cast and they decided to go to London and to go to Wembley and it had been decided to put £120 million up.

  15. Would you agree however that sport and football is a great deal more than just about private profits of individual football owners of clubs and so on including Wembley Stadium? It is a great deal more than that. It is about encouraging people to actually participate in sport, to take part in it, and to encourage youngsters and that therefore we need Wembley for that sort of thing, we need international football for that sort of thing. To say that Government should not be involved in that much wider policy issue of providing these facilities is nonsense.
  (Mr Bates) You say that but in fact successive governments have—this is bipartisan—failed to do it. The fact of the matter is that, for years, successive governments have encouraged the closure of schools and selling off of school playing fields.

  16. Not this Government.
  (Mr Bates) You have not done anything to reverse it. I read a number of headlines but I do not see any money. Perhaps now and again I see that they are putting another £750 million into this and £750 million into that but we do not actually see it. I know because I receive letters from people who do not even get a response to their applications. Running sport is not about grabbing the headlines in tomorrow's papers or making an appearance on TV, it is about getting your jacket off and bloody well working at it. Unfortunately, that is not being done.

  17. Would that £120 million from the Lottery have been much better spent going to the grass roots of the game to ensure that we have youngsters—?
  (Mr Bates) I am not here to defend Wembley. I inherited this situation when the Sports Council or whatever it was at the time decided that they wanted a national stadium. I personally advocated that we should take all our games around the country the way they do in Italy, but I was asked to get involved in building a national stadium from a decision that had already been made. I was asked to implement a policy that had been established, so I am the wrong person to be asked to defend it.

Mr Faber

  18. Mr Bates, there is still no agreement between Wembley and the FA regarding the repayment to Sport England of the £20 million that it has been agreed should be repaid. I would like to ask you about the meeting with the Secretary of State in December 1999 and the resulting correspondence that flowed from it. When the Secretary of State appeared before us three weeks ago, he was adamant that, when you met him, you did not discuss any relaxation of marketing rights for Wembley and, in particular, any relaxation of naming rights in and around the stadium. Is that a correct reflection of your meeting with him?
  (Mr Bates) No, it is not because, if you look at the correspondence, which you probably have before you, you will see that he personally mentions the relaxation of commercial restriction.

  19. Could you tell us a little more about what was agreed at that meeting.
  (Mr Bates) It is one of those peculiar things because I was asked to see the Secretary of State at short notice; he was going to Scotland and he very kindly took a later flight and the only time I could see him was at around 8.30/8.45 in the morning at his home. There were just the two of us; his private secretary arrived after half-an-hour—to be fair, I was about 15 minutes early—and we really had a dilemma to resolve which was not at the making of either of us, it was something that had been agreed between the FA and Number 10.

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