Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440 - 444)



  440. The problem with that answer is how does the 120 million get paid back because they said to us they would need the FA events at Wembley in order to be able to pay it back. That was the only way they would be able to pay it back, they put to us.
  (Tessa Jowell) There would be a lot of negotiation between Sport England and the FA in order to secure the £120 million but I have made clear to your Committee before—I think Sport England have also made clear—that, were Wembley to fail, we would expect return of the Lottery grant.

Rosemary McKenna

  441. I rather suspect that the decision to build an athletic stadium at Picketts Lock had quite a bearing on WNSL's attitude to Lottery funding. However, that is all in the past and most of what we have been talking about today is historical. I am glad to hear you say that lessons have been learned on how we deal with Lottery funding in the future. Do you believe that we should never in future consider building a single purpose stadium anywhere in Britain? I believe that that is not the way forward. Are you confident that the Wembley proposal, state of the art, multipurpose stadium, can go ahead now and be achieved?
  (Tessa Jowell) No. It is not a done deal. It is not yet certain, but this project has made more progress in the last six months as a result of the work that the FA have done with Patrick Carter and other stakeholders than probably in the last five years. I believe that the project should be allowed to run to its conclusion. The key issue is the deal with the lead bank where the FA published their expectations of the timescale, as you know, yesterday. We have to look forward and this is a project that needs positive support generally and practical support particularly. I think that support should be forthcoming until it is absolutely clear that it cannot succeed. It is in better shape to succeed now than it has ever been in the past.
  (Mr Caborn) The four conditions that the Secretary of State laid down have been very important in concentrating the mind on the division of responsibility to the FA, Sport England and ourselves and the WNSL in making sure this project can go ahead. The Secretary of State has made more progress in the last six months than in the last five years and, to a large extent, it is bringing some business management expertise to that.

Mr Bryant

  442. Much as I am, as a Welsh MP, quite happy to see everybody coming to Cardiff on a regular basis, I am pretty confident from what we have heard in the last few days that Wembley will now come to pass. The question probably that most Lottery players and most football fans in England are still asking is: has WNSL behaved dodgily? Has Sport England been cavalier? Is Wembley, in the end, a house built on sand? What answer would you give to them, Secretary of State?
  (Tessa Jowell) Whatever the weaknesses of this project in the past, I believe that the degree of scrutiny to which this project has been subjected, particularly over the past six months, by the Office of Government Commerce, by my department, by this select committee, by the National Audit Office, by Patrick Carter, by the banks in the course of their due diligence and by Cyril Sweett as the independent adviser on value for money, means that this can be judged to be a robust project. There are some details to be finalised in relation to corporate governance but to repeat what I said I think this project is now in better shape than it has ever been before.

  443. I am sure that is good news and I agree with Rosemary McKenna that it is good to hear the lessons have been learned. I noted earlier that you referred to the issue of risk in the giving of Sport England grants. This is something I would like to see us pursue in the future because it seems intrinsically risky to give £120 million to buy a piece of land when you know that that piece of land, once you have pulled the building down, is not going to be worth that amount and that the organisation has not got a sufficient guarantee. Is that the kind of issue that the department will be looking at in the future?
  (Tessa Jowell) That is exactly the kind of process that would be subject to rigorous scrutiny by the Office of Government Commerce mechanism which I have said to you this morning we intend to put in place for Lottery projects which are deemed to be high risk, as part of our responsibility for protecting the public interest.

Michael Fabricant

  444. On the question of responsibility, in answer to Debra Shipley, you said you would accept the £120 million to be repaid, although you were not clear—and I understand why not—about how it would be repaid in the worst case scenario, which we hope will not happen. Would you, as Secretary of State, accept responsibility if that money were not repaid?
  (Tessa Jowell) Not constitutionally but in the public mind if the money were not repaid I would not expect to escape criticism, but that tends to go with the job.

  Chairman: With that acceptance of an exploding parcel, we will all adjourn to the floor of the House.

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Prepared 10 July 2002