Examination of Witnesses (Questions 440
THURSDAY 23 MAY 2002
JOWELL, MP, THE
MP, MS SUE
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 beforeI
think Sport England have also made clearthat, were Wembley
to fail, we would expect return of the Lottery grant.
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.
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
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 clearand I understand
why notabout 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.