Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)


25 OCTOBER 2007

  Q60  Chairman: Would you like to see it debated on the floor of the House?

  James Purnell: I should like to see it debated in the appropriate way.

  Q61  Alan Keen: Can you bring us up to date on what I thought was a peculiar aim? I understand millions of pounds are being put in for the Olympics by persuading athletes at a second level down from the very top to take up and train for events which are not normally played in this country. It seems to me a waste of money if we do that. If we do not do wrestling or tiddlywinks or whatever it might be, why waste the nation's money on trying to get athletes to compete in every event?

  James Purnell: Clearly it is a matter for UK Sport who are world leaders in terms of performance support. One of the goals in the Olympics is not just to train people for 2008 and 2012 but to have a legacy of a performance support system in this country which has been taken to a higher level. That is what UK Sport are trying to achieve. I actually think that in the UK there are many people who take up individual sports. In football, for example, there are lots of people who are taken on when quite young by football clubs, who do not then make the grade and who could easily make the grade in other sports. If people have a natural sporting ability, it is worth seeing whether there are other sports they can perform in. Anything which gets us medals in 2008 and 2012 is something we should all investigate.

  Q62  Alan Keen: You know my dedication to football.

  James Purnell: I do know that.

  Q63  Alan Keen: I understand in the Resource Accounts in the last fiscal year another £5.6 million has gone to Wembley Stadium. I am not against that, but why?

  James Purnell: It is not a new grant. It is money which was originally agreed for Wembley but because of the delays in the completion of that project the money was counted in the latest period rather than previously. There is no new money at all; it is exactly the same amount, the £20 million which was originally allocated.

  Q64  Alan Keen: I am still in correspondence with at least one person. I have been on this Committee for ten years now and quite a few people think that really the FA still owe £20 million back to Sport England, whoever it was who gave them money, on the grounds that athletics were to have been able to take place in Wembley Stadium and originally that was why the £20 million extra was given. I have to respond, even though I favour football over anything else, to the people who do argue that £20 million is still owed in the opposite direction.

  James Purnell: No one is going to say that the construction of Wembley was a perfect process but the original agreement was that DCMS would contribute that £20 million and it has just accrued in this year. There is nothing sinister about that.

  Q65  Alan Keen: Nothing appears to be written down anywhere so any answer you give can never be proved right or wrong.

  James Purnell: This ground has been gone over many, many times.

  Q66  Paul Farrelly: I declare my interest as the Secretary of the Rugby Union Group in Parliament. I want to return to what is euphemistically called the raid on the Lottery, the extra money that has been taken out of the Lottery. Sport England are clearly concerned about the effect on grassroots sport and I can see it in constituencies such as mine. When you take the list from the Amateur Swimming Association, for example, you can see the point at which big amounts of funding for new swimming pools have stopped because the Olympics have kicked in. My own borough has 100-year-old swimming baths which need replacing now; £5 million without Lottery support is a great deal of money for a district council to afford. The way it has been done will have an impact on things locally and may just continue to rankle in the run-up to the Olympics. I know the Government have gone some way in terms of addressing this and saying they hope value from some of the assets and the legacy may be given back in the future, but good causes, community sport, will suffer in the meantime. Is there not a better way to pull everyone together from around the country than extracting this money from the National Lottery?

  James Purnell: The only alternative is grant-in-aid funding, exchequer funding. The increase in the contribution from the exchequer was £5 billion, far, far outweighing the absolute amount and also the proportion coming from the Lottery. I think that was an appropriate way of doing that. If the money had all come out of grant-in-aid, then there would obviously have been less to go round in terms of spending review settlements. One of the things we have been able to do is to achieve a spending review settlement which will mean that the DCMS money overall will go up in line with inflation, thus allowing us to give above-inflation increases to museums, above-inflation increases to the arts. I hope what that can allow us to do is to get away from the idea that somehow there is opposition between sport and culture on this. I think that making the Cultural Olympiad a real success is one of the great opportunities of the Olympics. We will be in the world's shop window for the four years after Beijing and the spending review settlement gives us a good platform for doing that. When I talk to NDPBs they say the thing they absolutely focus on is that grant-in-aid funding.

  Q67  Paul Farrelly: I want briefly to look at a couple of other options. One of the new Parliamentary Private Secretaries to your Department, a former member of this Committee, a former England rugby international, Derek Wyatt, has long championed the Treasury giving up an extra slice of VAT on Lottery tickets to fund the Olympics rather than it being taken out of good causes. What do you think of that option?

  James Purnell: I think he is a fantastic MP and great representative for these arguments. I would say that any reduction in Treasury income would obviously mean less money available to be spent on other spending departments. What we have been able to achieve is a far better than expected spending review outcome and I hope that gives people the resources they need to continue to invest in the grassroots and also in excellence, whether in arts, heritage or indeed sport.

  Q68  Paul Farrelly: Are you continuing to make the argument that there might be different ways of doing this? Do you see it as a closed-door decision?

  James Purnell: I see it as a settled package and that is why we are bringing it to Parliament today.

  Q69  Paul Farrelly: We talked about the £5 billion which the Treasury has made over and above. A lot of that is not actually money which has been laid out. There is a huge amount of contingency; depending on the way you calculate it, it gets up to about 50%. People organising events round the world would have died for that amount of contingency. As we go along preparing for the Olympics, do you think it might be intelligent to review the appropriate level of contingency and were it, for example, found to be too high then revisit this issue and perhaps release some more money back to the Lottery good causes?

  James Purnell: I am very happy to have Jonathan answer that who is also Permanent Secretary for Tessa Jowell. Obviously that question falls predominantly within her area of responsibility and I note that you have her coming before your Committee at some point. Maybe Jonathan, as her Permanent Secretary, can take that question, but I do not want to start straying into Tessa's area.

  Mr Stephens: We think the contingency is a prudent allocation against the risks. On any major, huge construction project like this a number of risks can be anticipated and a number cannot. We think that is a prudent allocation against it. Obviously we will keep on reviewing it, our intent is not to draw down and use any more than is absolutely necessary and we have the arrangements from land sales after the Games to ensure that the Lottery can be paid back.

  Q70  Paul Farrelly: In this important area of detail I seem to have strayed into one of those grey areas of responsibility.

  James Purnell: There is nothing grey about it at all. The reason I am not answering the question is that it is not my responsibility.

  Q71  Paul Farrelly: The question is: would it not be an intelligent approach over time to keep reviewing the level of contingency and were it to be found perhaps to be over prudent then that might be, within that exchequer funding, a source of funds to be released back to good causes and the Lottery?

  Mr Stephens: We certainly will review it regularly. We will not release funds from the contingency unless it is justified by the risk that materialises. As we stand now, this is a prudent allocation because we are very clear that the public sector funding package totalling £9.3 billion is it and the final budget and not to be exceeded. Over time some of that contingency is being funded out of the Lottery. Clearly if that is not needed then we will return it to where it came from.

  Q72  Paul Farrelly: So we should not see it necessarily as being a closed door.

  Mr Stephens: No. Equally, we know that there are significant risks to be managed on a very large-scale project of this sort. This is a prudent way of managing them at this stage and we need to keep it under review, as you have suggested.

  Q73  Chairman: Are you able to tell us when the ODA is going to publish its budget?

  Mr Stephens: The ODA already has a budget for this year; it published its corporate plan earlier in the year. It will publish a budget for each year as it approaches the year.

  Q74  Chairman: Will they not publish a detailed current estimate of the cost of constructing the Olympic Park?

  Mr Stephens: We published a lifetime budget; Tessa Jowell published that in March. The next stage on that is a detailed allocation against the latest much more detailed plans and a detailed assessment and allocation of risk. That is still going on and will still need to be considered by the various funding parties. I am sure that once that is concluded there will be more detail which will be appropriately published, consistent of course with the commercial considerations of making sure the ODA is in a position to get the very best possible deal out of the contractors it is currently negotiating with.

  Q75  Chairman: Are you able to say how much of the contingency has so far been committed for specific expenditure?

  Mr Stephens: The funders have already approved commitment of £360 million; that is discussed in the recent NAO report which was published which looked at the budget set out in March. I should be clear that that is contingency that has been allocated but not yet drawn down. The funders will go on reviewing the allocation of contingency against risk as we go forward.

  Q76  Mr Evans: I am very keen on this idea of getting youngsters to do five hours of sport a week; it is something that is absolutely essential and necessary and sport has always been seen, by some schools at least, as being the one which could be squeezed, particularly within the curriculum. Is this £100 million you have announced additional funding and going to be year on year on year and protected? How is it being distributed?

  James Purnell: We are working up the delivery plans with the Youth Sports Trust and with local authorities, schools and Sport England and we shall come forward with proposals shortly.

  Q77  Mr Evans: My big fear is that if it is given to local authorities without it being ring fenced it is just going to be swallowed up in huge amounts.

  James Purnell: We are not planning to spend it through local authorities. The Youth Sports Trust are the lead delivery body on that. They work very closely with schools. They have funded, for example, sports co-ordinators. This extra money will fund an expansion of competition managers, which we hope will allow all schools to have competitive sport. The DCMS part of the money is very much focused at community sport and out-of-school sport. The five hours are in and out of school and that can fund a whole range of activities from coaching at the end of the day through to Friday evening and Saturday evening sports activities which can have both a sporting part but also a goal in terms of reducing anti-social behaviour. We are developing the delivery plans and will happily share them with the Committee.

  Q78  Mr Evans: The monitoring of this is absolutely essential as well and also the spreading of the money out to rural areas. I am President of Clitheroe Wolves which has 400-plus kids playing football every Saturday which is brilliant, also cricket organisations. I am sure we all have them in our constituencies which are strapped for cash or they are not supported in the way that we think they should be, particularly as getting fit and the obesity problem are now very high on the agenda. Getting that money right through is going to be important.

  James Purnell: I totally agree with that. In terms of the information we now have on participation both by young people and adults, we now have that on a local authority and maybe even a ward basis. You can monitor the changes from different years and also the differences between your local authority and other local authorities so you can benchmark them to see whether they are doing a sufficient job. We now have the evidence to be able to monitor that effectively. I also totally agree with what you are saying about the importance of clubs. We have to widen the participation base of the pyramid but we then need to have a successful club infrastructure to which people can then go to develop a lifetime sporting habit and to develop their talent. I am very much focused on that and on working for national governing bodies to achieve that.

  Q79  Mr Evans: That is good because clubs are fairly well self-selecting as far as the youngsters who go and join them are concerned. If we are looking at keeping another section of youngsters fit, then the school structure is perhaps important. I had a number of youngsters here this week from Ribblesdale School, a great school. I asked them how many hours of sport they did a week and the answer was two. How we get them from two to five is going to be important. I question whether £100 million, which works out at roughly £12 per pupil, is going to be sufficient within the school year to achieve that and also how it is going to be done imaginatively within the curriculum which is already hard pressed. In a number of rural areas you will find that schools tend to close earlier because of transport problems; the youngsters have to finish about quarter past or half past three and then they are away. May I ask that you liaise very closely with Alan Johnson and the Minister who is responsible for delivering this programme so that all these little areas can be ironed out properly and you actually hit the target most effectively by ensuring that the number of hours that youngsters are doing sport is increasing for all of them?

  James Purnell: We work very closely with Alan Johnson and the Department of Health on the participation goal and that is in a large part about getting people who are not active at all now to start to do walking, cycling, physical activity, which can then lead into sporting activity. We will also work very closely with Ed Balls at DCSF to deliver the five hours. The £100 million is the amount we were asked for and the people who are delivering it were clear that they thought they could deliver the five hours within that. We will monitor it and you will be able to hold us to account if it is not delivered.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2008
Prepared 6 February 2008