HC Deb 21 January 2002 vol 378 cc601-3
5. Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate)

If he will make a statement on Government support for athletics in the United Kingdom. [26168]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)

UK Athletics is working with Sport England, UK Sport and my Department to create a development plan for the sport, to ensure that resources are provided to get more people involved, to improve the identification and development of talented athletes and to provide better support for our top performers.

Mr. Blunt

What is the Minister's estimate of the forgone economic benefits of the cancelled bid for the 2005 athletics championships? What was the cost of the Sheffield diversion, which the International Amateur Athletics Federation regarded as laughable?

Mr. Caborn

If the hon. Member looks at the Carter report on Picketts Lock, and at the reports produced by the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, he will get a good estimate of the cost involved. If one takes into account the cost of the infrastructure and of the stadium, it was about £230 million. Even with that investment, we could not guarantee the type of Facilities that had been requested by the IAAF. It is unfortunate that the IAAF did not come and visit the Sheffield site which was offered instead. At the moment, UK Sport and Sport England are investing about £40 million there, as part of the English institute for sport, which will probably give athletics one of the best centres in Europe. Unfortunately, the IAAF turned down the proposal regarding the Sheffield site without even going to look at it.

Regarding the economic benefit, the answer is clear. We did not believe that a £250 million investment from the sports portfolio would have been right, and that is why we made our decision. This is all laid out in Patrick Carter's report.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West)

While acknowledging the importance of putting money into grass-roots athletics, does my right hon. Friend agree that it is important, in the long term, to think about having a venue in which to hold major international athletics events? Will he and the Secretary of State reconsider the option of having a multi-use stadium with retractable seating, along the lines of the Stade de France?

Mr. Caborn

So Far as the national stadium is concerned, my hon. Friend will know that the Football Association is dealing with that matter, and will be reporting back to the Government and Sport England. In terms of having another national stadium for athletics, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has asked for a performance and innovation unit report, which we believe will be started in the not-too-distant future, to look at the question of sports Facilities in the round. My hon. Friend knows that such projects are extremely expensive, and we ought to have all parties on board before we embark on any major venture, be it a national stadium, Picketts Lock, the Commonwealth games or anything else. That is the right way forward, and I hope that, when the PIU report comes out, it will be debated here and that we shall find a saner way of moving forward on these major investments.

Nick Harvey (North Devon)

When Picketts Lock was cancelled, the Secretary of State said that she would want the money not being spent on it to be diverted to grass-roots athletics. What help can be given to that vital body of volunteers who go to athletics matches around the country as marshals, stewards and judges, usually at their own expense, which runs to uniforms and even starting pistols? What influence can the Minister bring to bear on Sport England to divert some of that money to those vital volunteers?

Mr. Caborn

We are discussing the legacy for athletics with UK Athletics and the hon. Gentleman is right: we hope that that plan will ensure that there is investment at the grass roots. Only yesterday, I had discussions with officials at the north of England Amateur Athletic Association indoor athletics. They are excited about the extra investment in athletics and no doubt they will discuss with UK Athletics a proper investment package that will benefit the grass roots and the officials to whom the hon. Gentleman refers as well as the elite athletes. There is a buzz in British athletics, because this Government are prepared to invest in the whole structure.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley)

My right hon. Friend has referred to the new stadium at Manchester. Could there be a renegotiation so that it might be used for athletics?

Mr. Caborn

Unfortunately, that could not be, as the agreement is between Manchester City football club and Manchester city council. If we could turn the clock back a number of years, we would probably approach those matters differently. That applies to all parties because mistakes have been made across the board, which is why the performance and innovation unit study is important. If we are to bid confidently for major international events, we must ensure that all parties are signed up before going ahead.

Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)

Will Ministers make clear to the new members whom they approve for appointment to the Wembley National Stadium board Sport England's recommendation that the revised Wembley plans are for a stadium capable of hosting athletics? Does he agree with that advice? Given the revelation that unspent lottery funds still exceed £3.5 billion and in the light of what he has said this afternoon, can he assure all our leading athletes of the continued funding of the world-class performance programme?

Mr. Caborn

On the first point, we have no responsibility for the Wembley company. That is a matter for the Football Association, as has been made clear from the Dispatch Box on a number of occasions. We will not have blurring at the edges and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear in her statement that it is for the FA to decide who is put on the board. On the £3.4 billion of undistributed lottery funds, my right hon. Friend is meeting officials of all the major distributors and we intend to start bringing that down to a more manageable figure. Those moneys are held against commitments that have already been made. With the National Audit Office and the Treasury, we are trying to find a better solution and we hope that the money can be spent on the good causes, which is where it ought to be going.