Grassroots Football Funding: Wembley Stadium — [Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]

Mike Wood: rose—

 

Mims Davies Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I am happy to be interrupted by my hon. Friend if he has something equally as insightful to say, which I am sure he does.

 

Mike Wood: I thank the Minister for giving way. I would not claim to be particularly insightful, but I know how much Ministers enjoy being urged to enter into negotiations with Treasury colleagues. Will she urge them to look at the UK guarantee scheme and how it relates to educational facilities, and whether that could be used to provide financial guarantees for bodies wishing to invest in community sports facilities?

 

Mims Davies Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I thank my hon. Friend for that point. As we head towards the spending review, our Department is consistently urged to hold conversations with the Treasury.

The hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston raised issues relating to volunteers. I echo his love for the game. People in our communities give so much to the grassroots, and that should be encouraged because of what it gives to our children and to the game as a whole. My father-in-law did exactly that as a football ref in Wales for many years, and he also organised games for homeless youngsters. It is important that we recognise the volunteering that takes place up and down the country. It is absolutely vital. Football is not just a business; it has a responsibility to the grassroots, as we all do.

I absolutely hear the message regarding the safeguards for Wembley ticket pricing, future purchase and controls. I will come on to some of those issues further into my speech, but as we heard earlier Wembley is iconic in terms of what it means to football and to us as the public. It is important that we have a national stadium that is able to host the biggest sporting events; Wembley has delivered that over many years, and we want it to continue to do so. UEFA’s decision to hold seven matches, including the semi-finals and finals of next year’s European championship, is proof that Wembley remains a top-class venue, hosting some of the world’s biggest and most important sporting events. If we are to bid for any future major sporting tournaments—Members might know what I am alluding to—we will need to make sure that we have the right stadium for World cup finals, one that resonates with the rest of the world. That is essential.

Last year, when the FA said that it was considering selling Wembley Stadium as a means of generating extra funds to re-invest in the grassroots, the Government were, naturally and rightly, keen to listen. Nobody would argue that a sport with more than 2 million regular participants could fail to be further helped by the promise of such additional funding. However, at the same time, we recognised that Wembley has a special place in the heart of football fans. When listening to the proposal, the Government’s prime consideration as a public funder of the stadium was to protect the public interest, as is absolutely right. Going back to the hon. Gentleman’s point, custodianship of it would be absolutely important in any future new arrangement, no matter who owned Wembley stadium. The stadium should always be protected for future needs. The fact that the FA executive was considering the sale of its most prized asset raised more than a few eyebrows. In its response, the executive was clear in its view that the sale would free up funds to help provide greater financial support, which it felt was needed to help the sport from the bottom up