Hugh Robertson responds to a debate on Yorkshire and the Tour de France

Hugh Robertson responds to a back bench MP’s debate on the announcement that the grand départ of the Tour de France in 2014 will take place in Yorkshire.

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The Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Hugh Robertson): I start by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Julian Smith) on securing this debate and on the way that he and other hon. Members have conducted it. The debate has been quite a lot of fun, which is a very good start.

I also welcome the formation of the all-party group, which, particularly given how things have developed, will be incredibly important, as the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) said, in bringing together disparate groups in order to make the event the success that it undoubtedly should be.

I will go through the various contributions and try to answer the questions that have been raised, but I will start with a few general remarks. I genuinely say this, and I have no worries at all: I congratulate Yorkshire wholeheartedly on pulling off the bid. To me it does not matter whether people wish to engage with the Government and Government agencies when making bids; what matters is who wins at the end. I absolutely, 100% congratulate Yorkshire on a stunning triumph. I may not have helped Yorkshire very much—I think my sole contribution was nearly standing on a Yorkshire terrier on the Champs-Elysées in July—but it was clear then, and in the way the bid was conducted, that Yorkshire was on to something that others possibly had not picked up. I wholeheartedly congratulate Yorkshire on that achievement.

There are a number of good years for cycling in front of us, and I will come on to that, but 2014 is an important year for this country any way with the Commonwealth games coming to Glasgow a month or so after the Tour de France, which will fit into the calendar very well.

Given the comments on the Olympics, I ought to congratulate Yorkshire on its contribution to London 2012, not only, as a number of hon. Members said, with the huge numbers of people who turned out to watch the torch, but with the number of Yorkshire athletes who secured medals during the competition. At the end of the first week, the joke doing the rounds was that Australia was being beaten in the medal table by both Yorkshire and Millfield school. At that stage, looking at the birthplaces of the athletes, Yorkshire was about fifth or sixth in the medal table, so it made a considerable contribution to the sporting summer, as would be expected from a county with such sporting tradition.

The hon. Member for Eltham touched on this, but while we are on the subject it is worth paying tribute to the work of British Cycling. No other sport in this country combines excellence at the top end with participation. The medal tally from London 2012 is extraordinarily impressive, given the dual achievement of winning the Tour and delivering medals across Olympic and Paralympic sports. Sarah Storey is now the most decorated Paralympian in Britain’s history. Our cyclists are an extraordinary success story. If we look at what they achieved in the Olympics and the Tour, they were the predominant sport at the BBC awards on Sunday night: not only did Bradley Wiggins win, of course, but David Brailsford, the performance director, picked up the coach of the year award.

More than 2 million people cycle regularly. Dave Brailsford told me that he thinks more than 500,000 people have taken up the sport since our success in Beijing. As the hon. Member for Eltham correctly said, that has been recognised by Sport England, which has given a record award in the recent whole sport plans.

On major events, it is fantastic that the Tour is coming to Yorkshire in 2014, but Yorkshire has all sorts of opportunities to star next year as well. The rugby league world cup will be important to the county, and the Ashes are here as well. I am looking at my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams); I cannot remember whether Headingley stadium is still being redeveloped—

Nigel Adams indicated assent.

Hugh Robertson: It is, so it has not got one of the tests. Yorkshire athletes will be involved in the world rowing championships and the world triathlon series, which will be held here next year, and possibly even in the champions league final, which is due to be held at Wembley next year. There is a lot for Yorkshire to look forward to.

I will run through the points raised, dealing first with the general ones. Can I nail a point that is taking off about it being a Government decision to back the Scottish bid? It is not a Government decision to back any of the bids. It is rare to have two competing bids for a sports event from the same country. Normally, the country sorts things out itself and uses whatever bid is most likely to succeed.

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon on securing this debate. It is helpful to have the Minister confirm clearly that the Government did not back the Scottish bid, but if that was the case, will he now back the Yorkshire bid, and if so, how?

Hugh Robertson: I will come to that in a moment, but I want to ensure that people understand that the money that sits behind the backing of the bids is awarded by UK Sport, the lottery distributor on the Government’s behalf. As it is lottery money, it does not lie within the Government’s remit to allocate it directly. To do so would contravene the regulations in the National Lottery Act 2006. We can tell and have told UK Sport to increase the amount of money available—£27 million, financed by the changes to lottery shares introduced shortly after May 2010—but it does not lie in this or any other Government’s remit to then allocate that money to specific projects. To do so would break the additionality principle.

Greg Mulholland: I must bring the Minister’s attention to the worrying statement published yesterday by UK Sport that says, unless I have misunderstood it:

“UK Sport will consider providing Lottery funding towards the bidding costs”


“staging costs of strategically important major events with a clear and demonstrable financial need. Investment will only be considered prior to bids being submitted and investment is made at UK Sport’s discretion.”

That sounds as if UK Sport is saying, “Well, you’ve won it now; we’re not going to back it.” That cannot be right. It would be absurd.

Hugh Robertson: Let me explain it to the hon. Gentleman. It is not absurd. It is a different sort of event, because it is not run by the International Cycling Union, the governing body that regulates world cycling, but by a private company. That puts it on a slightly different footing. I will come in a minute to what we can do to help.

The reason why UK Sport does not allow a free-for-all is that if it did, people would just bid on their own and then turn around and ask Government to fund it. That policy has remained unchanged through successive Governments since the formation of the lottery, and there are good reasons for it. The major events panel at UK Sport is full of people who understand the issues, including David Collier, chief executive of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who knows his way around major sports, as the results this week show. The board considers events, prioritises them and then sees how much support it can give.

We just launched the gold event series, which contains all the rules. The rules are there for good reasons, and they have produced a record number of major events. For the year 2015 alone, apart from the rugby world cup, we have secured the world artistic gymnastics championships, the world canoeing championships, the European hockey championships, the European eventing championships, the world rowing championships and the International Paralympic Committee world swimming championships. It is a successful and well-tuned machine. Clearly, something did not go right this time around, but that does not mean that the whole system is broken.

Moving to what the Government can do, I will absolutely ensure that UK Sport engages proactively with the bid team. It would help if the all-party group and MPs here in the Chamber took that message back. There was some indication that for commercial reasons, the bid team did not want to open up its books and show people what it was doing. Now that the bid is won, it is time for everybody to come together and work to deliver a successful bid. For my part, as the Minister, I will ensure that UK Sport offers the necessary technical support to help the work and bring British Cycling on board. I am sure that there will be no problems worth noting with that. It also backed the other bid, but we will ensure that the British sporting landscape is lined up behind the Yorkshire bid, and we will consider what can be done further. It will not happen, though, unless the bid team is now prepared to share all its financial details and various undertakings with UK Sport.

Julian Smith: I welcome the Minister’s offer to engage with the Yorkshire team. Can a meeting take place with him, me and the Yorkshire team to ensure that we frame things correctly for the months ahead?

Hugh Robertson: I am happy to give that undertaking, subject—as Ministers always say—to sorting out the diary. The beginning of next year is a pretty busy time, and I would not want it to drift back into February or March due to the difficulties of finding a spot. It would be a great help if he and others played a part in bringing that together.

It is a fantastic triumph; the challenge is how to take it forward from here. One thing I have learned from the 2012 process is that the successful delivery of major events rests largely on the strength of the partnerships created.

John Healey: What the Minister is saying is encouraging. I say to him and to the hon. Member for Skipton and Ripon that he has indicated that the all-party nature of the issue is important. On the Labour side, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds East (Mr Mudie) and I are more than prepared to play a part in making the event a success in Yorkshire and for the country.

Hugh Robertson: I am grateful for that. We spent a lot of time during the autumn going around the world giving lectures on why London 2012 succeeded, and the first point in the lectures was the value of cross-party support. Amazingly, for a project so complex and difficult, it held from the period before the bid, in 2003-04, right through to 2012. As I often do, I pay enormous tribute to the work done by the right hon. Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Dame Tessa Jowell), who played a key part. Whatever may or may not have happened in the bid, it is important that we move forward as one from here.

To run through the various points raised by hon. Members, I hope that I have covered most of the points mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon. It is worth having a look at the publication called the “Gold Event Series”, which lays out clearly what UK Sport can and cannot do. It is a fantastic document. As I said, he should bear in mind that whatever may or may not have happened on this occasion, the team responsible for delivery in UK Sport has produced a list of events coming to this country the like of which we have never seen. It is a high-grade operation and has done well.

I pay tribute to the work done by the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) on the rugby league world cup, and I thank him for it. It will be a great success not only for the country but for Yorkshire. He spoke about the Leeds angle and made some points about London. Now that the bid is secured, this would be an extraordinarily good time to approach the Mayor’s office and his major events department to see precisely what financial muscle can be brought to bear.

My hunch is that the Yorkshire team must have presented a balanced budget for the whole event to secure it. In my experience, it is inconceivable that such events are ever awarded if there are holes in the budget. So the contribution from London, which must have been covered somehow in that bid, will be important. If there is not a London contribution thus far, I suggest that that ought to be investigated.

The hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty talked about UK Sport support. I hope that I have covered that.

The evaluation of this sort of thing is done independently, because lottery money is involved, through an organisation called the major events panel, on which people such as David Collier sit. That panel generally makes good decisions. It was frustrated that it was not given enough access early on to make a balanced decision. I suspect that there is little point raking this matter over now. Congratulations to Yorkshire for winning. The real issue is how we move forward together from here.

Julian Smith: I agree that we should move forward now. Will the Minister ask officials to clarify how many people on that board, making decisions for the big event, come from the north, so that for the future we are getting a broad representation of our whole country?

Hugh Robertson: I could do that. Certainly, as with all UK Sport decisions, the home nations are represented because it is a UK body. Under the terms in which it was set up, there will necessarily be representation from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and there will be a group of members, some of whom will be independent and others who will not be, from this part of the world. I am not sure that there is a lot to be gained by raking over the coals in respect of where this went wrong, given the special nature of this bid involving a private organisation, and so on. British Cycling, which is not renowned for making mistakes, appears to have backed another bid because, as it told me, it could not get sight of the Yorkshire proposals early enough to make a decision.

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) talked about transport planning, which is a fascinating issue. I suspect that, looking forward a couple of years from now at the extraordinary success of cycling and at the regrettably large number of people still being killed in collisions, we are getting close to a crossover point where there is such demand for cycling, in terms of closing roads and running amateur races at the weekend, that something pretty dramatic will have to happen. We will have to have a fairly major change of policy. If events such as this help to bring that about, that can only be a good thing.

My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy)spoke up for his constituency, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Jason McCartney). I think that the hon. Member for Eltham spoke for all hon. Members in his remarks about cycling.

Just to wrap it up, unless hon. Members want me to say anything in particular, I should like genuinely to congratulate Yorkshire. I am delighted, as UK Sports Minister, that we have secured another important, worthwhile major event. The team that pulled this off deserve all our congratulations. That said—I have learned this through London 2012—the successful delivery of a sports event of any size depends on the strength of the relationships and partnerships that are created. That is difficult. There were times in the run-up to 2012 when we had to bite our lips and wanted to lash out at somebody who was being frustrating, or we were getting a bit fed up with the bureaucracy or the time it took to do something. I am afraid that that is in the DNA of successful delivery of such events. It is important that the all-party group in particular advocates for the strength of the relationships and partnerships that will be needed to deliver this.

The key thing is that everybody, from this point forward, does everything possible. I assure all hon. Members in this Chamber that Government, UK Sport and British Cycling will do everything possible to ensure that this is a great success for Yorkshire and, I hope, one of the great grand départs of the Tour de France.

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