In its report on the stalled Wembley Stadium and Picketts Lock Athletics Stadium projects, the Culture, Media and Sport Committee took the near unprecedented step of stating : ‘The matter merits the attention of the C&AG and the chairman of the committee of public accounts.’
It called, in particular, for an investigation into the Wembley Stadium funding agreement under which the Football Association received Pounds 120 million from Sport England’s lottery funds to redevelop the old Wembley Stadium into a national football and athletics stadium.
The MPs want the probe to include the handshake deal between Sir Nigel Mobbs, chairman of the Wembley Taskforce, and FA Premier League chairman David Richards, and the subsequent deal between former CMS secretary Chris Smith and FA chairman Ken Bates at Smith’s own home, allowing the FA to repay just Pounds 20 million of the lottery money after dropping an undertaking to design the new Wembley Stadium to accommodate athletics.
The CMSC report said it was ‘quite deplorable that the FA has shown no intention of returning public money to which it has no right’.
They said the deal, in which Mobbs acted as an ‘honest broker’ on behalf of Smith, ‘represents a scandalously inept treatment of public money’.
It insisted the government had no right to re-write the original lottery funding agreement for the Pounds 120 million, to which it was not a party, and ‘equally Sport England had no business allowing this to happen and deserves censure for being so slack and negligent’.
The committee said Sport England had the power to foreclose and demand the repayment of the Pounds 120 million in full.
And they pointed out that ultimately the Accounting Officers of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and Sport England are responsible to Parliament through the PAC ‘for the responsible and lawful handling’ of public money.
The C&AG and PAC are under no formal obligation to accept the CMSC recommendation, but given the facts it would be astonishing if they turned the request down.
Smith sent the committee a letter insisting there is documentary evidence of the handshake deal, but his successor CMS Secretary Tessa Jowell has refused to release the minutes of his meeting with Bates.
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