Stoke-on-Trent: Video Games Enterprise Zone

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Wednesday 25th May 2022

(2 years ago)

Westminster Hall
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Angela Eagle Portrait Dame Angela Eagle (in the Chair)
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I will call Jonathan Gullis to move the motion, and I will then call the Minister to respond. As is the convention for 30-minute debates, there will not be an opportunity for the Member in charge to wind up.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the potential merits of a video games enterprise zone in Stoke-on-Trent.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Dame Angela. I am delighted to be joined by my fellow Stoke-on-Trent Members of Parliament for the debate, as well as by the Minister—although she may feel that she has drawn the short straw in dealing with the combined might of the Stoke mafia.

In 2019, during the historic general election campaign, I first raised the idea of Silicon Stoke—a bright new future for our great city, which was once the heart of this country’s industrial revolution. I believe we have a huge opportunity in Stoke-on-Trent to be at the forefront of the new revolution, which will be digital. Having set out a vision for what Silicon Stoke could mean for the Potteries, I am incredibly grateful to Councillor Abi Brown and her city director, John Rouse, for buying into the idea. Since then, we have been united in promoting our vision for a Silicon Stoke, and we have taken it forward by setting up the Silicon Stoke board to create and drive progress. We have published our Silicon Stoke prospectus, setting out how Silicon Stoke could transform our city and local economy. Our prospectus sets out a vision in which Stoke-on-Trent can stand alongside the most hi-tech smart cities of the world.

In the same vein as Leamington Spa, which has its Silicon Spa down the road, we believe that Stoke-on-Trent has a massive opportunity to become a hub for the UK video games industry, as well as for digital and creative jobs more broadly. There is a huge prize waiting for us if we can make this a reality.

Jack Brereton Portrait Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) (Con)
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I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this excellent debate. We in Stoke-on-Trent know that we are the best connected for gigabit fibre broadband in the whole UK. We now have absolutely fantastic connectivity—better than any city in the country—and are putting massive investment into skills, including gaming skills. We also have much cheaper office space than almost any other city in the country. Does my hon. Friend agree that our city is the perfect location for these industries to move to and create the jobs we need to level up places such as Stoke-on-Trent?

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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I could not agree more with my hon. Friend, who is Stoke-on-Trent-born and bred. He is doing his city proud in representing it. There are so many fantastic reasons why Stoke-on-Trent is the right location for these industries, and I will discuss the gigabit installation that was provided by VX Fiber and Stoke-on-Trent City Council, with funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that came under budget. We sent £600,000 back to DCMS because we are that efficient in Stoke-on-Trent—I look forward to boasting about that later.

The gaming industry is one of the most exciting sectors of the worldwide economy and it is growing year on year. It is far from the niche hobby that it used to be, and it now dwarfs the value of other entertainment media. The global market for video games is huge: approximately 3 billion people play games, and the market is worth around $180 billion. In the UK alone, there are more than 32 million players, and the domestic market for video games reached a record £7 billion in 2020.

Unlike other sectors, video games have been pandemic-proof. Last year, UK games revenue was up by 32% compared with 2019. Research by the international game developers’ association, TIGA, shows that between April 2020 and December 2021, the game development sector’s annual contribution to UK gross domestic product increased from £2.2 billion to £2.9 billion.

We should be proud that the UK is already a world leader in this area, with well-known developers such as Rockstar North in Scotland and Codemasters in Leamington Spa putting out some of the best known games, such as the Grand Theft Auto series. The industry is immensely valuable, and offers fantastic opportunities that are well paid, satisfying and future-proofed. About 80% of the games development workforce is qualified to degree level or above, and Rockstar alone has more than 650 staff in its headquarters in Barclay House in Edinburgh. TIGA has revealed that between April 2020 and December 2021, the number of creative staff in studios surged by almost 25%, and by an annualised rate of 14.7%, from 16,836 to 20,975 full-time and full-time equivalent staff. Additionally, the number of jobs indirectly supported by studios rose from 30,781 to 38,348.

The video games industry is also very much in line with the levelling-up agenda. The industry supports economic growth in clusters throughout the UK, with approximately 80% of the workforce based outside London. The UK has the largest games development workforce in Europe. In the era of global Britain, games development also offers us a fantastic chance to showcase the UK to the world. Games development is hugely export focused. with around 95% of games studios exporting at least some of their content.

Not only is the market for video games huge and ever growing, but there is a raft of media produced using the same techniques and technology. For example, Disney’s recent smash hit series, “The Mandalorian”, was produced using Epic’s Unreal Engine, which is one of the platforms that developers use to make games. Silicon Stoke is not just about games development; we very much hope it will propel Stoke-on-Trent to the forefront of other digital and creative sectors as well.

Jo Gideon Portrait Jo Gideon (Stoke-on-Trent Central) (Con)
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My hon. Friend makes a strong case for the video games enterprise zone. Our city is looking to attract the best creative businesses as part of Silicon Stoke. Already the pathways for future employment have been created through the work of the university, and the new digital and creative hub at Stoke-on-Trent College, with courses in virtual reality, 3D printing and drone technology. Creative company Carse & Waterman, which specialises in animated content using green screen and computer-generated imagery, reaches out to schools in our city to enthuse the next generation. Does my hon. Friend agree that we now need to incentivise more employers to develop our Silicon Stoke ambitions?

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for the people and businesses of Stoke-on-Trent Central. I have had the pleasure of meeting the award-winning animators of Carse & Waterman, who have even worked on “Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway.”

I know that my hon. Friend took the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to see the new technological hub at the Cauldon campus of Stoke-on-Trent College in her constituency. She is absolutely right that it is about incentivisation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) said, we have the office space, the digital fibre connectivity, and the college and university-level education. All the infrastructure is there. What we need is for the Government to send a big message to the sector that Stoke-on-Trent should be its home, because there is no reason why it should not. With the exciting e-sports potential of the indoor arena—the only one that would be in existence outside London—I cannot think of a more exciting place than Stoke for the games industry to thrive.

The plan is for Stoke-on-Trent, which fired the flames of the industrial revolution and is famed for its coalmining and ceramics heritage, to be at the heart of the new digital revolution. What does Silicon Stoke mean in reality? As we set out in our Silicon Stoke prospectus, it means making Stoke-on-Trent the most digitally advanced city in the UK, achieving once again the renown it already enjoys for ceramics—a small but mighty city, punching way above its weight in the national economy. That will be achieved through a mixture of digital infrastructure, skills and securing opportunities for our home-grown talent to stay in Stoke-on-Trent and establish the Potteries as the best place in the UK to work in video games.

Harnessing the power of our city-wide full-fibre network and 5G data, we will: expand the provision of digital skills with the establishment of a full-fibre academy and by ensuring that every school is connected to the full-fibre network; grow the small and medium-sized enterprises digital sector, with support from Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the UK’s leading video games university, Staffordshire University; maximise the opportunity to deploy internet of things technology in our existing manufacturing sector; transform health and social care through improved digital connectivity; integrate smart technology into our city’s energy and transport infrastructure; and expand our reach as a leading hub of video games development and digital production, cementing our status as a leader in the sector with the construction of a specialist e-sports arena in our city centre.

Let me set out just one example of how we are going to realise this ambition and make Stoke-on-Trent the main character in the UK’s digital story. Since December 2021, the Potteries Educational Trust has been running a digital schoolhouse across the city. UK Interactive Entertainment’s digital schoolhouse is a national not-for-profit programme that provides primary schools with an opportunity to experience free creative computing workshops. The programme is supported by large gaming companies such as Nintendo, PlayStation and Sega. The trust has been offering primary schools across the city a free day of programming workshops: 17 primary schools have taken up the offer, with 1,694 pupils benefitting from 16,311 hours of digital enrichment. Staff are also benefiting, with 93 hours of staff continuing professional development delivered.

To further our ambition to establish a new digital cluster, Stoke-on-Trent City Council has commissioned a gaming report from TIGA—the network for games developers and digital publishers, and the trade association representing the video games industry—with Staffordshire University. Overseen by Dr Richard Wilson, who was kind enough to share his thoughts on Silicon Stoke in advance of today’s debate, the report will set out how we can grow the video games industry in Stoke-on-Trent. I look forward to presenting the report, with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South, to the Minister in the near future.

Having spoken to Dr Wilson, I suggest that we can grow a video games cluster in Stoke-in-Trent in the following ways. The Minister might want to take notes, because this is where our asks come in. First, building on the success of the video games tax relief, which was first introduced in 2014 and has led to average growth in industry headcount of almost 10% a year, the Government should raise the rate of that relief to match Ireland’s planned 32% rate. TIGA research shows that increasing the rate of video games tax relief from 25% to 32% would yield nearly 1,500 additional skilled development jobs, more than 2,700 indirect jobs and almost £200 million in additional GDP contribution per annum by 2025. Increasing the rate of video games tax relief would enhance the environment for making games in the UK and therefore indirectly support a games cluster in Stoke-on-Trent.

Secondly, the Government should introduce a video games investment fund. Difficulty accessing capital has consistently been one of the top factors holding back many games developers in the UK. The UK Government should introduce a video games investment fund to provide pound-for-pound match funding, up to a maximum of £500,000, for original intellectual property game projects. A video games investment fund would be able to support start-up studios and small studios, including in Stoke-on-Trent. Currently, no dedicated seed funding schemes are available to support start-ups in the games industry in the area, although the UK games fund, based in Dundee, does provide prototype funding of £25,000 for small studios. Research from TIGA and Games Investor Consulting has estimated that introducing a video games investment fund would, between 2021 and 2025, add £72 million in additional tax receipts for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, while costing £26.5 million. In terms of yield, that is a 170% return on investment.

Lastly, we must enable Staffordshire University to support start-up studios. Other successful games clusters have that link already. For example, Abertay University in Dundee has a strong connection with local industry and operates the InGAME programme, which provides research and development funding to games businesses. In a similar manner, we must enhance the links between industry, higher education and local government locally in the Potteries. One way to do that would be through a new video games enterprise zone for Stoke-on-Trent. Since their introduction in 2012, enterprise zones have been a major success across the country, and there are now 48 nationwide. In 2015 the Government reported that the enterprise zones had created 19,000 new jobs and attracted £2.2 billion of private investment and more than 500 new businesses.

Locally, we have our own hugely successful enterprise zone: the Ceramic Valley enterprise zone. Located along the strategic A500 corridor and launched in 2016, Ceramic Valley has attracted thousands of new jobs, from JCB, Jaguar Land Rover and Amazon, all creating jobs locally. Backed by £3.4 million of investment by Stoke-on-Trent City Council and the benefits that come with enterprise zone status—including a business rates discount worth up to £275,000 over five years for businesses that move to one—Ceramic Valley has been a huge success for our city.

By setting up a new enterprise zone focused on games and interactive content, we could create a unique opportunity to put Silicon Stoke at the heart of the UK’s digital economy. The success of that kind of policy at national level is clear in the massive boom in the UK video games industry since 2014, when the video games tax relief was brought in. Having a similar tax break for local companies via a new enterprise zone would have a similar effect, turbocharging our local games industry. That enterprise zone could take the form of a more formal partnership with Staffordshire University. For example, there are already a number of university enterprise zones across the country.

Originally, four pilots were backed by £15 million of funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, with the universities required to match-raise £2 of match funding for every £1 of Government investment. The pilot schemes will be fully evaluated at the end of the scheme in 2023, but an interim report from 2018 found that the university enterprise zones had been successful in attracting new businesses on to sites at the universities, with tenants confirming that the university enterprise zone had led to a positive impact on their business activities. The four pilot university enterprise zones were set up specifically to attract high-tech firms to locate near universities.

We should adopt a similar model, but instead of focusing on high-tech firms it should focus on complementing what is already going on in Silicon Stoke. Potentially linked in with the existing centre of excellence that is Staffordshire University, which has a strong relationship with Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite, that initiative could rocket-jump Stoke-on-Trent’s ever growing digital offer. Staffordshire University has been exploring how to support video games businesses to set up locally, and a new video games enterprise zone could be the final piece in that jigsaw.

To some, Stoke-on-Trent may not seem like the natural choice for a burgeoning video games and digital cluster. However, as was written in The Guardian only recently, “something is stirring” in the shadows of our industrial heritage, and the scene is already set for us to become the heart of the UK’s video games sector.

Stoke-on-Trent is one of the new Zoom towns or cities where remote and flexible working is king. According to the recruit company Indeed, we are the third biggest growth area of that kind of work. We have an incredibly strong base to build on. We were one of the first cities in the UK to benefit from VX Fiber’s fibre-to-the-premises open access model, which brought gigabit-capable internet to the doorstep of homes across our great city. VX Fiber has hooked up just over 50% of homes across the city, and aims to have 150,000 serviced by the end of 2023. That £50 million network, in which the Government invested £9.2 million, will unleash a staggering £625 million into our local economy and form the bedrock of our digital -revolution.

Thanks to our successful levelling-up funding bid—again, done with my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Stoke-on-Trent South—Stoke will become the first city in the UK to have a stadium that specialises in e-sports. We will be able to make the most of the ever-growing e-sports market, which has a global audience of 500 million people.

Based in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central, the City of Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College was one of the first 44 trailblazer colleges that started teaching the new digital production, design and development T-level. It is one of the Government’s computing hubs, driving forward the teaching of computing in schools and colleges across the country.

Stoke-on-Trent College has formed a partnership with VX Fiber to open a full-fibre academy, which will offer courses on a huge range of digital skills, from motion capture, software engineering and drone mapping to underground radar surveying and electrical equipment maintenance and testing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent Central pointed out, the college has also recently opened its new digital and creative hub at its Cauldon campus, part-funded by the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP with £250,000 to create sector-leading digital and creative learning facilities.

Staffordshire University, on our doorstep, is the leading university for video games in the country. The university set up its first video games course in 2004, with 55 students enrolled; it now offers roughly 20 different courses in this sector, with more than 2,000 students enrolled. The university is internationally recognised and ranks as the 13th best institution in the world for games design and development. Talent trained in Stoke-on-Trent has gone on to play a big role in the UK’s leading games studios. Some 31% of Codemasters’s staff come from Staffordshire University, while 20% of Rare’s staff are Staffordshire alumni and 13% of the staff at powerhouse studio Rockstar Games were trained in Staffordshire.

We now need to keep that talent in Stoke-on-Trent and avoid the brain drain. It is great that the games industry in the west midlands has already seen the biggest growth in the UK of 132% between 2017 and 2019, much of which is based in Birmingham and Leamington Spa. The next step is to get the games industry to take off in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire. With our almost unrivalled digital infrastructure and local skills base, we make the perfect location for the UK’s next video games cluster.

I am pleased to say that, on the back of this strong foundation, businesses are taking note. With the size of our local talent pool and the shortage of talent elsewhere in the country, we are already starting to see companies set up in Stoke-on-Trent. Last year, the leading advertising agency VCCP opened a new office, in partnership with one of our leading digital businesses, Carse & Waterman, and staff from VCCP London have been working locally to raise awareness and provide training, work experience, mentoring and paid internships.

In conclusion, we have the perfect building blocks to make Silicon Stoke a reality. We have the top-notch infrastructure needed to capitalise on the innumerable opportunities the new digital revolution will bring. We have a long conveyor belt of locally trained talent, which starts in our primary schools—thanks to the Digital Schoolhouse—and continues all the way to Staffordshire University. We have a clear vision of how to seize this opportunity and the backing of the fantastic leadership team on Stoke-on-Trent City Council for our vision of Silicon Stoke. Levelling up is key to most video games, and with the extra boost a video games enterprise zone can provide, video games will be key to levelling up Stoke-on-Trent.

--- Later in debate ---
Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I agree. With great digital connectivity and the partnership working between central and local government, there is a great story to tell about Stoke. It is certainly something that I will take back to my Department after the debate, as we look at the initiatives we are focusing on in the creative industries.

The video games sector, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North rightly pointed out, is flourishing. It contributed about £2.8 billion to the UK economy in 2019, and that is reflected in the number of people employed in the sector, which has grown from 13,000 in 2011 to 27,000 in 2019.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is incredibly proud to support the growth of our creative businesses, and we are doing a lot of work to ensure that the games sector, in particular, can thrive. We are putting together a £50 million creative industries programme—a sector vision—as part of our spending review settlement, and I will take away some of the really exciting ideas that have been put forward. That includes up to £18 million invested in the Create Growth programme, which will help high-growth, creative businesses access finance across six regions in England outside London so that they can reach their growth potential. We will be announcing the regions for the Create Growth programme this summer. That builds on the success of our £400 million Creative Scale Up pilot programme, which to date has supported more than 200 businesses across three regions, increasing a total aggregate turnover of £13.5 million.

We have also announced specific support for the video games sector through a £800 million expansion of the UK Games Fund, which will accelerate the growth of the UK games industry. Since 2015, the fund has supported more than 190 early-stage video game development projects, and supported businesses that have the potential to grow and flourish. That builds a strong vibrant SME developer community. I am interested to hear some of the ideas that have been put forward, and I very much encourage small businesses in Stoke to apply for that programme.

My hon. Friend asked what more we can do to support local businesses through tax incentives. Obviously, a lot of this is outside my remit, but we recognise that the future growth of the games sector requires us to maintain our competitive edge in tax reliefs. We must ensure we that continue to be an attractive place to do business, given the global competition. Our games tax relief has strengthened the UK’s reputation as one of the leading destinations across the world to make video games, and it has really worked. Since it was introduced in 2014, it has supported 1,640 games, with UK expenditure of £4.4 billion. In 2020-21, the relief supported the development of 640 games. We have to ensure that we continue to be internationally competitive. We keep all these tax incentives under close review, and I will continue those discussions with the Treasury in advance of any economic statement.

In the 1970s, “Dungeons & Dragons” coined the term “levelling up” for when the player reached certain milestones. Since then, the notion has become a central feature of many popular video games. We take that forward as a mission in our levelling-up agenda. We think the creative industries play a critical role in supporting regions across the UK, and game development has been key, from Sheffield to Leamington Spa, from Newcastle to Bristol, and from Knutsford to Dundee. Some 55% of game development roles are outside London and the south-east, so it truly is a UK-wide industry. Video game clusters are engines for local economic growth and jobs throughout the country. The £39 million Creative Industries Clusters programme, run by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, has supported Dundee’s video games cluster through InGAME. I am keen to look at the lessons we can learn from that to see whether any of them can be applied to Stoke. The funding has created 337 new companies since 2020, and created or safeguarded 477 jobs.

We are committed to continuing that kind of cluster work and I want to see that success replicated in Stoke. It is great to see the investment in the Ceramic Valley enterprise zone and the announcement last week about the £56 million levelling-up funding that will be going to development opportunities in Etruscan Square and the transformation of Stoke’s Spode site.

We are also working extremely hard on digital connectivity. We invested more than £8.5 million through the local full-fibre network project, which has helped to incentivise commercial investment in the region, including the VX Fiber plan, which will be targeting more than 30,000 properties for a gigabit-capable connection. For those not in line for the commercially or publicly funded roll-out, we will be investing more in Project Gigabit. The procurement for Staffordshire, which includes Stoke, is anticipated to cover another 70,800 premises and will be taking place later this year.

Alongside robust growth and relentless innovation, we need to make sure that the skills are in place to help the video games industry reach its full potential. That is why we are working very closely with some of the bodies that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North mentioned. Our creative careers programme has given 27,000 young people hands-on experience with industry, through immersive events and work experience opportunities. The next phase of that programme, with a three-year grant competition launched this month, will launch fully later this year and do even more to support people, particularly those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

Specialist skills are needed to support video games, from development and production to art and sound design. In Stoke, there are a range of further and higher education study opportunities in place for routes into the video games industry, from diplomas in games design and programming at Stoke-on-Trent College, to games courses at Staffordshire University and Keele University. I know that Staffordshire University, in particular, provides an excellent pathway to a career in gaming. The university won the 2021 excellence in university and industry collaboration award from the UK video games industry trade association, TIGA—you say tigger, I say tiger; I am not entirely sure which one is correct, but we should probably call the whole thing off. The award is supported by a partnership with UK Games Fund’s Tranzfuser programme, which supports graduates to take an idea for a game to a playable reality.

Staffordshire University was the first university in the UK to offer a degree in e-sports in 2018, and now offers postgraduate courses too. That shows that Stoke-on-Trent remains committed to becoming a hub for gaming. I am really interested to hear more about the e-gaming stadium and hope to learn more as the proposal is developed.

I am pleased to see that funding from the Build Back Better scheme has been secured to create a virtual reality hub for Stoke-on-Trent College. We continue to invest in important opportunities for young people across the United Kingdom to get the resources and knowledge they need to progress exciting careers in the creative industries. I look forward to working with my hon. Friends to support regional hubs, not only to keep local talent, but to attract new talent from across the country.

As we have already said this morning, Stoke is a great place to do business, with low office rents, great digital connectivity and inspired leadership. With a vision like Silicon Stoke, there is a really exciting future that we can build here. I will take away some of the comments on tax reliefs. We will continue to work in partnership with local colleges and I want to look at the potential for a creative cluster. With the levelling-up funding in place as well, all kinds of things are going on here. I say to businesses across the UK, “Go to Stoke; it has got inspired parliamentarians who are working very closely with us in Government and with a diligent and energetic local leadership.”

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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We would love to welcome the Minister to meet the Silicon Stoke board members, and to have a joint MPs’ roundtable with leading actors in the sector—some are in Stoke and some are not—so we can help get the message out about why Stoke is a great place to be.

Julia Lopez Portrait Julia Lopez
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I thank my hon. Friend for his generous invitation, which I am sure I will be able to take up shortly. I commend him and my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent South and for Stoke-on-Trent Central for their passionate vision for the great city that they represent. I thank them for the debate today.

Question put and agreed to.

Football Governance

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Monday 25th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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The hon. Lady will be aware that I fought Luton South in the 2010 election, and Luton South fought back, as they say. I still have a great passion for Luton, which has gone up and down the leagues over many years. She is making an important point that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) highlighted in her report and that I referenced in my statement. This is one of the areas that is primarily the responsibility of football to sort out, but we are keeping a very close eye on it. The welfare of players is paramount, and we have seen too many failures in the past.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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In the heart of the mother town sits Port Vale FC, which is situated within Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. This review is so important, because we had a former owner, Norman Smurthwaite, who was a complete disaster and almost brought down this fantastic asset. It is thanks to Kevin and Carol Shanahan, who came in and bought the club, that we are now sitting in fourth place, one point off the automatic promotion spots in league two. As Carol says, we are simply a championship club that happens to be in league two at this moment. What is important, and what Carol wanted me to reiterate, is that we surely should be looking at the TV rights. Rather than having the EFL and the Premier League competing against each other, we should get them to join up and have a 70:30 split.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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It was a pleasure to visit my hon. Friend’s constituency and the club. He is making an important point, and as I have said repeatedly, financial distribution is something we are looking at. We want and require the Premier League to work with others on this, and if it does not act, we will look at alternative measures.

Online Safety Bill

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
2nd reading
Tuesday 19th April 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
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I will take one more intervention.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, and I thank her for her written communications regarding Angela Stevens, the mother of Brett, who tragically took his own life having been coerced by some of these vile online sites. The Law Commission considered harmful online communications as part of the Bill’s preparation, and one of its recommendations is to introduce a new offence of encouraging or assisting self-harm. I strongly urge my right hon. Friend to adopt that recommendation. Can she say more on that?

Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
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Yes. Exactly those issues will be listed in secondary legislation, under “legal but harmful”. I will talk about that further in my speech, but “legal but harmful” focuses on some of the worst harmful behaviours. We are talking not about an arbitrary list, but about incitement to encourage people to take their own life and encouraging people into suicide chatrooms—behaviour that is not illegal but which is indeed harmful.

Gambling-related Harm

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Tuesday 29th March 2022

(2 years, 1 month ago)

Westminster Hall
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Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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Doing nothing is certainly not the answer. I know little about the Norway study, but just because Norway has not been successful, it does not mean to say that the UK Government would not be successful. We cannot afford to have any more of the issues that we have encountered for the last 17 years. Enough life has been lost, and doing nothing is not an answer.

I would like to pay tribute to Annie Ashton, who bravely started an e-petition when her husband Luke sadly took his own life after being lured back into gambling by relentless operators. I strongly back her calls to end the poisonous inducements that the industry uses to hook people on its addictive products. There is no such thing as a free bet.

It is not just inducements that are a massive problem. Gambling advertising has proliferated in recent years. We are now bombarded with gambling adverts on TV, online, at football matches and on billboards. I know that colleagues are particularly concerned about the impact that that has on children. If we look at recent published data, we can see the scale of the problem: 96% of people aged 11 to 24 have seen gambling marketing messages in the last month and are more likely to bet as a result; 45% of 11 to 17-year-olds and 72% of 18 to 24-year-olds see gambling advertising at least once a week on their social media, with one-third of young people reporting seeing it daily; 41,000 under 16-year-olds—children—are estimated to be followers of gambling-related accounts on social media; and 1,200 hours of gambling ads have been played on the radio during the school run hours over the last year.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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Does the hon. Lady welcome the whistle-to-whistle ban on advertisements for gambling, which has seen a 97% reduction in the amount of adverts that children see? Would she support what Bet365, a company in Stoke-on-Trent, is supporting, which is that only branding should be advertised, mainly on the pitch side, not any actual odds or free bets that, I agree with her, can be too inducing and, therefore dangerous?

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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The whistle-to-whistle ban is not worth the paper it was written on. As for supporting anything Bet365 has done, I am sorry, I could not possibly do that. My experience of it does not allow me to do that.

That is a fraction of the alarming statistics that come across my desk each day. We know from research by Ipsos MORI and the University of Stirling that regular exposure to gambling promotions can change perceptions and associations with gambling over time and impact the likelihood that young people will gamble in the future. That advertising is a catalyst to risk and problem gambling in secondary school-aged children as a result, according to the Journal of Gambling Studies.

How can we let gambling companies spend more than £1.5 billion a year on advertising to the extent that in one single televised football match over 700 gambling logos were visible throughout the game? That is insane.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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The right hon. Gentleman will know my answer. I was surprised when I saw the comment from the industry that advertising did not affect people’s behaviour. I thought if that was the case spending £1 would be ridiculous, but to spend £1.5 billion beggars belief.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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Will the hon. Lady give way?

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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I am going to make progress. Economic research has already proven that a ban on gambling advertising in sport would be unlikely to significantly harm sports leagues and teams. The non-gambling sponsors exist and are ready to fill any gap created. With our proposed carve-outs for sectors such as horse racing, we can ensure protection on all sides.

Next is the need for a statutory levy. Chronic underinvestment in the gambling treatment system has led to a scenario in which treatment is unregulated, unaccountable and fails to use the evidence base in the treatment strategies. Between 2% and 3% of people with gambling problems enter the treatment system and nearly all of them enter it through self-referral. A 1% smart levy on industry revenue would provide £130 million, which would be an increase of over £100 million on what we currently receive. That would significantly reduce the UK’s disparity with other nations that spend far more per gambler on treatment than the UK does, increasing funds for improved and—most importantly—industry-free education. That would put the UK at the forefront of research on an issue that affects millions of people across the world, would improve our understanding of how gambling is developing in this country and would inform future regulation.

There should be stake limits for online gambling, to give parity with land-based venues, including a maximum £2 stake on harmful slot content. Given the rapidly changing nature of both land-based gambling and online gambling, it is essential that limits on stakes and prizes, and potentially other factors, are renewed on a triannual basis.

A gambling ombudsman must be set up to ensure fair representation for those who experience problems with operators. Although the Gambling Commission receives complaints as the basis for possible enforcement action, it does not act on behalf of customers in pursuit of redress. That has allowed operators to withhold winnings unfairly and to use obscure terms and conditions to require customers to wager their deposit dozens of times before they are allowed to withdraw their money.

I know that the Gambling Commission has already introduced very welcome identity and age verification requirements, banned the use of credit cards, acted in relation to speed of play and length of time spent on a game, taken measures to require customers to have information on their winnings and their losses, and required all operators to sign up to GAMSTOP. However, there is far, far more to be done.

It is not just my colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on gambling-related harm or the Peers for Gambling Reform group who support these measures. Recent polling commissioned by YouGov confirms that the British public are also on our side. Of those surveyed, 78% believe that gambling advertising should be completely banned on all platforms before the watershed and 67% also think that sports clubs should no longer have gambling sponsors on their kits or around their stadiums. In addition, 79% of those surveyed believe that under-18s should not be exposed to gambling advertisements in any form and 72% agree with me that affordability checks should be in place to help to prevent people from losing more money than they can afford to lose. Also, 69% of those surveyed think that online slots should have a maximum stake of £2. Finally, 76% of those surveyed think that the gambling industry should not get to choose where funding for treatment for gambling addiction and research goes. For me, that is a bit of a no-brainer, because doing otherwise is letting the gambling industry mark its own homework; the gambling industry gives the money, so it gets to say where it is spent. It is the people who are damaged the most who lose out; this industry only cares about its profits.

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Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I congratulate the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) on securing this debate. Ultimately, what she said is important. No one here is in denial of the fact that reform needs to happen or that we need to go further.

In Stoke-on-Trent we have Bet365, which is acting impressively to make sure that we see improvements in what they are doing, such as the age verification policy, a deposit limit, advice and the ability to set. If someone wants to change their deposit limit, it takes 24 hours and a cooling-off period before they can do so. Behaviour algorithms monitor that behaviour, which means that someone could be picked up by the early risk detection system, which leads to safer gambling messages. There are on-site messages signposting tools, sharing with the customer information on their behaviour, mandatory problem gambling self-assessment, phone calls with customers, affordability assessments being trialled at the moment, and tailored net deposit limits. Those things are in place. The gambling industry is working hard to improve and to find solutions. Although reform is needed, it must be done sensibly.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan (Inverclyde) (SNP)
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I must say, I am pleased that people have come here to talk on behalf of the gambling industry. Too often, we talk in a silo and do not hear what other people have to say. I am glad they have come here, spoken out, expressed themselves so eloquently and read their Bet365 briefing so beautifully.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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That’s not true.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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It absolutely is true. I was sat here beside you and watched you read it.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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The hon. Gentleman refers to a briefing that I was reading. I was, indeed, reading a briefing that was presented to the Minister when he visited to explain what the industry was doing, which is forming part of the gambling review. I do not see why it is bad to get a briefing from companies sharing what they are doing. What the hon. Gentleman said is ludicrous.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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As I said, a briefing from Bet365—that is exactly what it was.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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For the Minister.

Ronnie Cowan Portrait Ronnie Cowan
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It does not matter who it was written for; it is a briefing from Bet365.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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You have never had a briefing from anyone else.

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Jeff Smith Portrait Jeff Smith (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
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It is really good to see you in the Chair, Ms Rees. May I start by paying tribute to my hon Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing this debate and, more importantly, for her work over the years. She has been a brilliant campaigner on this issue and set out the problems very clearly in her speech, as did my hon. Friends the Members for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) and for York Central (Rachael Maskell), who gave powerful speeches. I thank everyone who has contributed to the debate, particularly the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith). It is not often that I agree with every word he says, but I did today.

We have had a variety of contributions, but there is something that shines through—namely, the wide recognition and consensus that reform is needed. As we know, the Gambling Act 2005, which is the basis for regulation of gambling in the UK, has not been updated since it was passed. Today’s debate is a reminder of how unfit that legislation is in meeting the demands of the digital age. As we have heard today, the mental and physical health consequences of harmful gambling can be devastating in many ways. Many of us have met people who have been damaged, and whose families have been damaged, by gambling.

Aside from the cost to individuals, the Government’s own gambling-related harms evidence review showed that the cost to the Government is, at a minimum, at least £340 million each year. Despite that, it has now been two years since the Government committed to publishing a gambling White Paper. Meanwhile, someone with gambling-related problems dies by suicide every day. Government action is long overdue.

The experiences, the stories and the numbers speak for themselves, particularly when it comes to the rapid increase in online gambling practices. I want to particularly focus on that area, as many others have, given that it is the source of many of the harms that we have heard about today,

Among women in particular, online gambling is growing at an alarming rate. According to research by GambleAware, it almost tripled during the pandemic. We need only look at the data for 202-21 from GamCare’s national gambling helpline—it shows that 84% of calls made by individuals related to concerns about online gambling habits—to get a feel for the scale of the problem. It is a problem that we did not appreciate in 2005, but we must now address it and treat it as a public health issue. We need to do more to protect individuals against addictive and easily accessible games, and those protections must include safeguards and affordability checks, particularly for online slot and casino games, where the Government have been slow to act.

As I have said, change is long overdue. Only last week, my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) led an Adjournment debate on the tragic death of his constituent Jack Ritchie, who was driven to take his own life after battling a severe gambling addiction. Jack saw his addiction begin at his local bookies at the age of 17 before moving onto online gambling. That kind of addiction can come very quickly and have devastating consequences.

Jack’s story is a familiar one. I met a group of former gambling addicts about a month ago and they were from a wide variety of backgrounds; as my hon. Friend the Member for York Central pointed out, gambling addiction can hit anybody. They had all followed that same pattern: starting to gamble and then getting into online gambling, and it destroyed their lives. Unbelievably, at the time, banks were prepared to give them loans to fund their gambling habit. It is a problem that we must get a grip on. The whole aim of gambling adverts, incentives and VIP schemes is to maintain or increase the spend of their so-called valuable clients. Those harmful schemes are addictive in nature and offer supposedly free stakes—as my hon. Friend said, there is no such thing as a free bet—to lure customers in. We need to do everything we can to make sure that people like Jack who are aware of their addiction have the tools and support available to help them through their problem.

Will the Minister give an indication of the Government’s thoughts on imposing a mandatory levy on all gambling operators? A levy would help to fund educational resources and treatment services for people suffering as a consequence of their gambling. Colleagues will, I think, be aware that there is already the legal power to impose a levy on the gambling industry; it is already there in legislation. The Government have always insisted that the industry should support harm-reduction work on a voluntary basis, but the current, voluntary system lacks consistency, transparency and accountability. The big five gambling companies have committed to paying 1% of their gross yields towards safer gambling initiatives by 2023, but the variation between online casinos and their donations is a concern. As the right hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green said, many of us do not trust that all the gambling companies will act to do the right thing. Labour believes that operators can and must do more to support vulnerable people.

I hope that the Minister will also reflect on the huge increase in online gambling advertising, especially during live sporting events. That can lead to a normalisation of gambling among young people. I am keen to understand the Government’s thinking on how to tackle that—how they can create the evidence base to understand how that advertising affects gambling addiction and how that can inform future policy.

As the online space continues to develop—we are now looking at the issue of gambling in the metaverse, with the potential for virtual reality casino experiences and other experiences—we need to be looking ahead. I am keen to know what the Government are thinking in terms of plans to tighten up safeguards, with a view to the future and gambling in the metaverse. Obviously, we have the Online Safety Bill coming up. That is a matter for another day; we need the Minister to be clear and gambling-focused in his response today. There is currently a discrepancy between the regulation of physical gambling and the regulation of online gambling, with lower-harm games such as bingo being subject to tighter restrictions in some areas than addictive online betting. We need to know the specific steps that the Government are taking to ensure that there is parity. We have concerns that without action and a proper licensing process, the online space will continue to develop as a wild west when it comes to gambling products.

Most importantly given the extent of the issues and the problems that we have heard about, we need to know exactly when the gambling review is due to be published. With respect, we need a date. We have been waiting for a date for a long time now. What we need to see is a plan to tackle problem gambling that is fit for the modern age. There is clearly a political consensus on the importance of getting this right, on the need for reform, so the Minister can be assured of widespread support if the Government act effectively, listen and get the balance right.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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On a point of order, Ms Rees. I am very grateful to you and to the Minister for agreeing to allow me to do this. I do apologise. Because my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) kept the clock ticking down on me, I was unable, and forgot, to draw hon. Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests for the £540-worth of match tickets to Stoke City versus Fulham at the Bet365 stadium in January. I do apologise to Members for that.

Christina Rees Portrait Christina Rees (in the Chair)
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The record is duly corrected. Thank you.

BBC Funding

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Monday 17th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
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Unpatriotic? I do not think it was this side of the House that was laughing about the prospect of the national anthem being played on television; I think it was that side of the House. I disagree—I am not unpatriotic; I am very patriotic.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke want the licence fee to be scrapped. When I had 3,000 respondents to a survey, 96% of them agreed with that. They feel that the BBC spoke down to them when they voted for Brexit and that it is out of touch with the people and values of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. It is time for the BBC, like the Labour party, to get out of the metropolitan bubble and spend some time in Stoke-on-Trent in order to understand what people think. It is welcome that my right hon. Friend has frozen the licence fee and opened the conversation, but does she agree that it is time to scrap the licence fee altogether?

Nadine Dorries Portrait Ms Dorries
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We can all see how, once again, my hon. Friend speaks up for his constituents. I am interested in the survey and I would love to see some of the responses. He spoke about scrapping not the BBC but the licence fee, because I am sure that his constituents want to watch and enjoy the BBC. This is about how we fund the BBC in a modern digital landscape at a time when young people consume their television in different ways. How do we fund the BBC to protect and maintain it moving forward, but in a different way?

Football Governance

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Monday 14th June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petitions 583310 and 584632, relating to football governance.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Elliott, for this hugely important debate, and it is great to see so many Members in attendance and on the call list, even more so after a thumping 1-0 victory for England against Croatia. I am sure that Members from Wales and Scotland may not be feeling as perky, but obviously I look forward to the big game on Friday, when I expect England to give Scotland a sound thumping.

In this place, we often split along party lines in our debates, but I am confident that there will be an unusual level of consensus here today, because I think we all recognise the vital role that football plays in the communities that we have the privilege to represent. Before I get started properly, I must thank all those who took the time to share their views with me before this debate. I heard a wide range of opinions on this issue, but across the board—from club owners and ex-players to the fans who are the lifeblood of the game—it is fair to say that there is now widespread acceptance that change is needed.

I also thank Our Beautiful Game, the campaign group that includes senior figures from the game, such as David Bernstein, a former Football Association chairman, and Gary Neville, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), who really got this debate rolling with her private Member’s Bill earlier this year. I thank Our Beautiful Game for lending its time and expertise to help me to prepare for today. I will give a special mention to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who is leading the fan-led review of football for the Minister’s Department. I thank her for that and for the time that she has shared with me.

The recent debacle of the European super league, which for football was the equivalent of the 2008 banking crisis, shocked everyone involved in the game. It showed why there is a real need to shake things up. Let us be clear: had the so-called big six succeeded with their breakaway attempt, football as we know it in our country would have died. Our premier league, the most watched and indeed the best league in the world, would have been split apart, and the pyramid of English football would have crumbled.

It was quite right that the ESL was met with disgust and ridicule across the board, and I am very pleased that for now it has been seen off. However, we know that football is now big business and the ESL is not the only reason why change is needed. Fans already had long-standing concerns.

There have been many examples of the identity of football clubs, which are essential to the identity of so many communities, being changed, with fans unable to resist that change. A couple of glaring examples spring to mind: the relocation of Wimbledon from is traditional home in London to Milton Keynes; and the decision by the owner of Cardiff City to change the club’s colours from the traditional blue to red.

Inappropriate owners may come in and run clubs in an unsustainable way, with devastating impacts on their local communities. Two examples of this came recently, with the sad demise of Bury in August 2019 and Wigan entering administration in July 2020. Unless we change the way football is run and ensure that clubs are treated not only as businesses but as community assets and heritage brands, these events will be repeated.

That brings me on to the first of our petitions, on the 50+1 model, submitted by Angus Yule. Angus launched the petition because he feels that this model of ownership would ensure that the decisions of our clubs fall into the hands of a collective of people who care about the good of the game, instead of just one owner. In Angus’s opinion, elite clubs especially are now run as businesses, with profit appearing to come before anything else and with fans’ loyalty exploited through expensive tickets and merchandise.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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I have been a supporter of Leicester City since I was a wee boy of 16 years old—52 years. I say that because it does not have to be a big team for people to support it. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that fans care about the nature of the team? They care about more than the price of a ticket. They care about the integrity and history of their club. They care about team pride. That is what it is all about, and that is what fans want. They do not want a super league; they just want to support their club.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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In advance of the debate, I spoke to members of the Foxes Trust, who were very complimentary about the dialogue they have with Leicester City’s owners. I know the hon. Gentleman was buzzing from Leicester City’s recent FA cup victory, and I am sure he will be cheering on Blighty in the upcoming game against Scotland; I will not put him on the spot with that one, but I am sure he will, secretly.

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman. Football clubs are massively important to the history and identity of their communities. In fact, communities were built around such clubs, as we saw in Bury. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly) has banged on relentlessly about that; I do not think there is any doughtier a champion for Bury football club’s return to its proper ways. In Burslem, the mother town of Stoke-on-Trent, is Port Vale, surrounded by the terraced houses of the old potbank workers. It very much is the beating heart of the community, as the Minister saw at first hand when he recently came to visit.

As Angus says about the 50+1 model, having fans in charge of key voting rights around the club would help to stop the clear greed of some owners and would allow clubs to be run in a way that benefits the fans, local communities and the good of the game. Clearly, there are some good owners who run their clubs sustainably and allow fans a good level of access to the behind-the-scenes running of the club. My bias will be obvious, but I will mention the Wembley of the north, Port Vale football club’s Vale Park, and Stoke-on-Trent’s second team, Stoke City; obviously I was being sarcastic there, before I get a deluge of abuse on Facebook. I am very lucky to have Port Vale in my constituency and Stoke City FC within the community. Both are run in a truly sustainable and fan-friendly way. To give just a few examples, Stoke City offer free travel for their fans and have frozen their season ticket prices for 14 successive years. Port Vale recently became the English football league community club of the year, having distributed more than 300,000 meals to local people in need during the pandemic. It also has the Port Vale Foundation; with the Hubb Foundation, it was one of the early pioneers in the holiday activities programme, which started in 2017 with the Ay Up Duck programme.

A small club, Milton United football club, raised £1,000 for a local lad, Ashton Hulme, who is getting a top-quality prosthetic leg. Sadly, due to a rare type of bone cancer, he lost his leg, and the academy at Crewe Alexandra have been doing fantastic work to support Ashton and his family at this difficult time, with more than £110,000 raised by local givers. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said, there are great clubs in the Premier League, such as Leicester City football club. The Foxes Trust tell me that it is broadly happy with how the club’s owners operate and the access it gets to the inner running of its club.

There are many more examples of owners who do not operate in this way, so I agree that there needs to be some reform, giving fans greater input into their clubs. There must surely be a way to protect key aspects of clubs, which are so much more than just businesses, so that their identities are not changed unrecognisably and they are run sustainably. However, the 50+1 model is not realistic for English football. It is hard to see how this kind of ownership structure could be brought in. I also have concerns about the impact it could have on our game. A range of voices, unsurprisingly including club owners but also fan groups, have said that the 50+1 model could seriously discourage investment.

In Germany, which made the 50+1 model famous, Bayern Munich has now won the Bundesliga nine years in a row. There is no significant investment into other clubs in the German league—unless we look at RB Leipzig, for example, where the fans and supporters are all Red Bull employees. One could say that that brings the beautiful game in Germany into disrepute. I do not think that anyone wants to see such things in our country. The 50+1 model is not the only reason, but it does seem to prevent ambitious owners coming forward. Frankly, owners will not want to invest in a club without being able to control its direction. If the 50+1 model is not the answer, what is?

One way to safeguard clubs for fans was suggested by Gary Neville. We could look at the 50+1 model as a veto or a voting structure rather than an ownership structure. Something along the lines of a golden vote on key decisions could be viable. To make changes to the club on heritage issues such as the name and location of the stadium, owners would need to seek the approval of supporters. Another option, as suggested by the Football Supporters’ Association, would be to let supporters buy equity in their club up to a certain percentage—10% or 15%, say—to give them a real say in how the club is run.

As well as giving fans more say in how their clubs are run, wider issues in football need addressing. That is really the crux of the debate and brings me to the second petition, which calls for the introduction of a new, independent football regulator. The petition, which was started by Alex Rolfe, calls for the Government to use the fan-led review of football’s governance to establish an independent regulator. Alex says:

“Like a referee, an independent regulator would safeguard our beautiful game impartially.”

He says that a regulator

“could protect the game against another attempt at a super league or other efforts to put money ahead of fans.”

Gary Neville and Alex agree that, like water companies, energy providers, financial services and the media:

“Football matters to millions and should also have a regulator of its own.”

It does seem that without an independent regulator, the glaring issues in English football will not be resolved. There is no overall leadership, so vested interests continue to prevail. The financial disparity between rich and poor has become obscene, frankly. The game is devoid of agreed priorities. The high-ups in football all know what the problems are, but to date there has been no collective will or incentive for the decision makers to get on with sorting it out.

As many of the people I have spoken to before today have spelled out, the issues are financial disparity and unsustainability, owner suitability rules, a power structure that is fundamentally out of balance, societal issues such as racism and homophobia in the game, and the exploitation of clubs and fans. Gary Neville put it well when he said that the banking crisis was the moment an independent regulator was needed. The European super league is the equivalent crisis in football, and if we are to ensure that the game remains something that we can enjoy as fans, as well as export around the world, the crunch time has arrived.

I will give a few examples to illustrate the scale of the problems. The team placed 20th in the premier league—thankfully, it is not my team, Fulham, which my grandmother indoctrinated me into supporting at the age of five—gets £100 million, whereas the winner of the championship gets just £6 million. Financial sustainability is in real danger, with clubs in the championship spending £837 million on wages despite receiving only £785 million of income in 2018-19.

James Daly Portrait James Daly (Bury North) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend has just made the key point. The fixed costs and wage structure of 99% of teams involved in English football are completely unsustainable. The wages paid out currently are simply unaffordable. My team, Bury, had 3,000 or 4,000 people watching every two weeks, and players were paid thousands upon thousands. How do we address that problem?

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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I know that Gary Neville is actually working on the salary cap committee that the EFL has set up to have a look at that very thing. My hon. Friend is right. Although Gary Neville used the term “redistribution of wealth”—as a Conservative, that made me shudder at the idea of socialism coming down the line—he meant that, at the end of the day, the Premier League holds all the wealth.

The Minister spent what probably felt like a long 10 months locked in a room with the head of the Premier League and the head of the EFL to come to some sort of consensus on bailing out clubs such as my beloved Port Vale in Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. It should not have taken 10 months to come to that conclusion. Ultimately, football is for the fans, and in that moment, the fans were almost forgotten. I am very grateful to the Minister, who spoke regularly with me and other Members from across the House to keep us informed about what was going on in the negotiations. I am very grateful that he was able to bang heads together and get that important deal over the line.

Stoke City football club is owned by those who run Bet365, and although it would openly submit that it is not in need of financial support, it is very aware of clubs around it and below it that are, including Port Vale, which gets similar crowds to Bury. We need to see a fair share of the money in football trickling down, particularly to the grassroots, where the future generations will be coming through.

Those in the premier league have so much power that they can set their own punishment. The big six premier league clubs have been able to decide their own punishment for trying to break away and join the ESL, paying just £3.6 million each as a gesture of good will. Let us put that into context. These clubs spent more than £150 million over the last year on agents’ fees alone, and they seem to think that offering £3.6 million each is a suitable punishment for trying to destroy our beautiful game. Football has proven itself incapable of sorting itself out, and there is now a widespread consensus that an independent regulator is needed.

What would that independent regulator look like? We all agree that for a regulator to have real bite, it must be independent of current structures such as the premier league clubs and the FA. It must sit above the existing bodies and be able to enforce targets and judgments without the game structures. As voices such as the former Governor of the Bank of England Lord King have emphasised, the regulator will need an emphasis on financial as well as legal knowledge, to enable it to decide on new ways of distributing funds to the wider game, based on a funding formula to spread funding more fairly throughout the English football pyramid. This will also be important in introducing a new, proper, robust process to check owners before they take on a club. Indeed, it is not just the fans I spoke to who agreed on the need for a proper test of an owner’s suitability; that opinion was also shared by the owners I spoke to.

Supporters’ groups and those with experience of the game at the highest level agree that the regulator must not have any role in how the game is played. For example, it must not have a role in deciding on the place of VAR—the video assistant referee—in football, but must be limited to governance issues. There is also the question of how long a regulator would need to operate for. There seems to be a consensus among a cross-section of people involved in football that the FA should really be the regulator. However, it is a commercial organisation, as well as having some regulatory functions, so it does not really work. It is also reliant on the Premier League for its income, so is not independent in any meaningful way. An independent regulator could be set up, lead change in the game for a few years and then hand over to the FA once it has been made fit for purpose.

On the societal problems in football such as racism and homophobia, as well as representation of different groups, there are already targets in place. However, a regulator could enforce those targets and punish those who continue to pay only lip service to them. As David Davies—former executive director of the FA and member of the Our Beautiful Game campaign group—has said, football has the power to be a fantastic force for good. How to enable it to be a power for good is the question.

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Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
- Hansard - -

Today has shown the very best of this place: the graft that goes on here every single day—even if it might not be sexy enough to merit a 30-second tweet—as we work in consensus to find a way forward.

I want to mention the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Daly), who gave two extremely powerful speeches from personal experience. If anyone is any doubt about why the beautiful game is so important to fans, I urge them to watch or read those two speeches in order to understand. I love the fact that the hon. Lady is wearing her shirt with pride, and I hope that image goes out across the world.

Ultimately, a statement has been made today by this House: change is coming. I say with all good nature that when the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and I agree that governance change is needed, that is the moment that the penny should drop for the FA and others. The right hon. Gentleman and I might not necessarily agree fully on how it should change, but when two such Members in this place agree, it makes a powerful statement.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns) and the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Alex Davies-Jones) pointed out, Wales plays an important part in the English game. Hearing the story of the people of Barry and their fight was very important. There were so many speeches but, sadly, time does not allow me to rattle through how brilliant they all were. The hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mick Whitley) talked about Tranmere Rovers and its £60,000 investment in helping the community with fitness and in tackling county lines—also a scourge of the city of Stoke-on-Trent and the towns of Kidsgrove and Talke. There will be similar issues in many of our areas.

A message has been sent that change is needed. Personally, I certainly favour the idea of change in football governance. As the Minister said, how that is done, the remit of powers and the implementation need to be very carefully thought through. It is easy to rush into such things in order to look popular, but, ultimately, we must ensure that it is something that will last. One day, I hope, that will be transferred to the FA, which should have those responsibilities. Once we have public trust in the Football Association of England, perhaps it can take on those responsibilities.

All of us—except perhaps those who are not English Members of Parliament—can agree on one thing, which is that football is coming home this summer. As I always like to say when I finish such speeches as this: “Up the Vale!”

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petitions 583310 and 584632, relating to football governance.

Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Monday 8th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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The extension of the furlough scheme, the extension of the VAT reduction and the restart grants are all hugely welcomed by businesses and individuals across Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, particularly ceramic manufacturers such as Churchill China and Steelite, which have been hugely reliant upon furlough, so they can bring back workers steadily as demand for their world-leading tableware increases.

If I can, however, make one further pitch for brewers, such as Burslem-based Titanic Brewery, I would argue that more must be done to help the on-trade. The new rate of duty for draught beer, defined as beer sold in containers of over 20 litres, could be set at a lower rate, reducing the price gap between cheap supermarket booze and a beer at the pub. This policy targets a sector that has suffered throughout the pandemic and is only possible now the UK has left the European Union.

I was astonished by the Leader of the Opposition’s sneering attitude over well-paid jobs moving to Darlington and money being invested in towns such as Kidsgrove. Instead of welcoming the investment, he showed how out of touch he is with the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke by suggesting that Kidsgrove is not entitled to the £16.9 million awarded in this Budget.

The Leader of the Opposition said that such announcements were “giving up”, not levelling up. Let us look at how, from 2012 to 2018, the Labour-led Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council gave up on the borough’s second town. During that period, the spend on infrastructure projects in Kidsgrove was: in 2012-13 nil, 2013-14 nil, 2015-16 nil, 2016-17 £15,000, 2017-18 nil. The local Labour party gave up so much on Kidsgrove that, when it was offered a chance to buy Kidsgrove sports centre for £1, it said no. Thankfully, Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council is now Conservative-led, by Councillor Simon Tagg, who has worked tirelessly with the Kidsgrove sports centre community group and County Councillor Gill Burnett to develop plans for the sports centre’s big comeback—a comeback that would not be happening without the town deal money, demonstrating clearly to the people of Kidsgrove that, under this Chancellor and this Prime Minister, places such as Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke are forgotten no longer.

Oral Answers to Questions

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Thursday 10th December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Caroline Dinenage Portrait Caroline Dinenage
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I sincerely hope they are not my secret Santa. Online advertising is clearly an important driver of the UK economy. The Government are really committed to supporting the continued growth of the industry, but it needs to be fairer and better regulated. So we will launch a public consultation next year on measures to enhance how online advertising is regulated in the UK. That will build on the call for evidence we launched this year, and we will consider options to enhance the regulation of advertising content and placement online. The hon. Member asks about the online harms response. It will be published very shortly and it will not be watered down—there is my secret Santa gift for her, Mr Speaker.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to roll out gigabit broadband.

Rob Roberts Portrait Rob Roberts (Delyn) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

What steps his Department is taking to roll out gigabit broadband.

Matt Warman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Matt Warman)
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The Government are absolutely committed to delivering nationwide gigabit broadband as soon as possible. That is why we are investing £5 billion to support roll-out in the hardest-to-reach areas of the country. We will go as fast as we can and the only thing that will hold us up is how fast we can get the fibre into the ground. We are engaging closely with industry to support its efforts by incentivising investment and removing barriers to roll-out.

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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I thank my hon. Friend for his positive answer. Now that Stoke-on-Trent has a complete city-wide full-fibre network offering gigabit speeds and capability, does he agree that Stoke-on-Trent would be the perfect test bed to show how, post Brexit, smaller UK cities can more than match up to similar-sized centres of digital innovation such as Eindhoven, Karlsruhe and Aalborg? Will he commit the Government to help make my Silicon Stoke vision a reality, as part of the levelling up commitments?

Matt Warman Portrait Matt Warman
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My hon. Friend misses no opportunity to promote Silicon Stoke. The Government are absolutely committed to using trials and test beds to support the kind of innovation he talks about. We are interested in new ideas as part of that levelling up commitment. I look forward to continuing our conversations with Stoke and maybe even visiting one day.

Digital Infrastructure, Connectivity and Accessibility

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Thursday 3rd December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
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May I also add my name to the long list of Members congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Esther McVey) and the hon. Member for Sunderland Central (Julie Elliott) on securing this important debate? Getting online and having basic digital skills are now as important for getting a job as English and maths. Yet the fact that we have 9 million people struggling to use the internet independently and being locked out of the digital economy means that we are not levelling up, but leaving people behind. It is now the Government’s opportunity to turn the great digital divide into the great digital catch-up before it is too late and a whole generation of talent is lost for good. Regarding costs, the Minister might be interested in joining my campaign with CEO Alexander Fitzgerald from Cuckoo, asking for VAT to be reduced to 5% on broadband, as it is on other essential items. Regarding costs, the Minister might be interested in joining my campaign with CEO Alexander Fitzgerald from Cuckoo, asking for VAT to be reduced to 5% on broadband, as it is on other essential items, which would save on average £70 per household. Although that would come at a cost of £2 billion to the Treasury, I feel that that money would soon be returned.

Not wanting to be a negative Nelly, I will talk about Silicon Stoke, which I know has become ingrained in the Minister because of the amount of communication he hears about it. By April 2021, we will be one of the first cities in the country to have a full-fibre network, which will cover more than 104 km and be able to offer 100% of residents and businesses in the city a truly future-proof, point-to-point network, delivering gigabits to every house and premises. Full fibre is the foundation stone of Silicon Stoke, the plan to put Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke at the centre of the digital tech revolution. If the Government are looking for a location to launch their full-fibre strategy for the country, it has to be Stoke-on-Trent.

Of course, Silicon Stoke and full fibre are not just about faster movie nights, virtual meetings and amazingly fast gigabit download speeds; this £25 million-plus network will unleash a staggering £625 million into the local economy over the next decade, as well as longer-term socioeconomic benefits. I thank the Minister and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for the Department’s £9.2 million contribution towards the project.

Immersive learning is something I know a lot about as a former teacher. We have never been able to realise it, due to the technological constraints schools face, but in Stoke-on-Trent the world where teachers and students can access educational resources instantly and teach through virtual reality is literally just around the corner. To help to make that happen faster, I ask the Government to recognise the opportunity that such a connection would provide to the educational offer of the city and therefore the levelling-up agenda.

In Stoke-on-Trent we hope to produce a game school—a regional free school for 14 to 18-year-olds with partly selective entry, based on talent and commitment to developing specialist skills in different elements of game design, creation, production and marketing. I hope the Department for Education will capture the excitement of that vision and help us to create that school, with all the attention and profile it would bring to Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. Backing the Silicon Stoke educational plan will help to level up Stoke-on-Trent at gigabit speed.

Silicon Stoke will also address the healthcare needs of my post-industrial city. Technology-enabled care services such as telehealth, telecare and self-care apps have the potential to transform the way people engage in and control their healthcare. The West Midlands Academic Health Science Network is already working alongside the Stoke-on-Trent clinical commissioning group to make that vision a reality. I hope the Department of Health and Social Care, along with NHS England and NHS Digital, will make Stoke-on-Trent the city to showcase digital-enabled health and care. The Department and the NHS can make full use of the open access, full-fibre network connectivity that we have to offer right now, today, in Stoke-on-Trent.

Football Spectator Attendance: Covid-19

Jonathan Gullis Excerpts
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Westminster Hall is an alternative Chamber for MPs to hold debates, named after the adjoining Westminster Hall.

Each debate is chaired by an MP from the Panel of Chairs, rather than the Speaker or Deputy Speaker. A Government Minister will give the final speech, and no votes may be called on the debate topic.

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Con)
- Hansard - -

I beg to move,

That this House has considered e-petition 552036, relating to spectator attendance at football matches during Covid-19.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. This debate comes at a time when England is just days into a second national lockdown and as the country continues to grapple with a significant public health crisis. Painful and frustrating as these measures are, there is broad understanding from the public that the restrictions are in place to help save lives and protect our national health service from the unprecedented pressures of the coronavirus pandemic.

I want to be clear right from the beginning that the petitioner Ashley Greenwood, the English Football League and all fans and clubs I have spoken with believe that we should not reopen football stadiums any time before 2 December 2020. I thank Ashley Greenwood for starting this petition, which has gathered nearly 200,000 signatories across our nation. When I checked over the weekend, Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, which I am proud to serve, had the fourth-highest number of signatories to Ashley’s petition of any constituency across the United Kingdom. Although I question Ashley’s team of choice—his beloved Sheffield United—I cannot fault his passion and desire to see fans back in stadiums.

When I spoke to Ashley before this debate, what I loved most was how Ashley reminded me was that football is more than just a game of tribal loyalty. It is a game that allows family members to bond, new friendships to be created and local cafes and pubs to thrive on a buzzing match day. Ashley reminded me that the 2012 Olympics was about creating a legacy for participation in sport, which up until now has been booming. However, as time passes, the future of our game is at real risk.

It is no exaggeration to say that the English game teeters on the brink of catastrophe. Away from the glitz and glamour of the premier league, cushioned by billions of pounds of TV revenue, the stark reality is that many EFL clubs find themselves in a financially unsustainable position. Away from the much-publicised world of multimillion-pound player transfers, the most eye-watering of which would fund most of the clubs in league two for the entire year, the outlook is bleak. The survival of many EFL clubs depends on the oxygen of match day revenue. The very least we could do is give them a fighting chance by allowing spectators, albeit a reduced number of them, back inside football stadiums. For Port Vale football club, that would mean 4,000 fans in a stadium that can accommodate 20,000. This is eminently achievable in a safe manner.

As a result of keeping fans away from stadiums, EFL clubs will require £400 million of funding from their owners to keep them afloat this season, because the pandemic and associated restrictions have decimated their revenue streams. Very soon, some clubs in the EFL will be unable to pay their bills. They will be unable to pay the wages of their players and of their staff. When this happens—and it surely will without significant intervention—the integrity of the EFL will be compromised, and with it the future of our national game.

I am delighted that the Chancellor’s furlough scheme has been extended until March next year. However, this is of limited use to football clubs in the championship and leagues one and two, which need to have most of their staff working to ensure that these businesses can function safely and to enable professional football matches to take place. These are clubs that, since March, when professional football was first suspended, have operated on a shoestring. The absence of match day revenue—the lifeblood of clubs in leagues one and two of the EFL—is strangling businesses that have also been deprived of crucial hospitality revenue for nine months. Colleagues across the House with professional football clubs in their constituencies know only too well the value they bring to their communities. It is therefore a horrible injustice that clubs that have risen to challenges presented by the pandemic and rallied to the rescue of their communities are being treated so shabbily.

For example, the city I represent, Stoke-on-Trent, has two professional football clubs. Heritage brands employ more than 600 staff, who play a key role in the life of tens of thousands of local people. Port Vale and Stoke City are as important to families in the Potteries as local delicacies like oatcakes and lobby. Indeed, if anyone wishes to understand the value of football clubs to their communities, they need look no further than league two club Port Vale in my constituency of Stoke-and-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. With no match day revenue since March, unable to bring in any money from hospitality or events, the club’s owner and chair Carol Shanahan OBE oversaw its transformation into a genuine community hub. The concourse was converted into a warehouse. Club staff became volunteers and a massive team effort, in conjunction with local children’s charity the Hubb Foundation, saw Port Vale community hub deliver more than 170,000 meals to families in need across Stoke-on-Trent. That work, I am proud to say, continues to this day as the second lockdown bites.

The work of Port Vale community hub was the single most significant contribution of its kind to the families in my city, and it came from a football club that has been crippled by covid restrictions and has to date lost out on an estimated £1.5 million in revenue. I say to right hon. and hon. Members that that is the power of football in our communities that I know; colleagues from across the House will be able to tell similar stories about how clubs in their constituencies have played a blinder in helping local communities up and down the land.

I believe that the Government’s current position on the return of fans to professional football is muddled, inconsistent and inherently unfair. Despite the fact that football is one of the most heavily regulated areas of crowd management, with rigorous covid safety measures and a successful pilot programme under its belt, the sport is still, unfathomably, being treated differently from other industries.

The EFL, in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the Sports Grounds Safety Authority, has developed stringent ground safety protocols that reduce the number of supporters allowed inside stadiums, respect the rule of six and social distancing, and are fully compliant with NHS track and trace requirements. On top of that, the Edinburgh University study on the pilot schemes conducted at clubs such as Cambridge United showed that fans are willing to bend over backwards to be welcomed back into stadiums. Well over 80% of respondents said that they would hand sanitise regularly, socially distance and wear a face covering if required. Seriously, what more can fans and clubs do?

This unfairness is killing lower-league EFL clubs. Under the covid alert tier system, businesses and restaurants, theatres, cinemas and retailers are able to welcome customers into indoor venues for hours on end, yet professional football is prohibited from having a reduced number of fans in stadiums, socially distanced and wearing face coverings while sitting outside. That is, frankly, baffling to anyone who follows and understands the game, and is a source of huge anger and frustration to supporters who want to help their struggling clubs and are being prevented from doing so.

To date, the Government’s response to the crisis engulfing EFL clubs has been in marked contrast to their response to other industries that fall under the DCMS remit—the £1.5 billion funding package for the arts, for example. However, I do call on the Premier League to step up and do its bit. Its TV package is worth £3 billion, I believe, and it is the largest spender in this summer’s transfer window, paying out £1.26 billion. I implore it to dig deep in its pockets. I know that this is an unprecedented ask, but these are unprecedented times.

Businesses are being asked to stay closed, at the risk of never reopening. Our NHS and care heroes are going above and beyond to keep people safe and alive. Teachers and students are under pressure to catch up on months of lost face-to-face learning. People have been told to change the whole way they interact with one another, and the Government have spent over £200 billion so far to tackle the global health pandemic. I do not think it unfair to expect the Premier League to work with the EFL and come to a fair deal that will ensure that the heartbeats of our local communities live on.

Life in 2020 has been tough for so many people. We have heard about the awful impact on people’s mental health of sustained lockdowns combined with job and money worries and fewer and fewer options for leisure activities. Football is a release valve for so many people. They live for Saturday afternoons: the camaraderie on the terraces, a pie and a pint or a steaming hot Bovril, and the shared experiences of their religion with their family and friends. We simply have to bring that back, because not only would it make a huge difference to fans’ wellbeing, but it may also dictate whether some clubs make it through this most trying of years.

If the stated position of the Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), is that the whole fan journey—from home to venue—must be considered when discussing the return of fans to football stadiums, such fears can be alleviated because the 13,000 respondents to the Petition Committee’s survey and the University of Edinburgh study demonstrated that the overwhelming majority drive or walk to games, meaning that they can make their way in a covid-secure manner.

In summary, I place on the record my thanks to Rick Parry, chairman of the EFL, Carol Shanahan, co-owner and chair of Port Vale, Angela Smith from the Stoke City Supporters Council, Mark Porter from the Port Vale Supporters Club, and Port Vale’s safety officer John Rutherford, who has 30 years’ experience in game safety and is a former chair of the Football Safety Officers Association, for their time and contributions before today’s debate. The EFL and clubs across the country have done everything they can to prepare for the safe return of fans, and it is time for the Government to press play, not pause, on those plans when the lockdown ends. Up the Vale.

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Before I bring in Seema Malhotra, I have been asked whether Members who are not on the call list can intervene, as was the practice before covid-19. The answer is no, you have to be on the call list to speak. I understand there is one Member waiting outside to come into the room. The spare seat at the front is for the Opposition spokesperson—she has indicated that she is coming, but she is in the main Chamber at the present time. I hope that clarifies things.

We have until 5.30 pm. I do not like imposing time limits, and I hope Members will do the divisions among themselves. If anybody goes over, I will impose a time limit, so I hope people will be disciplined. I call Seema Malhotra.

--- Later in debate ---
Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
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I was saddened to hear that my opening remarks were missed. Once again, I thank Ashley Greenwood for starting the petition—it is because of him and the near 200,000 people who signed the petition that we stand here today. As I said, my constituency of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke has the fourth highest number of signatories on the petition, so it is important that I speak for them.

I heard what the Minister had to say, and I think he gets it. He has taken many a letter from me and from Carol Shanahan, the co-owner and chair of Port Vale football club, on this issue. Having heard the debate, the Minister is fully aware that we are united—something that is quite rare in this place—in wanting fans back in football stadiums. I want to make it clear for the record that I expect an announcement that as of 2 December, fans are coming back into football stadiums. That is for the mental health and wellbeing of residents in my constituency. It will allow them to communicate with others in socially distanced crowds, and to get their passion back. Sitting in a living-room chair will never replicate the adrenaline rush that is felt in a football stadium, so we have to see fans back in football stadiums.

I absolutely agree that we do not want taxpayers’ money bailing out elite football. As I said in my speech, I implore the Premier League and the EFL to come to a conclusion. I absolutely agree with the Minister on that point, and I hope we will get to a compromise position for both. One way that we could help clubs is by allowing them to start to bring in some revenue. As I said, Port Vale football club has lost £1.5 million in revenue since March, which is an extreme amount of money for a league two club—especially when that club’s mother town is Burslem, which unfortunately has more closed high street shops than almost anywhere in the UK. Our small cafés and restaurants rely heavily on match day attendance and revenue. Rejuvenating Burslem relies on a positive, crowd-friendly atmosphere at Port Vale football club.

The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), made the perfect point that football crowds are some of the most regulated in the country. They are willing to go above and beyond, as the pilot showed. Hand sanitisation, social distancing, wearing a face mask, Test and Trace—whatever they need to do, they will do it. I know the Minister has some influence, but he needs to kick down the door to No. 10 to make the point heard. At the end of the day, this is the working man’s game.

Alison McGovern Portrait Alison McGovern
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

And the working woman’s!

Jonathan Gullis Portrait Jonathan Gullis
- Hansard - -

And the working woman’s game; that is what it has evolved to be, over time. I am very lucky to have in my constituency Port Vale Ladies and Stoke City Ladies, who are incredible ambassadors for the local community and for local girls’ sports. I am even prouder to have recently visited Milton United Ladies, to support what they are doing there. Football is a game for everyone. It is no longer the game of 50 years ago; it allows everyone to come together, celebrate and rejoice.

I urge the Minister to ensure that there is an announcement on 2 December. As I said, Port Vale football club has delivered 170,000 meals across the city of Stoke-on-Trent. With the Hubb Foundation, it co-runs a child holiday hunger support group that offers activities and mental and physical stimulation, as well as a hot meal during the holiday period. That organisation has helped people beyond the city boundaries in Kidsgrove, Talke and Staffordshire Moorlands, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley) said. It has poured its heart and soul into the community. It is time we repaid it for everything it has sacrificed.

As the hon. Member for Wirral South said, that means players calling up season ticket holders. It means thanking the staff who were furloughed and who volunteered their time to deliver food parcels. It means helping the community groups that work with the football club to provide holiday activities and engagement activities with young people across the city. We need fans back in the stadium. On 2 December, I expect to hear an announcement; otherwise, I will be a pretty stroppy Back Bencher—I make that very clear.

Before I sit down, I will say it one more time: up the Vale.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered e-petition 552036, relating to spectator attendance at football matches during Covid-19.