Why is it me who has to follow that answer from my hon. Friend? I am not on top of anything!
My Department’s priority is to continue to invest significant sums in grass-roots football—very important as it is—and between 2009 and 2013 we will invest £25.5 million via the Football Association’s whole sport plan and £47 million in the Football Foundation. This funding will help to strengthen youth development programmes.
I am pleased that Sport England is spending £25 million on football youth development, but all the money goes to richer clubs in the Football League. None of it goes to the seven non-league clubs that have professional youth development programmes. In November the Minister advised me and colleagues from all parties representing the other, smaller clubs to raise the matter with Sport England and the Football Association. We have done so, but we are no further forward. Would the Minister be willing to meet a cross-party delegation of MPs representing constituencies covering those clubs to discuss the matter further?
In theory, yes, of course I would. However, the important thing is that these funding decisions are made, very properly, by the sport’s national governing bodies. That was the central point of the whole sport plan: they are given a sum of money that is measured against a set of direct objectives, and it is up to those bodies to decide how to spend it. So in theory, yes, I am prepared to meet the hon. Gentleman, but I would need extraordinarily good evidence to try to contradict a professional judgment made by a sport about where best to spend its money to drive up participation.