The Government published their response to the recommendations of the independent fan-led review of football governance in April 2022. We do recognise the need for football fans to be at the heart of the game and for the reforms to ensure that the game is successful and sustainable in the long term. Football clubs are at the core of local communities and, for too long, fans have been an afterthought for some club owners.
Football’s coming home, but it seems that a football regulator is not. Without a football regulator, there will be no say for fans and no financial or fit-and-proper assessment of new owners, with more clubs like Bury being at risk. Almost a year on from the fan-led review, the Government are no further on in implementing any of the changes. In that time, we have seen the sale of Chelsea and the near collapse of Derby. Why are the Government dragging their feet?
It is important that I praise the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who got the fans’ voice right at the heart of her report. I and the Minister responsible for sport have met multiple football supporters’ groups and will continue to do so. The White Paper will be published imminently.
At last week’s annual general meeting of the Torquay United Supporters Trust, there was much debate about how the World cup in Qatar and the discussions around it have yet again focused attention on the governance of the game of football. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is absolutely vital that we make changes to ensure fans get a voice, that there is real engagement with their clubs, and that we do not see more of the incidents we have seen across this country, where clubs have been moved from their historic locations into other communities due to disputes over stadium ownership?
We on the Government Benches understand how important it is to get this right, and we will get it right. We will put fans’ voices right at the heart of what we do, and ensure that whatever we do has the teeth to ensure change.
In the years since the fan-led review was published, Southend United faced a winding-up petition and a transfer embargo after financial failings; Derby County was in administration; Chelsea could only carry on because of special exemptions when its owner was sanctioned; and the Mayor of the West Midlands wrote to the Football League to express his worries that Birmingham City’s future is in jeopardy under its current ownership. Which clubs will face trouble next year, the year after, or each year until the Government stop delaying the introduction of an independent regulator? The Prime Minister committed to implementing all the recommendations of the review, so why do they not just get on with it? After the next election, a Labour Government will.
After the next election, a Conservative Government will continue to get on with the job, as we have always been doing. The Government recognise the importance of acting decisively, but also of getting this policy right; we have been considering it and consulting very carefully. Of course, in the meantime, those in football can take forward some of the reforms themselves, including financial redistribution, which we continue to urge them to do. The report will be imminent.