I wish to inform the House that the Government have today published our response to the White Paper consultation “A Sustainable Future – Reforming Club Football Governance: Consultation Response”.
Football lies at the heart of our nation and it touches the lives of so many of us across the country. Football brings people together, whether at times of national sporting success, or through football clubs that form a vital part of our lives not just for fans, but for their local communities too. Football fosters a sense of belonging and supports local economies.
As the Government set out in the White Paper, “A Sustainable Future - Reforming Club Football Governance”, although English football is an undeniable global success story that should be celebrated, protected and promoted, there are long-standing issues in the game. The football pyramid is a huge asset of this country, but unfortunately some clubs have been run in financially unsustainable ways.
This consultation response is the latest step in the Government’s ongoing commitment to support, promote and protect the national game, as well as ensure that fans are placed at the heart of it. This began with the Government’s 2019 manifesto commitment to an independent fan-led review, which was then carried out in 2021. The Government are extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), the chair of the review, for her comprehensive work. This ultimately led us to publish our White Paper in February 2023, which built on the review’s recommendations and set out a comprehensive plan to introduce an independent regulator for English football clubs.
This regulator will have a primary strategic purpose of ensuring that English football is sustainable and resilient, for the benefit of fans and the local communities they serve. This will help to protect our national game, build secure foundations for clubs and ensure fans are always in their rightful place at the heart of football.
Since publishing the White Paper, the Government have undertaken significant engagement with a broad range of stakeholders. This has included regular meetings with the Premier League, English Football League (EFL), the Football Association (FA), the National League and the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA), as well as official and ministerial-level meetings with over 40 football clubs. In addition, the Government have held a series of meetings with leading experts across a variety of fields, including economics, finance, regulation and law. The Government have also received detailed written responses from over 70 key stakeholders including the Premier League and EFL (and a number of their constituent clubs), the FA, the FSA and contributions from industry and legal experts as well as other footballing bodies, including Fair Game, Kick It Out, the Players Football Association (PFA) and Level Playing Field.
I want to thank all the fan groups, clubs, leagues, football bodies and industry experts who have engaged with the Government throughout the entire process, providing their feedback and views on key aspects of the Government’s policy proposals, including financial regulation, corporate governance, financial distributions and fan engagement. I would also like to thank the academics Kieran Maguire and Dr Christina Philippou for their independent, expert analysis of financial sustainability in football. I have personally met with a number of clubs, football authorities and fan organisations to listen to their views and understand how the Government can best achieve our shared goal of a successful, sustainable English game. Across the board, this engagement has been very constructive and has helped the Government to further develop and fine-tune our policy proposals.
The document the Government are publishing today summarises some of the key themes arising out of this ongoing consultation and sets out this Government’s response. This includes topics such as: the case for reform; the scope of the regulator; consistency of the regulatory approach; the independence of the regulator; managing the regulatory landscape; and the regulatory backstop powers on distributions. Furthermore, the document sets out that the Government are currently minded to set up a new independent body to house the regulator; however, all options remain under review.
The Government will continue to work with and engage industry and fan groups as these proposals develop. English football is a £6 billion industry with a unique market structure and complex commercial dynamics. As such, it is crucial that the Government take the necessary time to work closely with key stakeholders to design a bespoke regulatory model that allows for a flexible, agile and proportionate approach. This Government’s approach will seek to minimise the risk of regulatory overlap and burden, by collaborating and sharing information with existing football bodies, which could include co-ordinating rules and processes with industry bodies to minimise gaps, duplication or conflicts. This will balance the need for change to secure the long-term future of our national game and the need to restore fans’ place at its heart with the importance of ensuring continued global success.
The Government are working at pace to deliver and remain committed to legislating to put the independent football regulator on a statutory footing as soon as parliamentary time allows.
I am confident that our White Paper proposals will put football on a more sustainable course for the future, and the Government remain fully committed to working with fans and the wider football community to make them a reality.