I continue to work closely with the football authorities to press for improvements in governance. They have made some good progress, notably putting clubs on a much stronger financial footing through the introduction of the financial fair play rules.
Last Saturday, Hereford United won their do-or-die relegation battle to stay in the conference premier league despite extremely difficult financial circumstances. Will the Minister join me in congratulating the Bulls players and staff, and in recognising the massive role played by the club’s supporters in sustaining the club? Does she share my view that all the football authorities need to get together now and look at what more they can do to preserve our football heritage and support clubs in the lower leagues?
My hon. Friend Nigel Mills is not in his place, so I can congratulate the Bulls on their win over Alfreton. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Jesse Norman, who has worked tirelessly to help Hereford United, which has had a difficult time recently. Running a football club is a challenging matter and supporter trusts play a crucial role in that regard. I will follow the Hereford United Supporters Trust bid for the club with eager interest.
Does the Minister agree that one of the best ways to ensure financial security is to get football supporters involved in clubs? Some three years ago the Culture, Media and Sport Committee recommended a working group be set up to look at the issue and the Government agreed. The Government are now in Fergie time on this, so is it not time that the working group was set up?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point latterly. The setting up of the expert group is one of my priorities, and I am determined to see it established. The support of fans is crucial and I expect the group to meet for the first time in the coming weeks.
Kettering Town football club has scored more goals in the lifetime of the FA cup competition than any other club in the country. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Despite this distinguished record, in recent years it has had far more than its fair share of financial difficulties and is now in the very minor leagues. There is a feeling among constituents that there is far too much money in the Premier League, with overpaid footballers getting ridiculous salaries and not enough money going into football at the grass roots.
I take on board what my hon. Friend says. We have to look after all our football clubs. Financial issues are critical and the football authorities have made significant changes in recent years, introducing an early-warning system for tax debts, salary caps and, as I mentioned, the financial fair play rules. Those changes are helping clubs across the piece to stay on a stronger financial footing.
I know the Minister and the whole House will want to take the opportunity to wish Ballymena United all the very best on Saturday in the Irish cup. Does the Minister plan to visit Northern Ireland and meet the Irish Football Association to see what assistance, development and help she can give to the IFA in the development of the beautiful game in Northern Ireland?