Local Commonwealth Games levy

Part of Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:00 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Jo Gideon Jo Gideon Conservative, Stoke-on-Trent Central 3:00 pm, 11th June 2020

It is tough to follow a barnstorming performance such as that, but it is a pleasure to speak in a debate that delivers something that voices from across the House can agree on: the desirability of delivering a successful Birmingham Commonwealth games. I must start with a personal comment, which is that I am delighted that women’s cricket is in the Commonwealth games for the first time. I had the honour and privilege of playing cricket with the icon and pioneer of women’s cricket Baroness Heyhoe Flint, who was a proud West Midlander—she was from Wolverhampton. So it is absolutely appropriate that these are the Commonwealth games at which cricket is introduced—it is wonderful.

This is wonderful opportunity to focus on the positive future after covid-19. The details of delivery are still to be finalised, but the agreement that hosting the games is a good thing is there. Let us not forget that for many potential hosts, including Durban, hosting the games has been seen as a bad financial option. As the finance of the games has been a key part of the debate about Birmingham 2022, we owe it to cities such as Durban, and others across the Commonwealth, to deliver a games with the very best of best-practice lessons to learn from. I am talking about a games that generate a legacy of economic benefits that are clear enough to make raising finance and leveraging partner and sponsor finance easier, and for a far wider, more diverse range of cities.

It used to be thought, particularly after the staggering success of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, that hosting an international games event was a sure bet for making money, massively boosting the visitor economy and delivering long-term infrastructure assets. The sad truth is that hosting an international games is not a magic wand and that a great deal of work will have to go into delivering a legacy that gets the city of Birmingham and the wider country its money back and more. If we do not do that, we will simply be confirming to underdeveloped cities across the Commonwealth that the games are a rich city’s plaything, and that would be a tragedy. That is not to say that Birmingham is a city with money to burn, because of course it is not, so I see the attraction of considering a hotel tax, as the Opposition have suggested several times as this Bill has progressed. However, as I have said earlier, it is a superficial attraction that does not bear scrutiny.

I absolutely accept the belief that there is an intrinsic link between the games and tourism. The visitor economy needs to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Birmingham 2022, not just for Birmingham and the west midlands authority area, but for the whole of the west midlands, from Hereford to Stoke-on-Trent, and all that is in between. The games should be about delivering a boost to our regional tourism economy, not an opportunity to impose an additional tax on it. Partners who stand to gain need to step up to the plate and actively ensure that success is delivered by the agencies charged with delivering it. They include VisitEngland and VisitBritain. Our national tourist agencies need to pull out all the stops to secure a legacy from the games across the midlands engine, and Stoke-on-Trent looks forward to working with them. Indeed, Stoke-on-Trent City Council wants me to put on record that it is extremely keen to get involved, to collaborate, to host, to work or to do whatever it takes with any of the games agencies in the interests of the entire west midlands region, but that involves reciprocation of interest from the relevant agencies in collaborating with Stoke-on-Trent. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what the great west midlands cities such as Stoke-on-Trent can expect in terms of engagement, tourism promotion and cultural and volunteering opportunities around the games.

To deliver a clear economic benefit, there needs to be promotion of how well connected Birmingham is to the wider west midlands, and how visitable the wider west midlands is and what its destinations and touristic experiences have to offer. The authentic Potteries, the world capital of ceramics, need a platform from the Birmingham games. They need an opportunity to sell themselves and to be sold by the tourism agencies as a must-see, must-visit experience, as a midlands city and as a cultural experience and investment opportunity like no other.

No Commonwealth games should be about money only. They should be about inspiring involvement in sports, culture, travel and coming together in something that is so much bigger than any one of us. However, if we try to pretend that it is not in any way about money, we will be condemning underdeveloped cities across the Commonwealth never to host the games. We need to prove that the games are worth the partnership funds they can leverage and the long-term socioeconomic legacy they can deliver. I support the Bill as a step towards getting that long-term benefit delivered.