Local Commonwealth Games levy

Part of Birmingham Commonwealth Games Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 11th June 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Suzanne Webb Suzanne Webb Conservative, Stourbridge 3:06 pm, 11th June 2020

I am delighted to follow my hon. Friends, who are vocal champions for the west midlands, and particularly those Members who represent the Black Country. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests as a councillor on Birmingham City Council. I should also like to draw the House’s attention to the fact that I believe I am one of the games’ most enthusiastic supporters, not just because I am a west midlands MP but because many years ago I competed at club level in the very stadium that is to be the focal point of the games. That is, of course, the Alexander Stadium. That club, the Royal Sutton Coldfield Athletics Club, was in the constituency of my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell. Running for that club, I of course had my sights set on greater achievements, but hindsight is always a good thing. In fact, I had to wait until 2012—some 30 years later—to first set foot in an Olympic stadium, and then it was only as a spectator. Members can imagine my anticipation for 2022, when I will see the stadium that I first ran in become a Commonwealth games stadium.

The Bill contains important measures that I very much welcome—namely, those that touch on financial propriety rules and the proposal that the committee should report annually on the delivery of the games. These measures will give assurance to the financial rigour of the investments, particularly when the Government, the Mayor and the West Midlands Combined Authority have been so generous and supportive on the financial side, but we cannot adequately assess an organisation’s financial rigour without also looking at the governance practices and its decision making. This is vital, as Birmingham City Council has its part to play in the planning, preparation and delivery of these games, and it does not have a good track record of governance or financial management. It is on its seventh chief executive in eight years, and it has had three successive section 24s issued in as many years. The power under section 24 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 is used when auditors are concerned about a council’s financial sustainability.

I believe that, to make the games a success, we need to evaluate on an ongoing basis the structures and processes that involve decision making, essentially as a check to determine whether the information given to key stakeholders is reliable. We have the window of the world on these games and there should be a mechanism in place not just to challenge financial rigour but to challenge and scrutinise those who govern. In this instance, that is Birmingham City Council. An essential element of any corporate governance is to do just that, and these games are no different—indeed, the need is even greater as the investment is the hard-earned money of the taxpayer.

I would now like to touch on the fiscal legacy of the games. When the games were awarded, we knew nothing of covid-19 or that the games would play their part in a much-needed antidote to this vindictive and indiscriminate killer. The games will be vital to heal the economic scars that covid-19 has brought. We have a fantastic opportunity to capitalise on the international spotlight that the games will bring. When the games start and the visitors arrive, we will be showcasing a world class destination for trade, investment, education and tourism. The west midlands will benefit from £778 million of sport investment, the biggest since London 2012, which will include a brand new aquatic centre, a redeveloped athletics stadium and 1,400 new homes. What is not to love about these games?

I echo the sentiments of my hon. Friends and welcome with open arms the new Commonwealth jobs and skills academy, an initiative by the West Midlands Combined Authority and its partners, led magnificently by Andy Street. Some 41,000 games-time roles are set to be recruited. For businesses, there are £300 million-worth of contracts to be procured and, of course, impressive feats of engineering to make the city of Birmingham ready. My one wish is to urge the organising committee to procure local, invest local and recruit local, and to showcase all that is great about this region.

This is my shameless plug for my constituency of Stourbridge. I have some fantastic microbreweries—the Printworks brewery at the Windsor Castle Inn and Craddock’s Brewery, to name but two. It would be fitting to see local beers showcased at the games as part of the hospitality. Some suggestions for beer names are “Stourbridge Sue”, “Bostin”—look it up—and “2022”. And we should not forget the awesome pies for which the Black Country is famed, perhaps served on ceramics from the constituency of my hon. Friend Jo Gideon.

The games will be a celebration. I will not be donning a pair of running shorts again, but I can assure the Government, the organising committee, the fantastic west midlands Mayor, Andy Street, and all my constituents that I will be a strong and leading voice for the games. I very much welcome the Bill with the gusto it deserves.