I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Vara for introducing the debate and for the contributions he has made towards this important topic today.
Football clubs such as Peterborough United are vital parts of their communities. They have unique social value and enjoy rich histories. My hon. Friend is a fantastic advocate for his club. I know this well. We have spoken about football, and in particular Peterborough United, on many occasions. May I say immediately that I would be very keen indeed to take up his invitation to visit him in his constituency and the club? He outlined in incredibly forensic detail the many measures that his club and others across the country have taken to prepare for the safe opening of stadiums as soon as they are able to do so. I appreciate his attention to detail in outlining the case.
The Posh, as they are affectionately known, have been a mainstay of English football for more than 85 years. They have a very proud history, as my hon. Friend has articulated, and of course have very strong grounds to be optimistic about their future. Peterborough were, of course, unlucky to miss out on the play-offs last year, but given that they currently occupy the top position in league one, this season looks pretty positive for them. I hope that their good form continues and I wish them the very best of luck for the rest of the campaign.
As well as the team’s success on the pitch, the Peterborough United Foundation, as my hon. Friend has said, has undertaken incredible work off the pitch for many years. I think it was first founded in 2009. My hon. Friend mentioned many of the foundation’s activities. I was particularly impressed with all the work on access, including for the disabled and the elderly and, of course—this is a passion of mine—for women and girls, through its girls elite and development centre, and its support for the Premier League Primary Stars programme to create a healthier and more positive future for the country’s children.
The club and the foundation have also stepped up to the plate during coronavirus, helping the city during these incredibly difficult times by sending care packages to vulnerable fans across Peterborough and the surrounding areas. This is yet another great example of football clubs demonstrating their importance to local communities. In this place over the past few weeks, we have talked a lot about the role of rugby in communities. Perhaps we should not overlook the important role that football and football clubs play as well.
The Government have provided unprecedented support to businesses throughout this difficult period, including a comprehensive and sizeable package of direct fiscal support. Many football clubs have benefited from these measures, such as the business rates relief and the furlough scheme. Sport England has also provided £210 million of national lottery and Government funding to support the sector through covid-19. That includes a £35 million community emergency fund, which is helping community clubs and exercise centres during the pandemic. The Football Foundation, a charity set up by the Government, the Football Association and the Premier League, has also introduced a number of funds to help clubs. The latest is a matchday support fund, helping clubs prepare for the resumption of football.
I completely understand the importance of getting fans back into sports stadiums. My hon. Friend talked passionately about this, as have many other Members over the last few weeks. However, rising infection rates across the country meant that, unfortunately, it was not the right time to proceed with a wider reopening on
In addition, the Government recently brokered a unique deal with the National Lottery, which has provided £10 million in funding for the 66 clubs in the national league so that they can continue to play behind closed doors, and, of course, the English Football League is currently in discussions with the Premier League about a support package. I am hopeful and optimistic that those discussions will come to a positive conclusion very shortly.
We are absolutely committed to getting spectators back into stadia as soon as it is safe to do so. We will continue to work closely with a whole range of sports to understand the latest thinking that might allow spectators to return. The Government have invited the Sports Technology and Innovation Group—STIG for short—to analyse new technologies that might support the return of spectators. I spoke to the chair of the group this week, as did the Secretary of State, and we heard about the vital work that it is undertaking which will help to get spectators back in stadia as soon as possible.
We have made significant progress since the start of the pandemic. We worked closely with the sector to bring elite athletes back into training before returning competitive sport behind closed doors. We welcomed international athletes, with health protocols that helped to isolate the competitors, and set out detailed and stringent guidance for the safe return of spectators. The return of spectators was also successfully tested through the staging of pilot events over the summer, but these plans regrettably had to be paused as the virus was spreading. Rest assured, I understand the importance of pressing play on our plans and how unfortunate that was, but we will return to these plans as soon as we can. We pressed the pause button; we intend to return as soon as possible.
Before I conclude—Jim Shannon is strangely not in his place this evening—I would like to take the opportunity to wish Northern Ireland and Scotland good luck in their Euro 2020 play-off matches tonight—Northern Ireland versus Slovakia and Scotland versus Serbia, kick off at 7.45 pm. I am sure that many will be watching. I am grateful for today’s wide-ranging discussion about a subject that is close to my heart, many hearts here and the hearts of many of our constituents. I conclude by confirming that the Government are absolutely committed to continuing to support the sport sector and getting spectators back into stadia as soon as it is safe to do so.
Question put and agreed to.