Amendment 2

Non-Domestic Rating (Lists) (No. 2) Bill - Report – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 1st March 2021.

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Lord Addington:

Moved by Lord Addington

2: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—“Assessment of effects of timing of business rates revaluations on amateur sports clubs and clubs providing other facilitiesWithin six months of the passing of this Act, and biennially thereafter, the Secretary of State must publish the report of a review analysing the effects of the timing of business rates revaluations on amateur sports clubs and those providing facilities for physical recreation and cultural activities.”

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I return to the subject of support for amateur sports clubs which I raised in Committee. I, too—I might as well clarify it now—do not expect to divide the House at the end of this debate. Of course, the Minister might just manage to inspire me by his answer, but that is not normally his style. Let us see if we can be consistent about that.

The reason why I am raising this again is that, although the Minister gave me some answers, I want a bit more detail and thought about how the Government are planning for the future of sports clubs and sport itself. The Government have accepted their importance by giving them some support throughout the lockdown period, but the problems sports clubs have will, as in all sectors, not stop the minute they get back. Actually, the minute we start activity again, problems will be exposed and identified. All of them can be accentuated by finance. Business rates are part of that. That is where it comes from, so let us see if we can get some idea of whether the Government are prepared to go across department and across thinking to make sure that they accept that this group is worth keeping on.

Why are sports clubs worth keeping on? It is quite simple: in this country we have a tradition of sports clubs running themselves and being set up without government support, often with the help of employers—indeed, employers have set up sports clubs which have survived when the employer has gone. We have a tradition of self-help which has provided the infrastructure for sport to take place. At amateur level, sport is dependent on that structure. These clubs and centres depend, for example, on their bars and on renting out rooms for other functions to keep themselves going. They are small businesses and act in the business environment even with charitable status. They have a consistent relationship of raising their own funds. How the Government are thinking slightly longer term to make sure they can carry on doing that is vital.

Let us not kid ourselves: there is a major problem coming through here. I do not know how enforced inactivity has at the moment encouraged people to retire early from a club; for instance, retiring at 32 as opposed to 35. There has been a break in activity. To take a classic example, you will not get fit as easily as you did and you have started doing something else, so you ask yourself whether you want to go through the pain and discomfort of getting back into shape. It is one of the first considerations. Also, perhaps people think they should spend more time with something else. It is when that interaction stops that people stop going. We all know that; anybody who has been involved in this knows it. I do not know how rugby union is going to handle it, having had probably the biggest break. It is probably the biggest example of this model. It will have to restructure. I do not know how, but it will be something to come back to. The Government have said they value these clubs and all the activity outside, education and structure. Clubs are going to have a problem structuring how they take on their activity and how that relates to funding.

Rates is part of that, so I will be looking to get from the Government today an idea of how they think this bit of government fits in. The idea of getting an initial review and then a continuing one is very important. Let us face it: I am not an expert on rates. Having attended a couple of meetings with my colleagues, I decided that I probably do not want to become one. This is a complicated, difficult thing. Something that has no intellectual friends is probably business rates. There is probably someone hiding in a cupboard in Whitehall who quite likes them, but that is about where they are. Can we have a look at how this local taxation affects sports clubs? How are the Government taking this on? Sports clubs are important. We are hearing about social interaction and mental health problems. Sport is a great medium for that. It is the social connection that goes through. It is physical connection and support, and something that is tied into so many other bits of government that it is not true. I hope that when the Minister answers this amendment he will give us an idea of how his department is taking a lead or feeding in on this, because it is one of the links in the chain. If this link is strong and healthy, the rest of that chain may just survive. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Moynihan Lord Moynihan Conservative

My Lords, I refer to my interests in sport as set out in the register. It is a pleasure and a privilege to follow my noble friend in sport, the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and support Amendment 2 in his name. During the passage of this Bill, the noble Lord and I have simply sought to point out that, at a critical time as we seek to emerge from Covid-19 in 2021, it is hoped that the Government will finally take the vital opportunity to initiate new policies. This includes the adoption of this new clause to give a new national impetus to sport, recreation and an active lifestyle, which was missed at the last opportunity created by the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

If we are to emerge stronger from Covid, we need to provide opportunities for everyone to be more active and healthy so we can reduce the burden on the National Health Service and have a country that prioritises preventive healthcare and an active lifestyle—frankly, for the first time in our history.

My noble friend the Minister can take one small step with us today. He is a reasonable man; he appreciates and totally understands that moving from the mandatory 80% compulsory relief from business rates applying to community amateur sports clubs, where local authorities also have in their discretion such relief to increase it to 100%, should be accepted and broadened in two ways. First, it should apply to all sport, recreation and physical activity venues and clubs which promote an active lifestyle. Secondly, the policy should be applicable at the level of full rate relief, central to a government programme to ensure that we build back better.

However, we are not asking the Minister to go that far. We are simply asking him to adopt this new clause, just to provide your Lordships’ House and Parliament with an

“Assessment of effects of timing of business rates revaluations on amateur sports clubs and clubs providing other facilities” and to do so within a very reasonable period of time—within six months of the passing of this Act. We could have asked for a further report to be presented to Parliament every six months, but we wanted to be helpful to my noble friend. We did not even propose an annual review. We asked for a review to be biennial so as to reduce any serious workload on the Minister and his officials. We ask for them to simply

“publish the report of a review analysing the effects of the timing of business rates revaluations on amateur sports clubs and those providing facilities for physical recreation and cultural activities.”

This is such a small request for such a substantial and impressive Minister. It is hardly a great deal to ask. This is the time for the Minister to tear up his speaking notes and communicate with this House from his heart, because he knows this is correct. He knows that the motive behind it is accurate and with his great intellect he can simply stand up and say, “I accept this new clause”.

Photo of Baroness Pinnock Baroness Pinnock Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government) 4:00 pm, 1st March 2021

[Inaudible.]—follow that clarion call to the Minister, but I will try. My noble friend Lord Addington and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, have again made a very powerful case again for specific action in respect of amateur and community sports facilities. As my noble friend Lord Addington has reminded us, the Government already provide some support to community sports clubs but it is unlikely to be sufficient to help them balance their books after such a long period of closure due to the various lockdown measures.

I recall that in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, shared the result of an academic investigation by Sheffield Hallam University which valued the impact of community sport at £85.5 billion per annum to the country. The noble Lords have today made a further strong argument for change.

It is not just the impact on the finances of the country that we need to think about in the amendment, but the strong argument made in the discussion on Amendment 1 about the impact on the nation’s health and well-being. That is invaluable in itself. Covid has demonstrated the real importance of daily activity for health and community well-being to us all.

In Committee the Minister agreed with the case made by both noble Lords and said

“I will be a strong advocate” —[GC 382.]">Official Report, 4/2/21; col. GC 382.] of it to the Treasury. We are aware of the benefit of community sports provision. It needs to be valued by the Government for the wider community effect of providing a focus for activity and friendship. Given that the Minister has said how strongly he supports the case, I look forward to his positive response today.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, I am very happy to support the noble Lord, Lord Addington, in his amendment. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, made a very powerful case when we were in Committee and they have made an equally powerful case today. I am very happy to support them.

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, we want to be healthier; we have to get people doing more physical activity, because it will have great effects on their health. That is a good thing as people will live longer and have fewer problems with disease, and that will have a knock-on effect on our health service. That is the most important thing behind all this—getting people to be more active and healthier. The Government are currently running a major campaign, quite rightly, which you see on television, at bus stops and everywhere. I fully support that.

It is also important to ensure that local amateur clubs doing a variety of activities in their communities actually get people doing things. Where I live in south London, there is the Francis Drake Bowls Club—I often go past and see lots of people playing on the bowls green. There is also Lewisham Borough Football Club, an amateur club, and the athletics club that takes part on the track in Ladywell Fields. Those are the things that local people can do to become more active and physical, and if we can support them through the rating system, we should.

As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, all the amendment is asking for is a biennial report. The amendment is much more generous than I would have been as I wanted one every 12 months. If the Government accept this amendment, they will have to do everything that is in it anyway because they need to have good policy, and good policy needs facts and proper information.

I hope that the noble Lord will tear up his speaking notes to resist this and say, “I agree”. I look forward to hearing his response.

Photo of Lord Greenhalgh Lord Greenhalgh Minister of State (Housing, Communities and Local Government), The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, in my rush to respond to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on the first amendment, I forgot to declare my relevant commercial and residential property interests as set out in the register, so I do so now.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan for their suggestion that I tear up my speaking notes and do what the amendment says. I will seek to reassure them that we have a real commitment to community and grass-roots sports. In that spirit I will refer to a number of things that the Government are doing. My family, friends and I all benefit from community sports and it is right that we do all we can to support community and grass-roots sport, as Members have highlighted.

As I explained in my response to the previous amendment, we will not know the effect of the revaluation on ratepayers for some time and certainly not within six months of the passing of this Bill. The same points apply to this amendment. However, I appreciate that the noble Lord and others want to understand how the revaluation will affect amateur sports clubs. It may therefore assist the noble Lord if I explain how these clubs are valued for business rates—I will try to make the incomprehensible comprehensible.

First, the Valuation Office Agency must, by law, value a property having regard to its current use. This means, for example, that when valuing the site of an amateur cricket club the valuation officer must have regard to its value to the cricket club and not its value to a developer. As you would expect, this important principle means that the rateable value of sports grounds is generally quite low.

The VOA publishes statistics on the rateable value of different categories of properties. The average rateable value in England of sports grounds is £12,000 but the value of many is much less than this and the median rateable value of sports grounds is only £6,000. That equates to a full annual rates bill of about £3,000, which for many will be reduced by the 80% mandatory rate relief. Under those circumstances, many sports clubs will find themselves with a rates bill of as little as £600 per year or £50 per month.

Of course, I appreciate that some clubs will find themselves paying more than this. Business rates reflect the specific circumstances of the property so some clubs, for example with more facilities than others, may find themselves paying more. We also heard in Committee that some clubs may be not eligible for the 80% mandatory relief for community amateur sports clubs. That is a matter specific to the individual clubs but I can understand that some will still have a particular interest in understanding whether their rates bill may change at the 2023 revaluation.

As I have said, we will not know the answer to that until much later in 2022, at the point when all clubs will be able to see their new rateable values. These valuations will be prepared over the next 18 months and, as with all properties, the VOA will first search for evidence of rents paid on sports grounds as a guide to value. As I have explained, to be good evidence these rents will have to reflect the value to the sports club. These rents should not reflect matters such as the development value where, for example, the club happens to be in a prosperous area. To the extent that the rental evidence, where available, shows that values have risen or fallen over the last six years, this will be reflected in rateable values at the 2023 revaluation.

The VOA expects to use rental evidence for most clubs but, whatever the valuation approach adopted for the property, the VOA is clear in its guidance that for non-commercial clubs valuers can also have regard to ability to pay before setting rateable values. The valuer should ask themselves if the rateable value represents the rent that clubs or organisations of the kind which occupy the type of sports ground concerned could reasonably be expected to pay. The VOA’s guidance specifically recognises that where income is generated from the occupation of these grounds, the costs of occupation will be barely covered despite voluntary assistance. Although I am unable to tell the noble Lord how amateur sports clubs will be impacted by the 2023 revaluation, I hope that this background to how they are valued is helpful.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has established to the House the vital importance of our community sports clubs. While the value of the 80% mandatory business rates relief to eligible community amateur sports clubs cannot be understated, I recognise the need for the Government to provide support beyond this, particularly throughout the duration of this pandemic. This Government’s commitment to sport is evidenced by the £220 million provided by Sport England to support community sports clubs and exercise centres since March 2020. In addition, the Government have put in place a £300 million sports winter survival package, which has been used to protect the immediate future of major spectator sports over the winter period, and a £100 million support fund for local authority leisure centres. In total, the Treasury estimates that around £1.5 billion of public money has gone into sports in the last year. I hope the House will agree that this constitutes a significant package of support that this Government have made available to sports clubs and exercise facilities of all sizes.

I hope that I have given the House some assurances about both the financial support that the Government are providing to our grass-roots sports sector, and the process and approach which will be taken over the coming months as amateur sports clubs are revalued by the VOA. We will continue to keep in mind the points on how we can support community sports at the grass-roots level. I appreciate the passion from both the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and my noble friend Lord Moynihan, but, reluctantly, I cannot tear up my speaking notes. Therefore, I hope that with these reassurances the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will agree to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 4:15 pm, 1st March 2021

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken in support of us, particularly my friend in sport, although I prefer “collaborator”. I thank the Minister for his reply about the current system and for saying that if you have done the right thing, you will get some benefit out of it. That is fair enough, as such things are fairly hard won in the first place. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker, had a chat about the creation of community amateur sports clubs—a conversation which, I believe, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, and I were both in on, in the Moses Room. Civil servants were more or less told to go back and think again, so a precedent has been set that should perhaps be looked at at some point. These groups do good things and do the Government’s job for them.

My amendment also mentioned physical, recreational and cultural activities. We did not really get round to them in the debate but they are also important. Maybe we should think about dance classes, local am dram and music group facilities as well. The Minister has acknowledged that the Government as a whole have a responsibility here. It is not something that can be pushed off to health, DCMS, education or meetings at junior functionary level, and then be ignored; it is a priority. The most important point here is that the Government as a whole should support this as it does their work for them in many fields. I do not think there is much dispute about that.

However, if rates is not the way forward, I look forward to dragging out of whoever happens to be sitting where the Minister is now how they are going to do it and combine the various areas, because that is the important thing to come out of this. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 2 withdrawn.

Sitting suspended.