Last quango in Britain - the Tories get radical

Exclusive: Moynihan spells out Opposition's future for sport - one body under charge of sports minister
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The Independent Online

Sue Campbell's reappointment as head of UK Sport is believed to be imminent, but should the Tories win the general election it is unlikely she will occupy the chair for long. In what would be the most radical shake-up of sport since the Wolfenden Report 40 years ago, the Conservatives are pledging to scrap all quangos, including UK Sport, Sport England and its nine regional satellites, and bring together sports organisations, large and small, under one umbrella body, the British Sports Foundation, which would be chaired by the sports minister.

Sue Campbell's reappointment as head of UK Sport is believed to be imminent, but should the Tories win the general election it is unlikely she will occupy the chair for long. In what would be the most radical shake-up of sport since the Wolfenden Report 40 years ago, the Conservatives are pledging to scrap all quangos, including UK Sport, Sport England and its nine regional satellites, and bring together sports organisations, large and small, under one umbrella body, the British Sports Foundation, which would be chaired by the sports minister.

"These quangos have outgrown their usefulness," the current shadow sports minister, Lord Colin Moynihan, told The Independent on Sunday. "They have become a waste of time and public money. Getting rid of them, and the unwieldy fragmentation which has bedevilled British sport for years, will save millions of pounds of taxpayers' money spent on their bureaucracy.

"This would be ploughed back into the grass roots of sport, which this government has badly neglected. At the moment, nobody knows what is going on in the various quangos," Moynihan says. "The public don't really know what they do, or who is accountable. We will have a minister of sport chairing a new overall body which will be a one-stop shop for sport. This will embrace every governing body, both professional and ama-teur, including the Football Association and the British Olympic Association."

Moynihan, a former Olympic rowing silver-medallist and Varsity boxing blue who was a Tory sports minister under Margaret Thatcher, is currently leading an independent review into the state of British sport. He has masterminded this new "vision for sport", which he says his party will implement should they come to power. This includes a complete revamping of the Lottery funding programme, handing the distribution to a single body, and establishing an independent anti-doping agency, a role currently undertaken by UK Sport.

Says Moynihan: "The problem with the quangos is that basically they do what they are told because the government holds their purse strings. They may argue their independence, but until recently when you rang the main switchboard you were told that calls were being recorded for government training purposes. It is high time we made the sports minister accountable to sport and to Parliament. While you do not have transparent authority at the top you have cynicism.

"A sports minister should be influential both in government and in other departments. Tessa Jowell speaks for sport in the Cabinet, but I do not believe she has demonstrated any influence with the Department of Health, which still does not take sport seriously."

I mentioned to Moynihan that, following the IOC Evaluation Commission last week, I encountered two sports officials who might have given members a somewhat less rose-tinted view on aspects of our sporting life. Brian Stocks, the president of the British Gymnastics Federation, spoke of "the rug being pulled from under us" because the sport's Lottery funding has been slashed by £1.5m, largely after they failed to win a medal in Athens. "It is all about reward and not incentive," he said. "We have had to lose 13 members of staff and our programme for Beijing has been decimated."

"The funding system is all wrong," says Moynihan. "Sports like gymnastics are suffering from a divisive and inefficient system. It is nonsense that the current system concentrates on how many medals were won in the last Olympics, as UK Sport has done. A totally different body, Sport England, focuses on the development programme. How can you possibly have joined-up thinking? Tomorrow's champions come from the development squads of today. The BOA should be at the heart of funding."

Then there was an official of the British Shooting Federation, who was chauffeuring the commission through the new East End tunnel link. He complained bitterly that the government ban on sporting handguns makes shooters sport's pariahs. "I agree with him," Moynihan says. It has to be sorted out. The prejudice against shooting will be addressed as a matter of priority. We cannot have our prospective Olympic teams forced to go to Switzerland to train. It is ridiculous."

Of course, the odds against the Tories winning a May election are somewhat longer than London's for the 2012 Olympics. But Moynihan is sanguine, and promises that if it is Michael Howard and himself on the podium in Singapore for the vote, government support for the bid will be "even more substantial, because we will go there armed with an additional £350m, as we will not impose the tax on the proposed Olympic Lottery, as the present government insist on doing. Our restructuring of sport will ensure the money is delivered to where it is needed: the sportsmen and women, the clubs, the governing bodies and schools. We will put them at the centre. Not the quangos."

The manifesto will be broadly welcomed. Says Howard Wells, chair of the CCPR, a former chief executive of UK Sport and now chief executive of the Irish Football Association: "The quangos have had their day. It is time to move on."

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