Government accused of ‘dither and delay’ over plans for independent regulator

The Government has been accused of “dither and delay” over plans for an independent regulator in football after a commitment to bring forward legislation was struck out of a response to an MP this week.

In April, the Government endorsed the recommendations of the fan-led review, which included the creation of a regulator backed by statutory powers. A White Paper was promised in the summer, but has been delayed by the upheaval in the Conservative Party.

Labour MP Kevin Brennan wrote to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) last week requesting information on timescales regarding the regulator following the changes of leadership.

Text was struck out from a written response by Sports Minister Stuart Andrew
Text was struck out from a written response by Sports Minister Stuart Andrew (PA)

The first response from Sports Minister Stuart Andrew on Tuesday said the Government remained committed to publishing a White Paper setting out detailed proposals on the regulator, but also included the sentence: “Following publication of the White Paper, we will bring forward legislation when parliamentary time allows.”

Less than six hours later, a corrected response had been sent, crossing out that sentence.

Brennan, who sits on the DCMS committee, told the PA news agency: “This is not a new Government, but it is the same old excuses when it comes to supporting football fans.

“Clubs and fans up and down the football pyramid demand action, and won’t tolerate yet more dither and delay.”

It is understood from Government sources that the initial response to Brennan was sent in error.

A Government spokesman said: “We remain committed to setting out our detailed response to the Fan Led Review of Football Governance and will be publishing a White Paper in due course.”

Nevertheless, the decision to strike out the reference to bringing forward legislation has raised deep concern among those who support the creation of a regulator.

Niall Couper, the chief executive of the Fair Game group which campaigns for reforms to make the English game financially sustainable, told PA: “Rarely can one stroke of a pen cause so much heartache.

“To remove what was a weak commitment in the first place, sends shudders down the spine. It doesn’t look like this Government has the appetite or the will to care for football.

Conservative MP Tracey Crouch chaired the fan-led review panel which recommended the creation of an independent regulator
Conservative MP Tracey Crouch chaired the fan-led review panel which recommended the creation of an independent regulator (DCMS Handout/PA)

“The government made a commitment to reform and legislation in April, and it was in the manifesto they were elected on. Yet now it looks like they are rowing back at a rate of knots. It is not too late to turn the ship around.

“Football needs reform urgently. The pandemic left clubs on their knees, the cost-of-living crisis threatens to be a knockout blow and now the Government seems to have chosen to just let it all unfold.

“Their inaction could see clubs fold, hitting the businesses that depend on them, the communities that they sit in and wiping out decades of history and tradition.

“It’s up to Rishi Sunak and the (DCMS) Secretary of State Michelle Donelan to show compassion and make a firm commitment to legislation. Without it, questions will be asked up and down the country.”

Sunak, who succeeded Liz Truss as Prime Minister last month after her reign of less than two months, pledged his support to implement all the recommendations of the fan-led review during the Tory leadership contest in the summer.

Members of the House of Lords also repeatedly sought a commitment from the DCMS on Thursday to bring forward legislation to create a regulator.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester reminded Lord Parkinson, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DCMS, of Sunak’s pledge in the summer and whether it remained Government policy that an independent regulator was needed.

Lord Parkinson said: “Much has changed even since the Prime Minister made those commitments.

“The Secretary of State and the Sports Minister are taking the time to consider the recommendations of Tracey Crouch’s review. We remain grateful to her and the thousands of fans who took part in it and informed it.

“The noble Lord should not read any more into that than they are taking the time to look at this complex area of policy and to discuss it with the FA, the EFL and supporters’ organisations among others. We will bring forward our response in the White Paper.”

The fan-led review, which was a General Election manifesto pledge from the Conservative Party in 2019, was commissioned in April last year in the wake of the Super League scandal.