Clause 52 - Duty to pay a levy

Football Governance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 21 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund 3:45, 21 Mai 2024

I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 52, page 42, line 28, at end insert—

“(9A) The starting point for calculation of the levy payment under subsection (9) applicable to a particular club shall be a percentage of its annual revenue.”

Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes Chair, Women and Equalities Committee, Chair, Women and Equalities Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Clause 53 stand part.

Photo of Clive Betts Clive Betts Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chair, Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee, Chairman of the House of Commons Members' Fund

This is a fairly simple clarifying amendment. As we have heard, smaller clubs feel that regulation must be proportionate and that there should be more requirements on very wealthy clubs, because they have the staff and resources to deal with that. Smaller clubs may find the whole issue of regulation very challenging, so amendment 30 simply says that the levy they will have to pay should be a percentage of annual revenue; in other words, a proportionate basis for the levy should be written into the Bill. The Minister may say that that will happen anyway—that that it is what the regulator will do—but the issue is a concern for smaller clubs, and the amendment 30 is an attempt to highlight and deal with it.

Photo of Stephanie Peacock Stephanie Peacock Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

When the fan-led review first proposed the creation of an independent regulator for football, it suggested that the most logical way to pay for it would be through a levy on those who would benefit from it: the clubs. I agree with that conclusion, and I am pleased that the Bill confirms that the regulator will be able to require licensed clubs to pay an annual levy.

However, even though clause 52 is relatively detailed, there is surprisingly little on how the levy will be split between the clubs themselves. That is something that amendment 30, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield South East, has sought to rectify. If the regulator is given wide discretion to determine the extent of the levy, clubs further down the pyramid might be concerned that their payments will not be proportionate to their wealth and size. Of course, clause 52 states that the regulator should have regard to the financial resources of each club and the competition it operates in. That is promising, but it is worth clarifying today what that is expected to mean in practice. Will decisions be based on broadcast incomes, as per the fan-led review, or just on average total revenue, as per the White Paper?

There is broad agreement that the richest clubs should subsidise regulation for others. The majority of costs should, in this case, fall on Premier League clubs. The Government identified that these clubs could pay about 80% of the cost, with the six richest clubs taking on 50% of the total cost. The regulator will ultimately dictate the shape of the levy, but it should be under a clear direction to ensure that the levy is progressive and proportionate. It hardly makes sense for a regulator focused on financial sustainability to shackle struggling clubs to paying large fees. It is important that clubs do not fear the introduction of the new regime and view it as an opportunity, rather than being scared into thinking it will be a hindrance.

Clause 53 requires the regulator to consult before making the levy rules. That will include taking input on a draft version of the rules from the Secretary of State, the Treasury, regulated clubs and other appropriate persons. That welcome measure will hopefully shape the levy rules in a progressive way. It is also right that the regulator must publish information about the costs involved in calculating the levy charge before it starts charging in any given year. That transparency will be important, particularly for the clubs, which will want to understand exactly what they are paying for and why.

Overall, I welcome the levy and the method of payment, and I look forward to clarification on how the Minister expects the levy will be set.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

The Government understand that the intent behind the amendment is to create certainty about how the regulator’s levy charges will be distributed between clubs. The clause gives the regulator the necessary discretion to determine how the levy is calculated and the individual charges to be paid by clubs. The Government do not have the information or datasets required to determine the appropriate way to calculate levy payments, but those will be available to the regulator. Therefore, the regulator, rather than Government, will be best placed to determine how to distribute levy charges across clubs. Importantly, that reinforces the regulator’s operational independence.

I strongly support the objective that levy charges should be affordable to clubs, which is why there is already provision that should ensure that. However, requiring the regulator to be guided by a percentage of a club’s annual revenue in its levy calculations could undermine its ability to ensure that the charges are proportionate and affordable. In addition to revenue, the regulator should have the discretion to take into account clubs’ other financial resources when determining levy payments, which may be a more appropriate indicator of what a club’s charges should be. That could include resources such as owners’ funds, but also the offset of club expenditure.

Clause 52 already provides assurance that the regulator must take into account clubs’ differing financial circumstances. That includes clubs’ financial resources and the leagues that club teams play in, as that ultimately has a direct link to revenue. For the reasons I have set out, I am not able to accept the amendment from the hon. Member for Sheffield South East, so I hope he will withdraw it.

Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Ceidwadwyr, Aberconwy

On that point, I would be interested to know the Minister’s thoughts. As I understand it, the purpose of the levy is cost recovery rather than to be a redistributive mechanism. Is there a reason why a simple flat percentage should not be sufficient to achieve all that we described? It would offer certainty, but it would also make sure that those with broader shoulders pay more, and it would achieve the IFR’s objective of recovering its costs.

Photo of Stuart Andrew Stuart Andrew Assistant Whip, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Culture, Media and Sport), Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Equalities)

The reality is that, to help it understand the specifics of club finances, the regulator will have at its disposal information that we do not have at the moment. If we set the levy by percentage, we may unintentionally cause a problem for some clubs and cause an unintended consequence. The regulator will be best placed to make sure that the levy is proportionate, which is why we want the regulator to determine it. My hon. Friend is right, in the sense that some clubs will pay more for a player than most clubs earn in a year, but we will make sure that the levy is proportionate. I understand the points the hon. Member for Sheffield South East made, and I have heard what some of the smaller clubs have been saying, but I am confident we will be able to achieve that aim.

Clause 52 will allow the regulator to charge a levy to licensed clubs that covers the regulator’s running costs, following the precedent of other regulators, such as the FCA and Ofcom. The cost of the regime will be paid for by licensed football clubs. By making football clubs more sustainable in the long term, the regulator will be providing a service to the industry. As the industry would benefit from regulation, it is logical that it, rather than taxpayers, should cover the cost.

The legislation puts robust checks and balances on the regulator, which will be limited to raising funds to meet its annual regulatory running costs. That includes the costs of ongoing regulatory activity, additional money for new activities, and costs associated with recouping set-up costs. In line with the principles of transparency and accountability, the regulator will be subject to “Managing Public Money” guidance, and its forecast running costs will be subject to review by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Treasury.

The clause also gives the regulator discretion regarding the method for calculating the levy and in setting the levy payment level for individual clubs. To ensure that the regulator takes into account clubs’ differing financial circumstances, and to prevent charges from being unaffordable for clubs, clause 52 requires the regulator to take into account a club’s financial resources and the league it plays in. Clause 53 imposes a statutory duty on the regulator to consult regulated clubs and the Government on its levy rules.

The levy is an operational matter that should be determined independently by the regulator, and it would not be appropriate for the Government to make the assessment. As I say, running costs will be checked by both the DCMS and the Treasury.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Clauses 52 and 53 ordered to stand part of the Bill.