Scott Benton is MP for Blackpool South
At the General Election, we promised to help people live more fulfilling lives by levelling up living standards and well-being across the country. We’ve since set ourselves the bold mission of increasing pride and celebrating the heritage of our local communities.
As we move forward from the pandemic, it’s time to get back to delivering on the promise we made to the country just three years ago. One way we can do so is by making sure our football clubs have a strong foundation and fair funding for the future.
Our English Football League (EFL) clubs – like my local club, Blackpool FC – are at the heart of so many communities; rich in cultural heritage and tradition, and central to local prosperity. More than a third of these clubs are in northern constituencies, where many now have a Conservative MP following the gains we made at the last election.
Across the country, 36 million people live within ten miles of an EFL club. They employ tens of thousands of people and can make a real difference to businesses in our local town centres and high streets.
Yet because of the unfairness and imbalance of football finances the vast majority of our great clubs are being pushed closer and closer to financial ruin. Just 20 Premier League clubs enjoying over £4billion more in income annually than the 72 EFL clubs combined
Blackpool are now enjoying being back in the Championship after some really difficult years, but we know all too well how vulnerable our clubs can be and how this impacts local communities pride and prosperity.
The financial gap between the Premier League and the rest is growing all the time, and becoming more and more unsustainable. My fear is that, if we do not act now, there is a real risk of more examples of proud English clubs being in financial distress – whether in Bury, Macclesfield, Portsmouth or, most recently, Derby.
Thankfully, the Government now has a chance to act and to show how the Conservative Party values our football clubs and the heritage and future of our great towns.
The Fan Led Review, chaired by my colleague Tracey Crouch, is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to deliver a financial reset that can protect clubs in our communities and across the country for the long term.
The two central recommendations of the report – introducing an independent regulator to ensure clubs are run properly, and ensuring a fairer split of revenue between the Premier League and the rest of the football pyramid – would make a major difference to clubs like Blackpool.
For example, if broadcast revenues could be split 75/25 between the Premier League and the rest of English football, as the EFL has said, it would help to halve the financial gap that currently exists between the top two divisions and wipe out the current operating losses of clubs in Leagues One and Two.
This would also eliminate the need for the existing system of parachute payments, which are paid to clubs relegated from the Premier League and make it ever harder for those without them to compete.
A recent report by Sheffield Hallam University found that clubs in receipt of parachute payments were three times more likely to get promoted than clubs without. The effect of this extra money is that it fuels unsustainable losses among rival clubs, who feel compelled to spend more in order to keep pace with their better funded rivals. The danger is that should owner investment dry up, clubs and fans are then left to pick up the pieces.
The dual approach, of a fairer economic model and the introduction of an independent regulator, needs to go hand-in-hand. It would ensure that football fans in communities across the country can be confident that their club is solvent and sustainable.
If we get this right, it can also be achieved without harming the competitiveness of our top clubs in Europe (the Premier League would still be the richest league in the world by some considerable margin) or top-flight football’s attractiveness to broadcasters or investors.
In the coming weeks, the Government will announce its response. I know that many of my colleagues, who have seen first-hand the damage our broken model of football finance can cause, will be joining me in urging the Government to seize this moment.
If we do, we can take another step in delivering on the promises we made to voters in 2019 and demonstrate what levelling up means for communities like mine. Better still, we can do so without any expense to the taxpayer.