This time last year, I stood before you as the Chief Executive of BHB. Three weeks after last yea?_x0019_s AGM, the much-needed executive restructuring announced the previous month, took effect with the arrival of BH?_x0019_s first Managing Director and my own assumption of the new role of Secretary-General. In his Review in this yea?_x0019_s Annual Report, Chris Reynolds, from whom you have just heard, generously extends his gratitude to everyone at BHB for their patience with the†_x001C_new bo?_x001D_, and expresses his special thanks to his senior executive colleagues for what he describes as their†_x001C_unstinting patience, guidance and humou?_x001D_. We, for our part, have been delighted to welcome Chris as a valuable and creative member of a team to whom patience, guidance and humour fortunately come very naturally!
And talking of teams and restructuring, we learnt over the weekend that the Home Office’s Horseracing Policy Team, headed by Dave Bawden and overseen by Elliot Grant, would be transferring to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, as part of the Prime Minister’s radical shake-up of Whitehall. This will provide a welcome measure of continuity as we get to know the new Ministerial team headed by Secretary of State Tessa Jowell, with whom we are much looking forward to working on the many key issues currently on the political agenda. It would however be remiss of me not to mention, at this juncture, the support we have had from the Home Office team of Jack Straw and Mike O’Brien, who grasped nettles which their many predecessors singularly failed to do. It was they who were responsible for the Government’s decisions in principle last year to abolish the levy and to transfer the Tote into Racing’s ownership.
Preparations for the abolition of the statutory levy and its replacement with a non-statutory commercial mechanism have advanced significantly since this time last year, with the submission to Government in October of BHB’s Future Funding Plan and the publication by the Home Office in November of a Consultation Paper which drew heavily on that Plan and on a number of other commitments which BHB, as the prospective successor central funding body to the Levy Board, has given to Government about future spending priorities.
It was, therefore, no surprise that, in March of this year, BHB was able to submit a positive and welcoming response to that Paper. We fully recognise how strong is the competition for slots in legislative programmes. Nevertheless it remains our hope that it will not be too long before Government takes the final step by announcing a timetable for the introduction of the necessary enabling legislation. However, the absence of a firm timetable will not halt progress towards the introduction of a commercial mechanism, with discussions with the Betting Industry set to continue.
Early legislation would help to remove the uncertainty which we all recognise is being keenly felt by the staff of the Levy Board who have given, and continue to give, such dedicated service to Racing. Whatever the precise timescale, BHB is committed to working closely with Rob Hughes, Rodney Brack and their Levy Board colleagues to make the transition from the statutory to the commercial framework as seamless as possible.
The removal of uncertainty is also very relevant in the context of the Tote, whose sale to a Racing Trust was agreed in principle by the Government fifteen months ago. A single Bill dealing with both Levy and Tote has consistently been the Government’s preferred option, although Racing would certainly not seek to stand in the way of single Tote-only legislation, if this were to be more easily accommodated in a crowded legislative programme. Both Racing and the Tote share a common desire to get the legislation introduced and passed and the sale effected at the earliest possible opportunity. To this end, representatives of the five racing bodies who will in due course be members of the formally constituted Racing Trust (BHB, Industry Committee, Jockey Club, RCA and ROA) have been meeting as a Shadow Trust, to address some of the key issues which will require attention as soon as the introduction of the legislation is confirmed.
At the end of June, the Gambling Review Body, under the Chairmanship of Sir Alan Budd, is due to report to the Culture Secretary. This is the first comprehensive review of gambling since the Rothschild Commission Report 23 years ago, and its recommendations, or at least those recommendations which are accepted by Government, will provide the framework for the development and regulation of gambling, which have of course great relevance for the future funding and prosperity of the racing industry.
BHB submitted a detailed memorandum of evidence to the Review Body last August, based on the twin principles of enhanced consumer protection and greater consumer choice. A key feature of the evidence was the proposal, first put forward in the BHB Financial Plan over three years ago, that betting should be permitted in pubs and clubs, subject always of course to appropriate safeguards to protect the young and vulnerable. The significant positive economic impact of such an initiative was detailed in an independent Report by Charles River Associates, commissioned by BHB and submitted to the Review Body earlier this year.
In mid-July William Hill’s appeal against the robust High Court judgement in favour of BHB in February is due to be heard. This landmark judgement relating to the use of BHB’s pre-race information on William Hill’s internet betting sites, is of vital importance to Racing, as the licensing of the use of this information and payment for such use form a very significant part of the basis on which levy replacement is constructed. We remain confident that the protection of our valuable information, which Mr Justice Laddie confirmed was indeed conferred by the Database Regulations, will survive next month’s appeal. A confidence which extends to our ability to satisfy the Office of Fair Trading, following their imminent investigation of a complaint from that same bookmaker relating to the terms of their data licence, that BHB has acted within the provisions of the Competition Act.
There are two other dates, both hopefully in the reasonably near future, which will prove of great significance to Racing, albeit in rather different ways.
We hope that very soon the Treasury and Customs & Excise will announce the date on which General Betting Duty will cease to be a 6.75% tax on betting turnover and become a 15% tax on bookmakers’ gross profits. The Chancellor’s historic announcement in March that this change would be implemented by 1st January 2002, represented the culmination of several years of lobbying by Racing and the betting industry for decisive and meaningful action – action which was assuming ever greater urgency as a result of the rapid growth of off-shore betting facilities paying no duty and no levy. The betting industry itself produced some very comprehensive and cogent reports and information in support of the case, which Racing promoted with equal vigour. The sooner the agreed change is implemented, the sooner the benefits will flow through to the punter, to Racing and to the betting industry. We will continue to join with others in pressing for implementation of this new deal at the earliest practicable opportunity. We look to Paul Boateng, who has just succeeded Stephen Timms as Financial Secretary, to act soon.
The other, as yet uncertain, date is the day on which BHB and the Jockey Club, in conjunction with what is now the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will be able to announce the lifting of all the guidelines and the disinfection procedures introduced in response to the devastating Foot and Mouth outbreak. I do not want to let this occasion pass without expressing our very great appreciation of the advice and support which we have received from the former Ministry of Agriculture throughout the last four months of the outbreak. In particular, on the Ministerial side, I would pay special tribute to Baroness Hayman, former Minister of State (Lords) at MAFF and, on the official side, to Andrew Turnbull of the State Veterinary Service, who has been our main point of contact ever since those dark days of late February. We have throughout endeavoured to keep key politicians appraised of our actions and responses, and we have also kept senior executives of the National Farmers’ Union similarly informed. Notwithstanding the understandable strong concerns expressed in some quarters, particularly in the early days and weeks of the outbreak, Racing can be proud of its measured and controlled response, which struck a proper balance between protecting the livelihoods of the many tens of thousands of people employed in and dependent upon the racing industry, and minimising the risk of spreading the disease itself. Great credit is due to racecourse executives, trainers and all those who responded magnificently to the challenge.
Nothing could however, be done to save the Point to Point season to which the outbreak dealt a hammer blow at a time when Government’s Hunting Bill was wending its way through Parliament. Departmental responsibility for hunting now passes to the Department for Rural Affairs, and Racing will continue to remind legislators of the damaging impact which a hunting ban would have on National Hunt Racing in particular.
Parts of the animal kingdom in this country have been absolutely devastated by the Foot and Mouth outbreak, although mercifully the horse itself is not susceptible. And it is of course the horse which provides the focus for our sport and industry, and which gives so much pleasure to so many people. It was therefore wholly appropriate that, during last year, BHB should undertake a major project in establishing a charitable organisation to support the rehabilitation of former racehorses. The initial success of this major welfare initiative owes much to the dedication and drive of Andrew Parker Bowles and his Working Group. A significant sum has already been raised and, although the Foot and Mouth outbreak has negatively impacted fund-raising this year, sizeable grants have already been made to a number of rehabilitation centres. The importance which BHB attaches to this work is reflected in the fact that RoR has its very own section in BHB’s Annual Report for 2000, which is published today and of which copies will be available to you later this morning.
The Annual Report also again acknowledges the support and advice which we have gratefully received from the All Party Racing Group. Such is the Group’s popularity that it had no less than three Co-Chairs in the last Parliamentary Session – Lawrie Cunliffe, Richard Page and Llin Golding, two of whom have recently left the House of Commons and who we thank for their contribution. Llin of course returns to Parliament with a Life Peerage, on which we congratulate her. We look forward to continuing to work closely with the Group, whose membership we hope will soon be further boosted by some of the new intake following the General Election.
But while all of this is going on, primarily back stage, there is so much to enjoy front of house. A very successful Vodafone Derby Day – Sue Ellen and Stephen Wallis, take a bow – helped us all to cast to the winds the gloom of a winter and spring with seemingly incessant rain, the first Foot and Mouth in a generation and no Cheltenham Festival. We look forward to a spectacular Royal Ascot next week and to a summer of quality, competitive racing, before embarking on a National Hunt season which will hopefully quickly make us forget the huge frustrations of the last one. And of course, none of this would be possible without the horses, and those who breed, own, ride, transport, provide the theatre for, bet on and publicise them. And we must also not forget those who look after them: the equine vets who provide a magnificent service to racing as both practitioners and researchers, and the stable lads and lasses who lavish such care and affection on the animals we and they love so much.
If this was an after-dinner speech, I would ask you now to rise and drink to all those who work for the betterment of British Racing. You will have to wait a few minutes I am afraid until you have a glass in your hand, as I am sure there are several of you out there just itching to ask questions.