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Oliver Dowden brands Project Big Picture a ‘distraction at best’

Cabinet Meeting
(Image credit: Jonathan Brady)

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden expressed a dim view of Project Big Picture, at one point describing the proposals as “Project Power Grab” as the Premier League prepares to debate the issue at a shareholders’ meeting on Wednesday.

Proposals include vast changes to the infrastructure of the game in England, including a reduction to 18 top-flight teams, the end of the Carabao Cup, controversial changes to voting rights and a financial settlement for the EFL.

Speaking at an appearance in front of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee, Dowden said: “I’ve made clear my scepticism and concern about this.”

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow indicated his opposition to Project Big Picture (Luciana Guerra/PA)

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow indicated his opposition to Project Big Picture (Luciana Guerra/PA)

He said the provisions within PBP “tended towards a closed shop” in favour of the big six.

Dowden described the proposals as “a distraction at best” and added: “I hope the EFL will stop being distracted by this latest wheeze.”

Asked for his view on Parry specifically, Dowden said: “I would have preferred that at the end of this that, rather than reading about this Project Power Grab as you rightly put it, instead I was reading how they had come to a deal to secure the future of football. I think that would be a much better use of people’s time.”

On the idea of a Premier League bailout for the EFL, Dowden referenced the fact that top flight clubs had spent over £1billion in the summer transfer window.

“The money is there. The question I have to ask myself is ‘Given there is that much money in football, could we seriously turn around to a pensioner in Hartlepool and say to her that some of her taxes would have to go to support this’?

“We have given wider support to sports, the role of Government is to bring those two sides of the table together.

“I have met extensively with (Premier League chief executive) Richard Masters and (EFL chairman) Rick Parry and we are all pretty convinced this deal can be done.”

Pressed by DCMS committee chair Julian Knight on his remark that no EFL club would be allowed to go bust, Dowden said: “Those are the conversations I have had with the EFL and the Premier League, I have received assurances that they would not allow that to happen.”

Aston Villa chief executive Christian Purslow has indicated his opposition to PBP, saying: “I don’t think we should give too much credence to this particular plan.”

While Purslow, the former Liverpool managing director, is sympathetic to the plight of teams lower down the footballing pyramid, he hopes the Premier League will offer some “concrete” alternatives at Wednesday’s meeting.

“I expect there to be a very honest, transparent, open dialogue amongst the 20 Premier League clubs,” Purslow told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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“I also expect there to be concrete proposals brought forward by the Premier League executive on funding for lower levels of football, that’s what I hope to see happen.

“I don’t think we should give too much credence to this particular plan. I think a much broader, long-term plan for football is what I would expect to come from the Premier League.”

Representatives of the 20 Premier League clubs will have the chance to debate the issue in the open for the first time during a virtual get-together which comes against the backdrop of an eye-catching intervention from Football Association chairman Greg Clarke.

In a letter to the FA Council, which convenes on Thursday, he said he had taken part in initial discussions before walking away when he felt the aim had become “the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of a few clubs, with a breakaway league mooted as a threat”.

He added: “I, of course, discontinued my involvement and counselled a more consensus-based approach involving all Premier League clubs and its chair and CEO. Our game needs to continually seek to improve but benefits need to be shared.”

EFL chairman Rick Parry led meetings with all three EFL divisions on Tuesday.

EFL chairman Rick Parry led meetings with all three divisions on Tuesday (Mike Egerton/PA)

Clarke warned that the FA could use its so-called ‘golden share’ as a trump card if it felt the wider interests of the game were being compromised and suggested any breakaway competition would not receive the necessary sanctions from the governing body.

“We, the FA Board and Council, have to ensure that any changes would be to the long-term benefit of the whole of football and we have substantial controls to help ensure that the best interests of the game are served by any new proposals,” he said.

“Change must benefit clubs, fans and players, not just selective balance sheets. In these difficult times unity, transparency and common purpose must override the interests of the few.”

The Project Big Picture plans have been championed by EFL chairman Rick Parry, with teams in the Championship, League One and League Two in line to receive £250million up front alongside a promise of a handsomely increased 25 per cent share of future Premier League broadcast revenue.

Support among the 72 EFL clubs appeared to be soaring after separate divisional meetings helmed by Parry on Tuesday, though his moves have reportedly been considerably less well received by a majority of Premier League clubs outside the elite names.