The government’s decision to block a disabled peer from becoming the new chair of Sport England means she will have more time to fight for disabled people’s rights in the House of Lords, she has told Disability News Service.
The decision – believed to have been taken by the prime minister, David Cameron – created a media storm, with suggestions that Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson’s outspoken comments on welfare reform had cost her the job.
She is believed to have originally been offered the post by the Conservative sports minister, Hugh Robertson, before Tory peers complained to Cameron that she was too “political” and should not be appointed.
Baroness Grey-Thompson said the Sport England role had been a “massive job” and “something I really wanted to do”, which would have allowed her to use some of the organisation’s huge budget to focus on issues such as diversity, women in sport, and disabled people’s participation.
But she said the decision not to give her the job meant she could devote more time to her work in the Lords and to campaigning on disability rights, and legislation such as the children and families bill.
She added: “I am really proud of the stuff I have done on welfare and the huge amount of support I have had from disabled people, and I will keep going on that.”
And she said that not securing the appointment “gives me time to keep doing, in a slightly different – legislative – way, what I have been doing”.
She also praised Nick Bitel, who was eventually handed the Sport England job, and insisted that she did not feel beaten down by the row.
She said: “I am very resilient. It will take more than that to get me down. I am quite a believer that some things are meant to be. Maybe what I am meant to be doing is disability rights, and not sport.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson said the process leading to the announcement had been “complicated” and “interesting”.
Asked if she had indeed been offered the job, she said: “I have had a lot of support along the way. Then it got stuck somewhere.”
She said there was a point at which she believed she was going to be appointed, and added: “All I know is that it got stuck somewhere. It’s hard to know exactly what happened.”
Baroness Grey-Thompson had applied to chair both UK Sport and Sport England, and had been considered almost certain to be appointed to one of the two posts.
Either of the appointments would have given her a huge role in ensuring a lasting legacy from London 2012, with the UK Sport post focusing on ensuring that Britain’s Olympians and Paralympians win more medals in Rio in 2016 than they did at London 2012.
The Sport England role would have given her control of a budget of more than £1 billion over five years to boost grassroots sport and encourage participation.
But the government instead appointed Rod Carr, former chief executive of the Royal Yachting Association, to chair UK Sport, and Bitel, chief executive of the London Marathon, to the Sport England post.
The prime minister has claimed the decision was taken by Maria Miller, the Conservative culture, media and sport secretary, and former minister for disabled people.
But most media reports say the decision was taken by Cameron.
The respected sports columnist Alan Hubbard wrote that Baroness Grey-Thompson had been “ruthlessly gazumped”.
He said she had originally been selected to be the new chair of UK Sport by an interviewing panel, before Robertson chose Carr and decided Baroness Grey-Thompson should instead be chair of Sport England. But he said Cameron then decided to block that appointment.
Baroness Grey-Thompson has repeatedly criticised the coalition’s welfare cuts and reforms, including key aspects of the replacement of working-age disability living allowance with the new personal independence payment, and the welfare benefits up-rating bill.
She has also spoken out about the cumulative impact of the cuts and reforms on disabled people, and headed a highly critical report that warned of the impact of the new universal credit on disabled people.
She said last year that government cuts risked “ghettoising” disabled people in segregated settings, with many fewer in work.
Asked at prime minister’s questions this week by the Labour MP Huw Irranca-Davies whether he had been consulted over the decision to reject her appointment, Cameron said: “These decisions are, quite rightly, made by the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, and I think she has reached a very good decision.”
25 April 2013