Former Defra secretary George Eustice has called for £12m a year from racing’s prize money pot to be redirected to racehorse aftercare.
The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) is one of racing’s most significant financial contributors. As well as its support it provides to the sport itself, it also already provides multi-million pound funding for equine research and biosecurity measures.
In a Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday (6 December) Mr Eustice called on the minister and Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to be “more assertive” in being “very clear” that they want more money to go on animal welfare. Specifically, he proposed £12m a year of the HBLB’s £99m budget to go to “Retraining of Racehorses [RoR] charity, or to the Horse Welfare Board, or to a combination of the two”.
He also called for the responsibility of the HBLB to move from the DCMS to Defra, given the latter’s experience in dealing with other levy bodies and because it “tends to have ministers who have a passion for and an interest in equines”.
Mr Eustice said he ended up on a “wild goose chase” when trying to identify the right place to get funding for “great” charities already working in the aftercare.
“In my experience in Government, there is a phenomenon that I used to describe as circular signposting, where every organisation points an individual to a different organisation until they eventually end up back where they started,” said Mr Eustice.
“There are lots of organisations that could – and perhaps should – do something that find it too easy to do nothing and suggest that somebody else should do something. When a minister comes across that phenomenon, there is a very important question they must ask: who has the money?
“In this case, it is very clear that the Horserace Betting Levy Board has the money. It collects almost £100m a year from bookmakers.”
MP and equine vet Neil Hudson, testified “to the benefits” of HBLB funding for advancing veterinary science in education and racing and protecting the UK’s biosecurity which is “vital for the health and welfare of horses”. He pointed out that it funds the infectious disease surveillance team at Cambridge Veterinary School, disease surveillance through Rossdales Laboratories, and codes of practice for equine infectious diseases.
In his response, parliamentary under-secretary for state for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Stuart Andrew, said: “In total, the Horserace Betting Levy Board spends around £3.5m annually on horse-related areas, such as science and educational research, and on a number of horse welfare projects.
“Over the last 20 years, Great British Racing has invested over £47m in veterinary research and education, with funding invested by the HBLB and more recently by the Racing Foundation.
“The largest proportion of the levy is used to support prize money – there is a misconception that it is about lining the pockets of a few millionaires, the owners of the horses.
“In fact, prize money is a means of injecting funds into the wider racing ecosystem, through the employment of trainers, jockeys, work riders and a whole host of people in more than 500 training yards who are involved in caring for horses and putting on race days.
“The ability for prize money to cover the costs of training is a key consideration for people deciding to enter the industry, which in turn determines the number of horses entered for races. Maintaining the field size is an important factor in staging race days that are attractive to owners and racegoers. This generates prize money, both directly through racecourse income and indirectly through levy board support.”
He added that he recognises Mr Eustice’s points, the challenges charities face and the current challenges across horseracing and will see what he can do to highlight these points.
Following the debate, HBLB chief executive Alan Delmonte said: “HBLB has been a long-standing funder of RoR and we also provide funding to the Horse Welfare Board. But the sport agreed last year that the Racing Foundation, rather than HBLB, should take the lead on horse welfare funding and the foundation announced a £3m grant over three years. Nevertheless, HBLB still spends around £800,000 in this area per year as part of £3.5m towards equine health and welfare projects.
“We are providing funds to RoR this year in support of its development of an aftercare strategy for the sport. Racing by its nature draws its funding from different sources. We are not against looking at increasing our budget but what we give is only part of an already large effort in the sport. We are looking for a clear strategy and programme, fully costed, and will play our part in supporting it.”
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