Saturday, 17 October 2009

Still angry and frustrated at Leeds United's failure to secure Thorp Arch deal

Posted by Chris:

It is more than 24 hours since the alarming news broke that Leeds United had failed to meet the conditions laid down by Leeds City Council in time to meet the midnight on Thursday deadline to purchase back Thorp Arch training ground.

The current market value of this world class facility is said to be £11m. United had the opportunity to get it back at the exclusive price of £5.8m and the more I think about it the more angry and frustrated I get.

With the Council borrowing the money and the cost of that covered by a leasing agreement with United there would have been no cost to Council Taxpayers. And United would have been able to buy it from the Council at reasonable terms when it recovers its financial credibility. They have missed out on a more than good deal that will probably now cost Leeds at least twice as much in the future, whilst they continue fork out £486000 per year in rent to its current owner, Manchester-based company Barnaway, rising by around 3% per year.

I am angry at Chairman Ken Bates blame anyone but me attitude. I am frustrated at the lack of openness and transparency.

There may have been legal reasons why little could be said about the questions United failed to answer before the deal fell through but surely now we can be told what they are? The Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Evening Post and the Guardian have all failed to get satisfactory answers. Probably they wrote their stories up straight from Ken Bates press statement without being able to contact the Monaco based businessman. Perhaps someone will have to make a 'Freedom of Information' request to the City Council to find out?

I hope there is someway of turning this missed opportunity around. I suspect it has a lot to do with the concerns about who actually owns Leeds United and the lack of transparency about it.

The actual owner is the Forward Sports Fund, which is registered in the Cayman Islands tax haven. The ownership issue has caused concern since June 2007 when Harrogate and Knaresborough Lib Dem MP Phil Willis raised serious questions, after the club went into administration with debts of £35m and was then resold to the same owners.

Richard Murphy explains in his Tax Research UK blog why it is important to know who owns the club:
Why does this matter? For several reasons. First, as the litigation proves, those dealing with the club have no real idea who is behind it and how to assess its credibility. second, here we have an institution of public significance (I think) that is owned by unknown persons, maybe paid for out of criminal funds.Who knows? Third, there is a fit and proper process meant to apply to owners of football clubs. It cannot apply in this case. Fourth, most owners of private companies exercise considerable management influence. Many are shadow directors. We have no idea who these people are in this case. Fifth, the relationship between a private company and its owner is a matter of tax significance in the UK. Why should tax authorities not be able to access data on this issue without having to commence enquiries to find out?

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