Monday, July 03, 2006

Stadium Of Debt

Taxpayers flock to support Sky Blues

Unless your interest in the "beautiful game" extends beyond those ball jangling penalty shoot outs, you've probably never heard of the Ricoh Arena. But it's the brand new home of the Sky Blues, the somewhat less than stratospheric Coventry City FC.

It cost £118.7m, and I mention it because Coventry's council tax payers have just discovered they're footing the bill for a £2.9m overspend. Well, that's not too bad you say- after all, 90% of public projects overrun their budgets, and a poxy three mill is neither here nor there.

Unfortunately for Coventry's taxpayers, it doesn't stop there. According to the Finance Director's Report, another £31m has come direct from the Council: £10m in straight equity, and £21m in debt.

True, the biggest chunk- £59.5m- has come from Tesco, who suitably sprinkled with gold dust planning consent, are building a huge Superstore on part of the Council's site. But that, along with other land sales, is another £65m that could have been used to reduce Council Tax.

(Well, yes I know in theory there are all kinds of central government diktats restricting the use of capital receipts for revenue purposes, but are you seriously telling me that a couple of hours with Major Frobisher's accountant friend couldn't sort that? Or why not pay down other debt?The Council didn't have to blow it all on a 2012 style lunacy.)

And then there are the additional funds gifted by benificent taxpayers elsewhere. Advantage West Midlands- a notorious government regional aid quango- stumped up £4.8m, and the European Regional Development Fund donated another £4.4m. Of our money.

So why the effin effin eff are we taxpayers shelling out £100m plus for an effin football stadium? Remembering that this is a game so awash with funds that it can afford to spend zillions on second rate managers and players whose only known function is to depress the pants off us all every couple of years.

What's that? Urban regeneration? Come off it. Do you really think that given the magic planning permission, Tesco wouldn't have built the store anyway? Throw in the mooted casino, and the site could have been redeveloped at no taxpayer cost at all. In fact, the taxpayer would have been quids in. Everyone would have been 'appy.

Well, everyone except the Sky Blues and their supporters, of course. They'd have been down one spanking new £118.9m stadium that they're now getting for a nominal £1m pa rent. Sweet.

Coincidentally, Coventry FC's directors happen to include a couple of very well connected local boys. Labour mortgagor Geoffrey Robinson MP needs no introduction. Sir Derek Higgs is Chairman of Partnerships UK- a Treasury quango whose mission is to "support and accelerate the delivery of infrastructure renewal", and which has excellent connections right across Whitehall.

That will do nicely.

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