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Football Supporter Engagement and Ownership

Volume 604: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2016

I am today publishing the final report of the Government expert working group on football supporter ownership and engagement.

This is a report prepared by football, with the authorities that run the game, working together with supporter organisations that speak on behalf of fans up and down the land, with help from Government. It sets out a number of recommendations for what more can be done to encourage greater engagement between supporters and those that run their club, while also helping to remove barriers to supporter ownership, when such opportunities arise for credible supporters’ trusts to bid to own their club.

In bringing the various football interests together to report on issues creating barriers to supporter ownership and recommended action to overcome these, Government are fulfilling the commitment they made to the Culture Media and Sport Select Committee, following its inquiry into football governance in 2011 and the follow-up report in 2013.

The report recognises that football clubs play an important role in their local communities, and that supporter ownership is already happening at a number of football clubs, especially in the lower leagues. However, the path to achieving ownership has not been as straightforward as it seems, with supporters often without the necessary finance, expertise and opportunity to bid for their club when it becomes available.

This report sets out proposals to give supporters a fairer, more realistic chance of bidding for ownership should the opportunity arise. For example, administrators appointed for football club insolvencies will now be obliged to meet with the accredited supporter trust and given the opportunity to bid for ownership. Supporters can also apply to the Premier League and fans fund panel for assistance to help with professional fees to build a credible bid, and a database will be created of suitable professional experts, who are football fans, willing to provide pro-bono advice to supporters’ bids. It goes without saying that supporters should be given an opportunity to bid for their club if it has failed, cannot continue in its current state or if there is consent from an owner looking to sell.

The Premier League has also agreed to provide an extra £1 million in funding—pending the outcome of the Ofcom investigation into how it sells its broadcasting rights—over the next three years via the fans fund to recognised football supporter organisations which provide a voice for supporters on ownership issues.

The report also asks Government to review the UK tax system, to see whether they may be able to offer incentives to supporter ownership bids, and community ownership in sport more generally. The Government will consider these proposals.

The report signals a need for there to be stronger dialogue between football club owners and a representative group of supporters on matters of strategic importance to the running of football clubs. This structured dialogue will provide a more inclusive way of ensuring supporters have access to strategic information, can discuss key issues with club owners and directors, and can hold them accountable. This should also foster improved relationships between fans groups and their clubs which may, over time, facilitate new opportunities for fans to invest in their clubs and encourage opportunities for collective share ownership.

Proposals outlined in the report have been approved by the various boards of the football authorities. The next step is for those boards to seek approval to these from their members and clubs, and where needed for these changes to be enshrined in their rulebooks. Government will work with them, where possible, to achieve this, and in doing so open up better supporter engagement with those that run their clubs and greater opportunities for supporter ownership.

I welcome this report and thank everyone involved, including the independent Chair Joanna Manning Cooper, for their hard work in the real progress that has been made. It shows what can be achieved with football and Government working together in partnership.

This report does not signal the end of the Government’s interest in supporter ownership and engagement. We will continue to review the situation and take further action if needed.

Government will also continue to challenge the football authorities to improve other areas in the governance and regulation in sport, including greater reform of their decision-making bodies, to make these more representative of the game.

The report of the expert working group is being deposited in the Libraries of both Houses and is available at:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/government-expert-working-group-on-football-supporter-ownership-and-engagement

Attachments can be viewed online at: http:// www.parliament.uk/writtenstatements

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