The Silence Of the Succulent Lambs

“Let Graham explain – he was actually there, after all: “Succulent lamb journalism means a culture – and I hold my hand up here too – a culture of sycophantic, unquestioning, puff journalism that went on around Rangers generally and Sir David Murray particularly.”

Of course you’ll see it to some degree across sport, across football. But it was, many Glasgow journalists say, more damaging here.

“Look,” says Graham “Selective Amnesia” Spiers, “you are making a pact with the devil if you like. You get thrown the best scraps. You get something for the back page or whatever. But there’s a tacit deal. You don’t dig too deep. You don’t cause any trouble.”

(Alex Thomson Saturday 24 Mar 2012)

It seems like the succulent lamb has moved fields. I doubt there would be many Rangers supporters who, after what has transpired over the last three years, who would suggest some of the articles written about our club were merely “puff journalism”.

Of course they didn’t have to dig too deep – after all the Rangers Tax Case Blog and BBC Scotland’s  “The Men who Sold the Jerseys” had done all the work for them –  all our media had to do was apply their own opinions to the information which was readily available – despite the questionable source and interpretation of that information.  And apply their opinion they did, as we all know. Time and time again. They drooled, they dribbled, they salivated over questionable events surrounding our club. But what they didn’t do was dig.

No small wonder then that Thomson is also on record as saying :

For years too much football ‘journalism’ in Glasgow had been too lazy, sycophantic and incapable of asking awkward questions.”

And you know what ? He is right.

It finally dawned on me when Lord Nimmo Smith’s SPL Commission report contained the startling revelation that the material used by BBC Scotland in the aforementioned documentary was actually evidence which had been stolen from the Rangers Tax Case.

And the response from our media ? Not even a murmur.

The fact that the evidence in a case they had milked, salivated, opinionated, discussed  in such minute detail had been stolen, appears not to even have raised an eyebrow of curiosity.

Imagine for a moment  the OJ Simpson trial – and it was discovered the infamous glove had been stolen from the evidence cabinet and the media hadn’t raised a murmur ? Nope – I can’t imagine it either.. But of course this is Scotland land of lazy, sycophantic and incapable of asking awkward questions journalism.

Perhaps no-one in the Scottish media wants to ask questions of their own – the journalists at BBC Scotland who received and retained the stolen evidence – a kind of “closing ranks” if you like. Or could it be that for a Scottish Print media in dire trouble, evidenced by the recent voluntary redundancies at The Scotsman,  the occasional appearance on BBC Sportsound is a nice little earner in uncertain times ?

When the Rangers Tax Case received the Orwellian Award it was hailed as :-

“Displaying focused contempt for those who evade difficult truths, and beating almost every Scottish football journalist to the real story”

It seems history may be on the verge of repeating itself.

As the blogger behind Football Tax Havens, ably assisted by the tenacious PZJ, asks searching questions of land deals between Glasgow City Council and Celtic FC, one could be forgiven for thinking that this topic appears to be “off limits” for the Scottish media.  Perhaps in the near future another blogger will win an award hailed as ““Displaying focused contempt for those who evade difficult truths, and beating almost every Scottish football journalist to the real story”

And if he does – you can bet your bottom dollar there will be even more voluntary redundancies within the Scottish Print media.

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Acres & Hectares of confusion

5.33 Hectares is equivalent to 13.17 acres

7 Acres is equivalent to 2.83 hectares

Its a strange place to start an article such as this, but it’s importance and relevance will become eminently clear in due course.

Many of you will be aware of PZJ – he is the bear who has been particularly busy on the football tax havens website investigating allegations of State Aid by Glasgow City Council. His investigations and findings proved to be the catalyst to the launch of the EU investigation into allegations of State Aid to Celtic FC.

During the course of this investigation he has been tenacious. Freedom of Information Requests, letters, e-mails and phone calls, as well as hours of internet searching and obtaining copies of records (often at his own expense)

On the 28th August, 2013, PZJ wrote to Glasgow City Council with yet another Freedom of Information Request pertaining to the following :-

“what i am requesting for the avoidance of doubt, and that the public can have confidence in the land transactions conducted by glasgow council and celtic fc, is that a full copy of the independent surveyor’s report and the district valuer, be released immediately, and that the glasgow public can judge for themselves, if glasgow council in reality realised full market value for the lands. transparency is the key, and without the reports this cannot be established “

On the 11th September 2013, Glasgow City Council duly responded. It is a lengthy response, the relevant and pertinent extract of which is quoted verbatim below :-

© Westthorn Recreational Park

Following negotiations, the DV, the Council’s and Celtic’s Chartered Surveyors agreed a valuation for the site, based on:

A density of 160 units agreed with the Council’s planning department.
The units were agreed at £26,187.50 (based on comparable evidence available at the time of the transaction)
The Council’s Geotechnical Team investigated the site to determine the extent of the abnormal ground conditions.
Abnormal ground conditions were agreed at £3,515,000 (Appendix 1 describes abnormal ground conditions)
The original area for the site was 13.5 acres. After a previously unknown blast zone was identified, this was subsequently reduced to 7 acres.

160 units @ £26,187.50 = £4,190,000
Less abnormals £3,515,000
Resultant land value £675.000

I would draw your attention to the assertion – “The original area for the site was 13,5 acres. After a previously unknown blast zone was identified this was subsequently reduced to 7 acres”

However PZJ was not satisfied with the information provided and subsequently obtained, from Companies House, a copy of the mortgage charge document relating to this property. It can be viewed here :-

https://www.companie…cument/17642527

As you can see from the document the area of land referred to is 5.33 Hectares (13.17 acres) at Westhorn, which appears to be at odds with the Council assertion of 11th September, 2013, where they asserted that :-

“The original area for the site was 13.5 acres. After a previously unknown blast zone was identified, this was subsequently reduced to 7 acres.”

Perhaps someone at Glasgow City Council or Celtic FC would be kind enough to explain to us these apparent anomalies.

Search Trained Personnel Required – Apply within

Our intrepid PZJ is in need of assistance – anyone with a modicum of search experience would be most warmly welcomed. That GCC geotechnical report for Westhorn and other sites, alluded to in my previous blogs on behalf of PZJ – has proven it’s adept ability for elusiveness.

On the 16th October, 2013, PZJ wrote to GCC as follows :

“I have asked, and you have constantly failed to provide solid proof, that the geotechnical report be fully disclosed to the general public for perusal.”

GCC responded as follows :

“As advised in our earlier letter to you of 11 September 2013, in accordance the decision of the Court of Session set out in Glasgow City Council and Dundee City Council v Scottish Information [2009] CSIH 73, you have the right to the information set out in a requested document, but not to the actual document itself. We therefore provided you with an extract from the geotechnical report and set out the basis upon which a valuation was agreed for the site. I agree with the decision that was made in our earlier response to release an extract of the report to you “

Only that extract was never received in the subsequent correspondence. PZJ’s attempts to obtain same thereafter were met with a stony wall of silence.

Perhaps we should all come to PZJ’s assistance and ask for an extract into the geotechnical report regarding Westhorn – one which reveals the level and nature of the bio-checmical (or otherwise) contamination at Westhorn as calculated by the Council’s surveyors.

This can be done be sending an e-mail to

foi@glasgow.gov.uk

But I’m afraid there is more work for those of you with a penchant for searching and finding things, as PZJ appears to have found another anomaly in his investigation.

The London Road School was acquired by GCC as part of a Compulsory Purchase Order (dates and costs have been requested under FOI). Having decided in due course that they no longer required this land, GCC were bound by what is known as Crichel Down Rules

http://www.bllaw.co….down_rules.aspx

to offer first refusal on the subsequent sale of the property to those from whom the land was acquired – in this case Celtic FC.

A GCC Executive Committee document dated 19th January, 2007 confirms same.

Posted Image

This is further confirmed by a later GCC Executive Committee meeting.

http://www.glasgow.g…%97%9Di%93ny%8A

Note section 4 of this report where it refers to the London Road School.

GCC Executive Committee of 19th January 2007 approved an option for
Celtic PLC to acquire the former London Road Primary School at a cost of
£300,000 with the price being uplifted from the date of the option contract
( 01 April 2009) until the date of settlement.

Celtic PLC has confirmed to the Council it wishes to exercise this option.
Celtic PLC has agreed to pay £300,000 plus RPI from the 01 April 2009
until the date of settlement. The RPI has been calculated by City Property
at £57,000 (to 31st October 2013) resulting in a total sale price of
£357,000. The RPI figure will require to be further uplifted following formal
agreement on the date of settlement.

The RPI is based from ist April 2009 until 31st October 2013. There is no mention or explanation regarding the apparent ignoring of the previous commitment to the 3 year option of 19th January 2007.

But the confusion does not end there.

On the 8th October, 2013, PZJ wrote to GCC seeking clarification on the London Road School.

He received the following response on the 12th November, 2013..

“You have been advised in previous correspondence from the Council that the former London Road School site has not been sold to Celtic Football Club. As you are now aware, an option to purchase has been granted to the football club and expires in April 2014”

Therefore anyone who can find minutes of a GCC meeting approving an extension on the previous 3 year option to buy from 19th January, 2007, and the grounds for such an extension being granted – your help would be greatly appreciated.

foi@glasgow.gov.uk

Situation Abnormal

Those of us who have been following PZJ’s investigation into allegations of State Aid offered to Celtic FC by Glasgow Greater Council, will be aware of a common theme emerging – an apparent failure or reluctance by GCC to provide information relating to abnormal conditions on some of the sites surveyed.

Earlier this month I commented on the strange tale of the District Valuer brought in by Glasgow City Council to provide valuations in respect of several portions of land being considered for sale by GCC some of which were eventually sold to Celtic.

Alas it’s not only the District Valuer who is being kept in the dark with regard to these abnormal conditions but also our very own PZJ. His request for the geotechnical reports relating to the abnormal conditions present at these sites has been refused by GCC.

On the 16th October 2013 he asked GCC for the geotechnical report to be released and was met with the following reply :-

“As advised in our earlier letter to you of 11 September 2013, in accordance the decision of the Court of Session set out in Glasgow City Council and Dundee City Council v Scottish Information [2009] CSIH 73, you have the right to the information set out in a requested document, but not to the actual document itself. We therefore provided you with an extract from the geotechnical report and set out the basis upon which a valuation was agreed for the site. I agree with the decision that was made in our earlier response to release an extract of the report to you. “

In keeping with many local authorities Glasgow City Council is committed to improving transparency and engagement :-

http://www.gcvs.org…._and_engagement

in fact it claims to be “groundbreaking” in it’s approach to openness

http://data.glasgow.gov.uk/

However it is neither transparent nor groundbreaking to hide behind previous decisions of the Court of Session in order to prevent the disclosure of information. It only serves to highlight ones suspicions and concerns as to what is actually contained within the report .

Surely a complete disclosure would negate once and for all any suggestion of impropriety over this sale, and in addition completely usurp any wild and unsubstantiated claims the abnormals had been exaggerated in order to reduce the price.

At Westhorn for instance the abnormal conditions were agreed at £3,515,000. What exactly does that relate to and what is present in or on the land which reduces £4,190,000 worth of property to a measly £675,000 ?

One is almost minded of the case of Erin Brockovich.

Scapegoats & Scaremongering

“People come out and say ‘Ah, it’s not necessary for them to have those players in that division’. But it’s not just the division that matters at Rangers, it’s the fact that you have 45,000 people coming to watch something on a football pitch “ (Walter Smith)

It is particularly difficult writing an article which disagrees with one of your all time heroes but difficult times call for difficult decisions. Whilst Walter’s synopsis is a popular ideology it lacks in financial reality. We may well still be Rangers but we are a Rangers operating with with vastly reduced revenue streams in terms of income from season ticket sales, sponsorship and commercial hospitality as a consequence of the league we have been forced to operate in. It’s easy to say this is still Rangers if you don’t have to, or are not responsible for picking up the bill for operating as in days of yore.

The financial state of our club is once again the subject of much speculation, which has been exacerbated considerably with the news that a 15% reduction in player’s wages was muted a cost cutting measure. The subsequent anxiety which this caused amongst our support, and the treatment (perhaps scaremongering) of this story in the media, resulted in the search for the inevitable scapegoat. I’m not convinced that two of the eventual “suspects” put in the frame – Ally & Brian Stockbridge – were placed on the list of potential suspects with reasonable suspicion – or consideration of all the relevant facts.

Let us start with Ally – I’m sure most of us agree that his wage was excessive for our current league position in fact the whole expenditure with regard to the costs of our coaching staff would be worthwhile of critical review. Furthermore as is now common knowledge Ally has agreed to take a considerable pay cut. Perhaps even more unfair is the suggestion that the current squad along with the wages and contracts of some of our players are too high – and it’s Ally’s fault. This would only be a valid criticism if Ally had negotiated the contracts in question, and the overwhelming evidence appears to suggests this was in fact done by others. The suggestion that Ally should be a scapegoat for our financial woes is further usurped when you consider our playing staff bill as a percentage of our club’s overall operating costs.

That is not too say either our squad is too big for the current demands upon us , nor that there are not players on wages which are as unrealistic as our manager’s wages were, simply that it is unrealistic to lay the blame with Ally

Brian Stockbridge presents considerably more of a challenge in terms of offering a defence – he is after all financial director of our club. Furthermore he is on record as saying our wage bill was sustainable when quite clearly it is not, not if a 15% wage reduction is being considered as an option. In fact, had it not been for Ian Hart’s recent interview, I doubt very much I would be offering any kind of defence.

“Brian was met with pre-arranged costs to do with the takeover of the club and the IPO. The IPO costs were high but, then again, at the time it was hard to get money into a club which was facing administration and then liquidation. The costs were high – probably too high – just to attract that money in the first place. Brian was faced with either resisting these costs, or meeting them and getting on with the job of getting Rangers moving again. They were one-off costs which he inherited. I think some of the criticism of Brian has been unfair. The IPO costs were severe, but they had to be paid, and had already been agreed under the Charles Green takeover. I think Brian took the view that we simply had to pay these costs and move on, just to get the club going again.”

Whether Hart’s defence of Stockbridge is merited is open to debate – it would perhaps have been more cut and dried if Hart’s interviewer had asked more probing questions regarding the remit and expectation of our Financial director.

Whatever your view of Brian Stockbridge, perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is would the immediate sacking or removal of Mr Stockbridge bring an end to the culture of excess which has befallen our club for far too many a year ? I think we all know the answer to that question.

Some will have already made up their minds about the competency or incompetency of Brian Stockbridge as a financial director, or Ally as manager, and perhaps with good cause. But to lay the blame for our financial woes at the feet of either of these gentlemen is merely skirting over the more serious issues affecting our club. We need to eradicate the culture of excess at our club from top to bottom, from directors to tea lady if required.
Let us not allow the settling of old and tired arguments, or other agendas distract us from the challenging and possibly painful task which lies ahead. We don’t need scapegoats – particularly when some of our financial failings are clearly cultural and process driven – we need honest assessment and a willingness to be prepared to accept the necessary changes.

It wont be easy nor do I suspect it will be painless. Our new CEO claims he is up to the task – I hope to God he is right.

The “politics” of football

I had the pleasure to read a tremendous article recently on the Do The Bouncy forums, by Locutus :-

http://dothebouncy.com/main/threads/sharks-trolls-headstones-and-apathy.59319/

I love articles you can tell come from the heart, oozing in sheer passion for our club.

One particular phrase though set me thinking “Politics should have no place in football , but thats a debate for another day.” Perhaps with events elsewhere – that day has come.

Of course in a nirvana state – Politics should have no place in football, neither for that matter should Racism, Sectarianism nor Illegal betting. Unfortunately we do not live in such a sporting utopia and from time to time we have to cope with things invading our game which are neither welcome, nor enhancing for the reputation of our  so called “Beautiful game”. In fact, if we are totally honest, at times it is downright ugly rather than beautiful.

But if Politics has no place in football – what about Political influence ? For the Rangers support these last 3 years or so have been a real wake up call. As our club lurched from crisis to crisis and was subjected to a catalogue of unjust treatment, the silence from politicians in Scotland was deafening. Compare and contrast such silence with the political response to an illegal procession organised by The Green Brigade.

http://news.stv.tv/west-central/218177-celtics-green-brigade-protest-results-in-msps-policing-question/

That’s not to say of course that Scottish Labour MP’s were silent over the crisis at Rangers, some in fact were only too happy to have something to say.

http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2012-13/913

Some of you will remember Jim McGovern, Labour MP for Dundee West from some of my previous articles. He has been particularly vocal of late.

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/politics/westminster-mps-table-motion-condemning-2867719

http://www.thecourier.co.uk/news/local/dundee/dundee-mp-calls-for-probe-into-champions-league-trouble-in-amsterdam-1.158942

The Courier article in particular saw some particularly critical online comments directed towards Mr McGovern – particulary as he was not  so much vocal but noticeably silent after Celtic supporters misbehaved in his constituency of Dundee. Scenes described by Dundee Operations Manager Jim Thomson as “a throwback to the 1970’s” and “I have never seen anything like the behaviour of the Celtic fans in the 20 years I have been running games at Dens Park” warranted not a murmur from Mr McGovern.

Not surprising then with conduct such as this that Mr McGovern requires annual staffing fees of £ 115, 581.17  ( as opposed to his Party leader, and Leader of the Opposition – Ed Miliband’s £ 93, 747.42 ) perhaps his staff are particularly busy answering constituent’s questions about his apparent double standards.

With Baron Reid of Cardowan a recent chairman, as well as Brian Wilson currently serving on the board of Celtic FC, it would be foolhardy to suggest our footballing rivals are suffering from a lack of political influence, particularly within the Scottish Labour Party.

Though such influence appears not to be confined to the bigger stage but also on a more localised level and has been highlighted previously

http://www.vanguardbears.co.uk/same-city-council-same-old-story.html

With the Co-op Bank, with their historical links to the Labour Party, now subject to both scrutiny and investigation, it begs the question if the favourable loan rates afforded to Celtic FC were as a consequence of Celtic’s rather cosy relationship with the Scottish Labour Party ?

And as preliminary enquiries into land deals run their course in Brussels and Tory researchers work long into the night scouring over Co-op loan arrangements, I have a question for the Rangers support.

Is it time we sacrificed “politics has no place in football” – for the love of our club ?

The strange tale of the District Valuer

http://www.heraldscotland.com/celtic-close-to-deal-over-disputed-land-1.851123

One can understand the ire of those in the east of Glasgow, being investigated by the EU with regard to a land deal which on the face of it, looks fairly straightforward.

But scraping below the surface of this deal perhaps offers an insight into why the negotiations referred to have been described by Mr Braiden as “often acrimonious”, and perhaps further as to why certain anomalies have caught the eye of EU investigators.

The District Valuer of course is not the Council’s own surveyor, but an executive agency of HM Revenue & Customs who provide a range of independent valuations and surveying services to public sector bodies.

On the 24th Novemeber, 2004, the District Valuer was tasked by Glasgow City Council to provide initial valuations for various Council owned sites ( though not all sites surveyed were those eventually sold to Celtic FC) including Westhorn Recreational Ground, which of course, as per The Glasgow Herald article, was subject  of an eventual sale to Celtic FC.

The Disrict Valuer proceeded as instructed completing preliminary examinations and providing a preliminary report on 19th Janurary, 2005. The completed preliminary report however, took no cognisance of what is referred to as abnormal ground conditions which existed on the sites. This  in itself is particularly odd as Glasgow City Council acknowledge abnormal conditions at various sites within this area.

“Outputs from high level desk studies for this area and the East End in general demonstrate that land is likely to be subject to significant abnormal development constraints that would require to be overcome during any development project. These include contamination from industrial activities, contamination from waste deposits and mining. As such the majority of land disposal transactions concluded by the Council in this area are subject to the consideration of abnormal costs”

The District Valuer was not instructed by the Council to provide any further valuation reports.

The negotiation of the sale of the various areas of land was carried out on behalf of the Council by one of its own Chartered Surveyors in accordance with the Council’s normal procedure, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ guidance and the European Commission’s Communication on State aid elements in sales of land and buildings by public authorities (97/C 209/03).

The Council’s own chartered surveyor in conjunction with chartered surveyors appointed by Celitc FC negotiated the market value of the land being offered for sale.

Surprisingly, the preliminary, yet ostensibly incomplete District Valuer’s Report was then used as a starting point for negotiations on the sale of the land between the Council and Celtic FC

As they say in Penny Lane – Very strange.