Monday, January 04, 2021

Investigation Urged Into Lottery Grants To National League Clubs

Yesterday an article appeared in The Times which reported that Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden had been urged to launch an investigation into alleged conflicts of interest over the distribution of millions of pounds of Lottery money to National League clubs.

Here is the article:

The £10 million was a rescue package to help clubs affected by the Covid crisis and was announced by Oliver Dowden in November, with the understanding that it would be distributed according to clubs’ lost gate receipts.

Instead, the National League board decided its own distribution formula based on a flat rate which has left some clubs with hundreds of thousands of pounds less than they were expecting. After initial criticism, the National League commissioned David Bernstein, the former FA chairman, to lead an independent review of the financial distribution but his findings — which are understood to have echoed some criticisms — have not been shared with the clubs.

Duncan Hart, a London FA council member and member of the Dulwich Hamlet Supporters’ Trust, has now written to Dowden asking him to step in and ensure that the next three-month block of funding, worth £11 million, is distributed differently.

Hart says that five of the nine National League board members were from clubs that benefited significantly more from the package than they would have done if it had been split according to expected gate receipts.

The letter states that Notts County received £287,000 less than they would have received if the formula had been based on average attendances, while Boreham Wood were “overcompensated” by £170,000.

“At the very least there is a clear conflict of interest for a board comprised of a small selection of National League member clubs to be charged with deciding how funding is allocated to all member clubs,” Hart writes.

Andrew Graham, the vice-chairman of Hereford FC, said he backed the calls made in Hart’s letter.

“It’s unacceptable that this is £10 million of public money and we don’t even know what the terms of reference were for the distribution model,” he said. “We were led to believe the package would cover each club’s lost gate receipts but that failed to happen.

“We have since seen clubs which usually have smaller attendances poaching strikers from what used to be seen as the bigger clubs, it’s farcical.”

Bernstein sent an open letter to the National League chairman Brian Barwick, the former FA chief executive, before Christmas expressing his unhappiness at the failure to share his report with the clubs and noting that there had been no response to his concerns about conflicts of interest and poor governance.

Bernstein told The Times: “We have had a very poor response to our report from the National League and it has not been circulated to the clubs, and nor has there been any sign of a change of governance. The model they came up with to distribute the money appeared extremely arbitrary.

“I would hope the government will listen to this. The funding and distribution for the January to March money really needs to be dealt with more independently. When it comes to dealing with public money it needs to be allocated properly and with visibility.”

It is understood the government is considering its response to the complaints.

Barwick, who was appointed OBE in the new year honours, did not respond when contacted by The Times.