THE GUARDIAN: NEW ARTICLE BY DAVID CONN
The Guardian: Mansfield face new questions of trust
David Conn: Evidence suggests Mansfield Town used money from its own community charity to pay coaches' wages.
There have been concerns for a long time about the Stags Community Trust, and the top football investigative journalist David Conn has been working on this for several months. If you do nothing else today, buy a copy of the Guardian and go straight to the Sports section, page 5, where you will see an article written about Haslam and Meale, by David Conn.
Now YOU have to do something to help.
To show your appreciation to the Guardian for looking into the situation please write to the paper, copying him, with emails of support for what he has exposed. Of course if you have any other information which you think he would find useful then please send him that as well. The email addresses are:-
David Conn is the top journalist in the football area and was voted the Football Supporters' Federation's Football writer of the year in 2002. His book "The Beautiful Game? - Searching for the soul of football" is a definitive work on the sorts of issues faced at the Stags.
Here is the article, http://football.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/0,,1876262,00.html
but do go out and buy the paper, for only 70pence.
A scan of the article is here
Mansfield face new questions of trust
Wednesday September 20, 2006
Guardian investigation suggests League Two club drew money improperly from its community charity.
A Guardian investigation into the running of Mansfield Town has uncovered evidence suggesting the League Two club drew money improperly from its associated charity, the Stags Community Trust, which was established three years ago and given around £500,000 in public funding. That discovery follows an audit by Sport England this summer which found that Mansfield had spent almost £30,000 of the club's youth development grant on "non-eligible" expenditure.
Mansfield's majority owner and sole director, Keith Haslam, is also a trustee and director of the community trust. The trust's chairman is Alan Meale, Mansfield's Labour MP, who for years has been closely involved at the club.
The Guardian has seen a document which appears to show that on October 25 2004, Haslam gave instructions that half the wages of two of the club's coaches, Kevin Philliskirk and Paul Holland, should be met by the community trust. Philliskirk, then head of youth development but who has now left the club, says he "never did any work" for the trust, while Holland, too, did not work for the trust at all that season.
The document, comprising handwritten notes, was made by Colin Hogg, a chartered accountant who managed the books for both the club and the trust. Headed "Per Chairman [Keith Haslam] 25/10/04", it listed several football coaches and drivers with figures alongside their names. Then, under the heading "Other Teachers", Philliskirk and Holland were listed together with amounts for their monthly salaries. The notes then said: "Per Chairman, ½ time on Stags CT."
Hogg, who has left the club, told me he could not discuss details of individual payments, but did confirm the notes were his. "This is my working paper, and this is how I work. Having been instructed to make these allocations of people's time, I would have then have gone on to do so." He explained that he always made written records of all such instructions, so there would be "an audit trail" of payments made.
When I first contacted Haslam, he said the two men would have been paid by the trust because they did some community coaching that season. However, he later said he had checked the records and the community trust did not in fact pay for Philliskirk's and Holland's time that season. Haslam did not dispute that these notes were taken by Hogg, but denied they were a record of a meeting. "I did not have a formal meeting with Colin Hogg. I had conversations with him in his room or in the corridor. He kept notes of every conversation I had with him."
Meale told me he relied on what the club said because, as the trust chairman, his role was to ensure it was running properly but not to know about every payment made.
The Stags Community Trust was set up as an educational, sporting charity based at Mansfield's Field Mill ground in May 2003, with Haslam and Meale as its director-trustees. Initially, the trust was given more than £142,000 in grants from the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, a body funded by John Prescott's office to improve life in old mining areas. In 2003-4 the fund awarded the trust a further £310,000 to build classrooms, install computers and run schemes for schoolchildren. With other grants, by June 2004 the trust got over £540,000.
The trust did run literacy and numeracy programmes, with tours of Field Mill and football coaching, but at the end of June 2004, the date of the last accounts, nearly £400,000 of the public money had not been spent. Yet now, just two years later, the Stags Community Trust is on its uppers. In May Chris Winterton, a county councillor who is now the trust's third director, wrote to Meale and Haslam arguing that it should cease trading. His letter, which I have seen, said: "The financial position of the Trust is a cause of great concern. Indeed, there has to be a question as to whether the Trust is currently insolvent."
A single consultant, Bernard Wale, has been working for the trust recently, trying to bring more grant funding in. Winterton told me that the trust had been unable to pay Wale for several months, and still owes him about £11,000. Meale told me the figure is "a little less than that" and will be met. "I'm not in the business of not paying staff," he said. Meale added he was keen to ensure nothing "untoward" had taken place and had insisted that the club answer my questions about the trust's payments.
For an east Midlands town club in the lower ranks of League Two, a lot goes on at Mansfield Town. Last December I reported that Haslam, who took it over in 1993 for £1, had personally borrowed £585,142 from the club, including £239,297 "written off" by it. His company, Stags Limited, was also loaned £583,529 by the club to buy land for a training ground.
The personal loans were in breach of the Companies Act, which prohibits a company from lending money to a director. Haslam has since said he has repaid the loans, although any repayment will not show in the club's published accounts for some time. Last year's accounts, for both Mansfield Town and the Stags Community Trust, are late; they were due on April 30. Haslam told me they would be filed soon.
In early 2003, Mansfield were suspended for three years from receiving grants from the Football Stadia Improvement Fund, after concerns were raised about the validity of a grant application. FSIF trustees were unhappy with estimates presented for proposed work, and requested originals, which were not forthcoming.
That, chiefly, was why many in football were astonished when Peter Lee, a respected figure who retired earlier this year as chief executive of the Football Foundation, agreed to become Mansfield's chairman. Lee told me Meale had asked him to join, and his role would be "to implement proper company and board procedures and make sure the club is run as a business needs to be".
Still, although Mansfield list Lee as the chairman, Haslam remains the only Mansfield Town FC director registered at Companies House.
This summer, Sport England audited Mansfield's youth development fund, and found that almost £30,000 of "non-eligible" payments were made in 2004-5. The fund, £10m a year from the Premier League, FA and, with lottery money, Sport England, was paid in equal £138,000 grants to each participating Football League club, with strict rules governing how the money could be spent.
Sport England's audit, I understand, found three categories of "non-eligible" payments. Around £3,500 had been drawn from the youth fund by the club twice on the same set of invoices from the local bus company, Redferns. The youth fund paid another £4,000 to the club for accommodation for three YTS "scholars", Alton Reynolds, Richard Lonsdale and Mike Langford, who had been staying with a first-team player, Adam Eaton. Accommodation is not an allowable expenditure out of a youth development fund.
The third and largest non-eligible expenditure was £20,000 paid out of the youth fund to Paul Holland for coaching, although he was listed in the programme during the season as the assistant first-team manager.
Sport England has now ceased funding the programme and the League - still finalising how the FA and Premier League will do so - is keen to stress the £23m investment its clubs make in addition to the £10m, and the League's "well-established monitoring system" of how clubs spend their grant funding.
John Nagle, the League's head of communications, told me: "In the case of Mansfield Town, funds used to pay non-eligible expenses during the 2004-5 season have been deducted from the eligible grant for 2005-6." He added that if Mansfield are to receive further grant aid, the League may require the club to set up a separate account.
Haslam told me that the transport and accommodation payments were mistakes and the League "got the dates wrong" about Holland, but that the club had decided not to challenge the League's decision. Speaking about the trust, Haslam denied that anything improper had taken place in the financial transfers between the club he owns and its associated charity, of which he is a trustee-director.
"The club," he insisted, "has not taken money from the Stags Community Trust."
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