EBTs, CVAs & The Future Of Scottish Football: The BBC Tackles Rangers

By on Mar 23, 2012 in Finance, Latest, Scottish Football | 21 comments

Towards the end of BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rangers – What Next?, my attention was flagging.
A worthwhile broadcast descended into soppy sentiment as listeners were told of the 11-year-old boy asking his dad to cancel the family holiday to Florida and give the £2,000 cost to Rangers “Fighting Fund” instead (and Mickey Mouse was more likely to be in the Ibrox boardroom, anyway).

This was real “pass-the-sick-bag” stuff, which was abruptly halted by programme presenter Mark Chapman, who suggested “football clubs should be embarrassed to take money from an 11-year-old.” Chapman had controlled events with requisite calm, but was ready for a spot of stridency: “Why should the public purse keep losing out because football clubs are irresponsible?” he asked.

Rangers, whose financial crisis has been documented in terrifying detail, are in debt to the “public purse” for £20m – a figure which could surpass £60m if they lose an equally well-documented tax tribunal. The programme suggested Rangers use insolvency legislation to slash this debt. And Chapman wasn’t happy: “At the moment, we save football clubs, the public purse loses out and it sends a message to any irresponsible businessman – come and take over a football club, have a bit of fun, if it goes into administration, don’t worry about it, we’ll sort it out.”

But Chapman’s anger was then matched by an unexpected source. Glasgow South-West Labour MP Ian Davidson had earlier told the audience of Rangers fans about the club’s “iconic place in Scottish culture” and how a “minority that want to see this club go down” were “simply bad people.” But a different Davidson took the microphone to criticise ex-owner David Murray’s use of off-shore Employee Benefit Trusts (EBTs) to avoid tax on certain payments to Rangers employees during the 2000s. “What Murray did,” Davidson declared, was “if not legally wrong, was certainly morally wrong. I think fiddling their tax and dodging their tax gave an unfair advantage to Rangers,” while other clubs were “being honest and straightforward.”

This was unexpectedly strong stuff from a programme which had previously taken a determinedly positive approach. Ex-player Mark Hateley eulogised Murray and “his personality”, while, Andy Goram applied his curious Lancashire/Scotland hybrid accent to days when Rangers would have won the 1993 European Cup “if Marseille hadn’t cheated,” words which could yet haunt. Journalists Roddy Forsyth and Keith Jackson, from the Telegraph and Record newspapers respectively, insisted HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) would let Rangers away with 90% of their tax debt rather than force them into liquidation. And it was assumed Rangers would be soon challenging for league flags again, or in English and/or European Super Leagues, rather than Scottish League Division Three.

There was even an embarrassing spell – which bordered on advertising…or ‘Blind Date’ – when Chapman asked panellists “what would you say is incredibly attractive to a future buyer of Rangers?” Mark Dingwall of the Rangers Supporters’ Trust had spoken of the need for “a sense of reality” about Rangers’ future. Yet even he insisted Rangers would “be back challenging next year and might even win something,” while talk turned to Rangers “worldwide brand” and the potential for “huge reward” for any new owner. Jackson had to restore “reality” (which Scottish readers might find remarkable from a Record journalist). “We’re talking about Rangers somehow ending up in the English Premier League,” he wailed, “but they are fighting for their very survival.”

The reasons for this fight were vividly highlighted by the programme, with lengthy contributions from BBC investigative journalist Mark Daly, who was received warmly for his expose of Craig Whyte’s unimpressive business history. Daly thrillingly confronted former Scottish FA Chief Executive Gordon Smith about his time as a Rangers director under Whyte. Smith endorsed the surprising consensus which emerged on fan involvement and transparency under new club ownership. But Daly was unimpressed, noting that Smith had done nothing for either concept and hadn’t “brought to the attention of fans what was going on within Ibrox.”

Smith had already produced one jaw-dropper, admitting that there was “never at all any discussion on club ownership” while he was at the SFA. But this was worse. He denied all knowledge of Whyte not “paying his bills.” He claimed “whoever was meant to pay the bills knew but we…had no idea.” And he suggested that “until we went into administration, there weren’t any rumours about administration,” which left Daly struggling for air as he tried to counter-suggest that “I don’t think that’s the case.” Once Hateley was done eulogising, the audience wasted no opportunity to stick proverbial boots into Murray and “the charlatan Whyte.”

One shareholder recalled his encounter with Murray at a Rangers AGM. He had asked Murray about the “character” of any man he would sell to and “I was laughed at by him.” Murray told him he would not put Rangers in jeopardy but the shareholder said: “that man has put us in jeopardy by his actions with regard EBTs and the character of the man he gave it to. Warming to his theme, he added: “we could have paid our debt like our forefathers would have done… we should not have even gone down this route…we don’t want our football club put in danger and that is what that man has done.” Cross, he was.

Inevitably, the issue of the “big tax case,” which panellist Pat Nevin called “the big tax bill,” cast the shadow over proceedings it has over Rangers for so long. However, salvation was at hand. Stories have flitted in and out of the Scottish media that HMRC were prepared to “do a deal” on Rangers’ tax debts. Hamstrung by their policy of not commenting on “individual cases,” HMRC have, apparently, told Roddy Forsyth all about it instead. Nevin had seen the £49m bill reported as a “red herring.” Jackson said if Rangers exited administration via an arrangement with creditors (a CVA), “that £49m can become £4.9m… so in that sense it’s a red herring.”

Nevin, reminding us of his reputation as the 1980’s one educated footballer, replied: “There’s a quantum leap you’re making there. Hopefully you get a CVA. But what if you don’t? That’s the question.” It remained unanswered, as Forsyth explained: “My understanding from HMRC is that, and this is their words, not mine, they would not oppose a CVA providing it was equitable and providing it was what they call ‘regime change’, in other words Craig Whyte must not be part of any solution.”

“Equitable” was left undefined. The programme assumed thereafter that the big tax bill was a big, bright fish. And Nevin suggested that this six-figure tax cut (Rangers owe £12-£20m even if they win the big tax case) was “brrrrrrilliant news.” The idea HMRC might oppose a CVA was dismissed…until Chapman’s late outburst. This tub-thumping for Rangers’ cause was the programme’s flaw. Ian Davidson even excused EBTs and Rangers leaving the SPL, in a statement which sounded designed to offend the rest of Scottish football. Defending what he had just called “morally reprehensible” use of EBTs (legal or not), he claimed: “Rangers’ ambitions are greater than Scottish football can support.”

“They don’t want to be a big fish in a small pond, they want to be a big fish in European football… people in Govan and throughout Scotland see Rangers as representing their hopes,” he added, which was probably news to people in Bridgeton and throughout Scotland. Davidson concluded that “they can’t do that on the basis of the money coming into Scotland.” And this was – his words, not mine – “the only way to defend” the use of EBTs.”

In contrast, more serious matters were submerged. Only Daly, with a refreshing absence of fish-based imagery, raised the prospect of Rangers being in breach of SFA rules by paying players through EBTs at all, let alone swerving tax on them. “That potentially could be more serious,” he noted. But he had no opportunity to expand on this. HMRC hadn’t been in negotiations with Forsyth on this, so the debate moved on. The “Ticketus” issue was also rushed, perhaps more understandably. The ticketing agency’s “purchase” of a portion of Rangers future season-tickets was the subject of a fraught legal battle. Jackson said the name Ticketus was “synonymous with the problems that Rangers now face,” and rather left it at that.

Football finance expert Steven Murray left it at: “that’s a matter for the courts,” when one fan said half his season-ticket renewal money was going to Ticketus when “I want my money to go into the club.” But there was time for the age-old fans’ dilemma, how can you criticise over-spending yet glory in the success it produced (“Does that devalue some of the trophies that you’ve won?” “No”). And there’s always time for Scottish football journalists to make factual errors when topics stray from their comfort zones. Jackson said Whyte “cleared” Rangers debts. Whyte merely transferred them to one of his companies, to become a secured creditor when (not if, as we now know) he took them into administration. Not a huge error, just the whole point of the story, that’s all.

The programme’s intermittent lows included Scottish ex-first minister Henry McLeish’s soundbite to raise hackles across the Scottish game about Rangers being “not just an institution but a way of life” and “too important to fail.” Pat Nevin showed he hadn’t been listening when he said that “one name we must not forget in all this is Walter Smith.” after much of the previous ten minutes had been taken up with eulogies of…Walter Smith. And administrator Brendan Guilfoyle, who horsed up Plymouth Argyle’s administration (and is still this week blaming fans) gave his “expert” view that “in England, where I work, it’s very different.” Thanks, Bren.

The programme had qualities, though. Most issues got aired, if not always coherently. Gordon Smith got a good shoeing for his incompetence. And Mark Chapman hosted matters well – bar calling the Fighting Fund organiser John Hannah instead of Jim. Jim wasn’t over-offended. John’s thoughts are unknown. Whether other clubs’ fans appreciated the air-time lavished on Rangers’ problems is another matter, especially fans of crisis clubs given only cursory UK media attention. And the inevitable criticism from predictable, green-tinged quarters cannot be routinely dismissed.

Many people wish to see Rangers treated like any company failing to pay their taxes. And if Rangers were to “go down” as a consequence, those people might think, so be it. But that didn’t fit the programme’s narrative. They were “bad people.” Mark Dingwall said Rangers fans weren’t asking to be absolved from their tax debt, yet the programme largely pre-supposed that absolution. Rangers slashing their debts and returning to the top of Scottish football as soon as possible, would be, as Pat Nevin styled it, “brrrrrrilliant news.”

You needn’t be a Celtic fan to believe that is not quite right.

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    21 Comments

  1. Someone big enough to previously be considered “too big to fail” needs to fail.

    Rangers are one of the few clubs in Britain to be a big enough casualty to send shockwaves through football. Does it make me a bad person to think that it might be a good idea for this club to fall if it causes dozens of others to change the way they run and for several of them to be saved as a direct result? Or, similarly pertinently, for football clubs to not be tarred with the same “too big to fail”/”taxdodging scum” epithets as the banks, with no lack of justification for either, and for this to be used to justify a disdain towards football supporters last seen more than twenty years ago? Because that’s very possible.

    David Howell

    March 23, 2012

  2. Get real people, they are a shockingly run company which has shown no regard for rules and regulations governing them (whether statutory or regulatory) culminating in a massive debt being run up at the tax-payers potential expense. Let them pay the consequences of utter failure………….liquidation. Scottish institution?….what tosh!

    TDoc

    March 23, 2012

  3. Like a horse running with blinkers on it is blissfully unaware of what is happening around it. Rangers fans continually sing the National Anthem and Rule Britannia, yet it is Her Majesty that is going to fail them When will people with Rangers in their hearts wake up and smell the coffee? We tax payers are due this money abd had it been any other organisation then this would have been dealt with swiftly. Rangers should be dealt with as any other organisation and face the consequenses of their mis management. it will mean 3 years struggle to get back to where they were (and they) will but with a clean slate.

    Blinkered

    March 23, 2012

  4. Well then Mark if Rangers were going to be treated like any other company just like Vodaphone which hmrc let them of with billions of pounds then i think Rangers debt is a drop in the ocean, this is just a bit of Rangers bashing

    wullie

    March 23, 2012

  5. It amazes me that everone is going on about EBT’s CVA’s. What Murray did, if proven was wrong, however I look around me (i’m PAYE), and see everyone who is self employed, probably even journalists doing everything they can to avoid TAX. The people who are getting of light in all of this is Lloyds TSB & Mr Muir who contrived the whole Whyte scheme to get their money, which has led to the downfall of the club. The police should be investigating how Mr Whyte can obtain monies from Ticketus to purchase Rangers ? Did Mr Muir authorise this, if so, Mr Muir, Mr Whyte & Lloyds TSB, should be prosecuted for fraud.

    John Adam

    March 23, 2012

  6. I hate to tell EVERY football fan in Scotland this – If Rangers WERE to fall – which I am sure they will not, it would be terrible for all of Scottish Football. Reasons I hear you ask?? Well I’ll split them out below -

    1) Without Rangers and their fans TV Money will be lost – We already only receive 1% of the English Premiership.
    2) Without Rangers how much would the other 11 clubs lose in gate receipts? Rangers have the largest attendences on average – as well as travelling support in Scotland.
    3) Youth football – Without Rangers facilities, its another loss of potential talent to Scottish Football.
    4) Lets look at Kilmarnock £13 debt and average attendences of 4k…..If Rangers fall, and they lose income from them, I can see the banks circling on them!
    5) Lets look at Hearts – How much in debt? Submarine commander hiding is he? Again without the income from Rangers……
    6) Celtic – Rangers & Celtic do need each other – Celtic made only £180k going by their last AGM, having included the figures of selling McGeady for £9million! If Rangers don’t play any more, how much will that £180k profit become?

    What I’m saying is, if one team dies….be it Rangers or Hearts or any other….Scottish Football will be losing much needed blood.

    Peter Lawell may tell the Celtic fans Rangers are not needed, but we have been lied to before….learn from the mistakes of the past.

    Mark

    Seriously guys, be very careful what you wish for…..

    Mark

    Mark MacLeod

    March 23, 2012

  7. Mark, go to anytown in Scotland and you will see people wearing Rangers colours. It is theses people that are killing Scotish football by not supporting their local team. If Rangers were to go then who are they going to supprt to satisfy their need? Man Utd? Chelsea? Barcelona? There is a good possibility that the likes of Montrose, Arbroath, Airdrie and even the Premier teams will see an increase in their gate. it would also be fantastic to lose the Sectarian bile that is always bubbling under the surface of Celtic and Rangers that occasionally comes to the fore at football matches. Just wait to the Old Firm match when these songs will be sung at full volume with the death throes of Rangers nearing – one last Hurrah with Celtic fans waving fivers in your direction. Scotland is a very small country with magnificent patriotic people – but too small for being in the big pond of Euro football. With the demise of Rangers and Celtic then left with the ball and no-one to play with then Scottish footbal can only improve with less foreigners playing because the wages will be too low but fantastic for the Scottish National tean as there will be more Scottish guys playing at a higher level.

    Blinkered

    March 23, 2012

  8. The programme assumed thereafter that the big tax bill was a big, bright fish.

    Thank you, coke on the screen :)
    Borys

    Borys

    March 23, 2012

  9. TDOC and Blinkered are spot on! I don’t remember all this nonsense at the demise of Third Lanark.

    J Maguire

    March 23, 2012

  10. Scotland is hilarious! It’s 2012! Does no one no what ‘Sectarian’ means? Idiots!!!

    Jason

    March 23, 2012

  11. Just another TWT.

    seamus

    March 23, 2012

  12. Mark ,do you pay your taxes,of course you do,if you don’t then you get heavily fined,miss paying again and you go to jail and rightly so,are you seriously advocating that Rangers are a law unto themselves?
    Come into the real world and stop tying drivel because that is what you just did.

    Tony Hendrix

    March 23, 2012

  13. Jason, you have just identified yourself as the one missing from the village, If you look at ‘Sctarianisim in Glasgow’ in Wikipedia it will inform you of all that you are clearly ignorant of. As far as Scotland is hilarious! – I too think it is hilarious that we don’t pay for our prescriptions, we don’t have to pay for our childrens education at University we have free bus travel for all pensioners, our council tax has been frozen for many years and many more to come. We don’t rip apart our country like the English did in the riots last year. We also invented the television, telephone, radio, golf, the flush toilet and amusingly the Bank of England. And we have the best mountains in the UK, more pandas than there are Tory MP’s. Hilarious? try stop me laughing you Muppet!

    blinkered

    March 24, 2012

  14. May I just remind the above that Celtic are in absolutely no trouble and are doing fine thank you. May I remind them also that sectarian bile comes from all over Scotland, sad but true. Finally I an not sectarian in any way as are many of of my Celtic supporting friends. Mon the Hoops!

    Big Mike

    March 24, 2012

  15. To blinkered;

    In your ideal world,East Stirlingshire FC would have as many fans as Falkirk FC.They dont for the simple reason that Falkirk are more successful than their town rivals.I would guess for every Shire fan their are 20 Falkirk supporters

    Rangers carry a wide support largely because they win more than any other club in Scotland.

    You go on about education in your second post.What about seperate schooling throughout Scotland which encourages support for a certain team in Glasgow.

    This does not help local clubs either

    Jimmy

    March 24, 2012

  16. There is much hysteria about EBTs in some quarters. EBTs have been used by literally thousands of companies. Even Celtic did it! Innumerable companies and individuals try to reduce their tax laibilities – and EBTs are intended to stay within the law. We are awaiting a tribunal decision on whether Rangers messed up their use of EBTs, which strikes me as a complex technical question.

    As for companies looking to come out of administration possibly only paying a proportion of their debts, that is the law of the land and has been for some time (and similar laws apply to individuals). If anyone has a genuine objection to these laws I suggest they take it up with the government.

    Gordon Smith? He wasn’t on the board of directors at Rangers. He was an employee in the football department. And it’s my understanding that Craig Whyte didn’t hold any board meetings anyway. Does anyone really think Whyte told football employees that he wasn’t paying the billls?

    ArTee

    March 24, 2012

  17. Mark

    1) Most fans hate the TV deals, in particular the fact that games kick off at awkward times around about mid-day and for what, peanuts.
    2) The Old Firm are not the box office draw they once were. For examnple, last three occasions Love Street was full was the Last game against Motherwell (before it closed), the relegation dogfight game against Dunfermline in April 2007 and the game against Dundee where whe clinched the First Division Championship and promotion to the SPL in April 2006.
    3) Yes there are clubs in financial trouble, but we now know that they were chasing a team indulging in “financial doping”. Maybe there is financial mismanagement at these clubs, but the thought at the back of the minds of many of the people in charge of these clubs is “How are Rangers doing it?”

    It would be desirable for Rangers to recover, but Scotish Football can survive without Rangers.

    Allan

    March 24, 2012

  18. It staggers me how ‘head in the sands’ some people are being about HMRC’s attitude. They want to make a club go insolven – any club -, and they don’t care how much it costs them in that specific case. That much has been clear for years. And, as a taxpayer, I say ‘all power to them.’

    Rob C

    March 25, 2012

  19. Yes Jimmy I agree with your Falkirk /East Stirlingshire suggestion. This is my point. They are supporting their local team – be it either of these two. Same as Partick Thistle in Glasgow. Rangers have a bigger support because they are more successful means that their fans outside the Glasgow area are merely getting their kicks out of easy pickings rather than being true football supporters by encouraging their local team to do better.

    Yes i agree there is separate schooling throughpout Scotland but the Sectarian problem is a West of Scotland problem by a country mile. You dont hear about this sort of thing in other towns and cities in Scotland. You dont hear about problems in other areas because these folk dont know the real problems because they live away from it.

    Blinkered

    March 26, 2012

  20. Rangers (and Celtic) have such a big and widespread support largely due to the blatant and shameless way they canvassed using religion in the 25/30 years preceeding. Their successes since have allowed a fanbase to grow as success inevitably draws support, but the foundation of that support is not the Glasgow core, it’s the religious one.

    It is a small minded view that Scottish football needs either half of the Old Firm. If either or both f them were to up and leave at the end of this season then for sure the money would drop, TV deals would be pulled or greatly reduced and club gates would see a drop too. But that’s only the immediate. A season in when fans see their club now has a realistic chance of winning the title and hitting the big European stage will draw fans back to the gates. Players who develop here will have a chance at winning titles every season and claiming nice Euro bonuses and so wont be in such a hurry to leave. Scottish football would be a WINNER if they left, not a loser.

    It’s my opinion that Ranger’s should be sent to division 3 and made to work their way back up. This will hugely benefit all the smaller teams through the divisions who will get a nice gate bonus a couple of times and would act as Rangers ‘paying penance’ to Scottish football for their actions. It will be a disgrace if they are allowed to cheat their way to titles, gain the European bonuses they have unfairly and deprive other clubs of these possibilities, then not be punished adequately for it.

    Barry E

    March 30, 2012

  21. The fans are the victims here. The guys who put theyre money into a season ticket. A top. A Sky package or a trip to europe . Football in scotland is about two teams. The two teams at the top happen to be rangers n celtic. Not third lanark. This means there is no leaguewithout the two main players from a strict financial income point of view. The wee teams need the gate.the big teams need good quality competition and upset.the whole league needs the cash this drama draws from the fans n the telly. This has gone now. But it wasnt the fans that crashed the rangers.it was guys in bad suits. Celtic and all the other teams who voted against rangers are placing themselves in a very precarious position as good talent will leave. The lack of governance from the sfa on this is shocking. When the clubs run out of cash, which they will in a short time, wonder what happened, they and theyre fans can take great delight at pointing theyre fingers at themselves to decisions made by themselves. Unlike the Rangers fans who have been let down by bad suits. Rangers is an entity. Not a company. Rangers are owned by the fans and the fans have been grossly misrepresented.

    stevieb

    July 16, 2012

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