By Tony Attwood
In my recent article on state aid for West Ham United, I made the point that not all the awful details of how the state (which means all of us who live in the UK and pay tax) is paying for West Ham’s ground had yet come out, although those that had, were bad enough.
Now the next set of awful revelations are emerging, and will be expanded in a BBC TV programme tonight.
The BBC have discovered that not only is West Ham United getting the actual Olympic Stadium for a fraction of its real cost, it will have the running costs paid for by all of us who live in the UK and pay tax.
In short, while Arsenal had to pay over £400m for their new stadium, and naturally pay for all the staff who work there, and all the costs of running the place, West Ham are getting all of this for almost nothing.
Thanks to a Freedom of Information request some of the contract between WHU and the state have been revealed, although much is still hidden, which makes us wonder how much more the likes of Blacksheep and I are going to have to pay to keep WHU in business.
Stadium utilities, security, maintaining the pitch, and even the goalposts and corner flags are being paid for by those of us stupid enough to remain in the UK and pay tax to our WHU supporting government.
The BBC say that they “understand other overheads that could also be paid by the LLDC include the cost of stewarding and policing on match days, which amounts to many hundreds of thousands of pounds for other Premier League clubs.”
This is State Aid on a gross scale, and ends any thought of balance and equality in government treatment of clubs. West Ham have now become State Aid FC.
Even Man City, until now the obvious recipient of government largesse, at least paid their overheads. But not the club previously known as West Ham.
Chris Bryant, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said “To all intents and purposes, this is a contract which gives West Ham the stadium at a peppercorn rent at most or, to be honest, for no rent whatsoever.
“The question is, if we were able to see the fuller facts and figures, which I think we should, would we be even more angry?
“We’re talking about such enormous sums of money that I think most British taxpayers would want to know what the deal was that was signed on their behalf, and that’s the first hurdle that the government has got to cross.
“If it doesn’t come through then I think the demands for a full public inquiry will grow and that’s the point at which I’ll start to want to join in those.
“It looks to me as if, because there was only ever one player that anybody was really interested in, that Boris Johnson bent over backwards to accommodate them and West Ham ended up with a deal which is astoundingly good for them.”
West Ham’s reply has now been revealed to be a lie. “We are more than paying our way,” is simply quite untrue.
West Ham’s contribution of £15m towards the £272m conversion costs was an utter and total insult to every taxpayer in Britain, as it came just as PL clubs shared out at £5,100 million TV fund, meaning WHU could afford to pay a proper price.
Asked why a multi-use stadium was not designed and built in the beginning, LLDC chief executive David Goldstone said: “I think that wasn’t possible at the time. There wasn’t an offer of a football tenant and, without football, it wouldn’t have worked.
Exactly how good this “astounding” deal is remains unclear while so many pages of the published contract have been blacked out.
So will the EC act on what appears to be a flagrant breach of the state aid regulations? They are investigating 12 clubs at the moment including Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia, Athletic Bilbao, PSV Eindhoven, Willem II, NEC and others.
But for the EC to act they need an affected business to complain, and so far the obvious complainants are staying quiet. Tottenham and Chelsea are facing huge bills when they move out of their stadia for rebuilding work, so they should complain. Arsenal paid for its own ground and should complain. Charlton and Leyton are nearby and they should complain. Better still they should all complain together.
“State aid rules in Europe are there for a good reason, which is that no government should be giving financial advantage of whatever kind to one commercial player over another commercial player,” said Bryant. “These are very real issues that are already affecting other football clubs in Europe.
“If it were subsequently proven that there had been illegal state aid provided to West Ham through this deal, then West Ham would end up having to pay back any potential financial advantage that might have accrued to them, which could run to the best part of half a billion.”
West Ham’s co-chairman, David Gold, wrote “you are badly misinformed” on Twitter in response to the claim that taxpayers will foot the bill for policing and stewarding costs at the stadium from the 2016-17 season. State Aid FC also issued a statement saying the taxpayer would benefit from food and beverage sales at the Olympic Stadium adding, “It is clear that the linking of the naming rights to West Ham United generates real cash value for the LLDC and the taxpayer.”
Cue ribald laughter.
Arsenal v State Aid FC takes place on Sunday.