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CEO letter to Lanarkshire Joint Valuation Board

As I write this letter, I am struggling to come to terms with the details I am about to disclose. In fact, the only way I can express my bewilderment is to express this in black and white. It has been to date, 7504 days since our agreement began and will be a furthermore, 168 of sleepless nights ahead as I try and devise some sort of resolution to the unprecedented and detrimental position South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) and Lanarkshire Valuation Joint Board (LVJB) has put our Club in.

As CEO of Hamilton Academical FC (HAFC), I am ultimately responsible for the rental income the stadium receives which in turn, allows us to house, operate and maintain the football club itself and the community services we provide which are clearly outlined within our Preventative Spend Report enclosed. It is these responsibilities, that will suffer greatly when the LVJB vacate the offices they have rented for the past nineteen years, which I may add; the Council were well aware of at the initiation of this lease, that it was a partnership arrangement.

Developing communities is as South Lanarkshire Council (SLC) state “one of their main objectives to meet their mission and vision for everyone in the community to have a quality of life that is improved by the Council’s policies. It is therefore, my conclusion, after months of concern, apprehension and anxiety in regards to the ending of this lease, that I direct my distress, anger and overwhelming fears for the club’s future to SLC Chief Executive, Cleland Sneddon, as the Clerk to the Lanarkshire Valuation Joint Board, he therefore in my opinion holds the responsibility for the decision.

I have thought about this decision to terminate the lease at great length and cannot see, apart from SLC’s own beneficial reasons, how this will help sustain our Club and community we serve. Reasons I assume merely financial and not based nor considering the impact it will have on so many who rely on the community work undertaken when the turnstiles are closed. We will now bear the responsibility of replacing this vital income which as I am sure SLC are more than aware, will not be an easy task given the unforeseen circumstances 2020 has brought upon us all. Although the decision for the termination of this lease was realised before the impact of COVID-19, I wrongly assumed it would be more apparent that as we face this epidemic, the necessity of the rental income to the stadium, aids our position to continue to provide a vital life-line of help and support to so many moving forward in our response to COVID-19.

I also fail to see how ending the twenty year lease will help to develop the capacity for creation of a community capable of delivering the range of services required when, the main provider of these services to the local community is being directly impacted. Thus removing this vital income stream, the support framework to help communities will be disabled which will havea considerable detrimental impact upon young people, families and the local and wider community; who are already experiencing marginalisation due to deprivation (Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation, SIMD, 2019).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            The sole purpose of HAFC outside the primary football aspect given the practicality of being the home ground for ourPremiership League team is to support our local and wider community by being a symbol of hope and encouragement to the communities we serve. HAFC are committed to changing lives through ensuring the people in the community we serve feel safe, are better connected and more socially cohesive and in turn have improved family relationships through the support packages we provide.

It is therefore astonishment that a decision has been made to vacate the premises on 21st May next year and I feel strongly thatSLC are completely neglecting their responsibility and duty of care to the local community and therefore denying the capacity for change. It is the complete opposite to what is proposed within community plans and is instead, ruthlessly taking advantage of the community and turning their back on the people of South Lanarkshire from some of the most deprived areas, which will only push them further into vulnerable and unsustainable situations by increasing inequality and therefore not achieving the challenges set out by SLC to tackle these challenges between themselves and their partners. How is it possible for SLC to ensure these challenges are realised when the efforts of the Council’s local deprivation plan to tackle such inequalities will be removed completely with the ending of this sustainable agreement between LVJB and HAFC?

The community work of Hamilton Academical FC along with both charities housed within the club; the children’s charity Blameless and HAFC Community Trust, whom have collectivelyworked for almost twenty years within the local and wider community, identifying and addressing social and emotional challenges brought about by social economic deprivation, the aims of which are in line with the Scottish Governments National Performance Framework, (Scotland Wellbeing- Delivering the National Outcomes, The Scottish Government, May 2019.) therefore ratified by all local authority areas, including  SLC. The decision to directly impact these charities by removing a proportion of their funding stream is not only heartbreaking after spending several years building it from the ground up, but to the local people whom the charities provide essential support to, as well as the close to 100 staff members who work tirelessly and the volunteers who give up their own time to a cause they believe in; could ultimately be destroyed with this harsh and mindless decision.

It seems apparent that the decision to directly impact upon the work HAFC do within the community is completely against the Councils own engagement framework, something I just can’t understand. The Council framework clearly states “ that it will ensure that throughout the partnership there is a clear understanding and commitment to engaging with communities about decisions that affect their lives. The framework also states it will “engage with groups in our communities in a way which is co-ordinated to make best use of resources, avoiding duplication and share best practice and be consistent in the quality and effectiveness of what we do, and how we do it across the agenda.”

The work Blameless have delivered throughout both primary and secondary schools across the country, is itself worth the rental income received. The Project “Talking Drugs” has been extremely well received, and successful with not only hundreds of pupils across the community but thousands, pages and pages of positive feedback from pupils, teachers and head teachers are highlighted within the appendix of our Report.

Consideration must be given to the fact that with termination of the lease, will be detrimental to the current addiction crisis not only within both Lanarkshire authorities but across Scotland as a whole.
                                                                                                                                                                        

Can the Council please explain how reducing the opportunity to exercise ‘best practice’, ‘engagement’ ‘co-ordination’ ‘effectiveness’ and above all  ‘complete success’, which  is clearly demonstrated at every level within the work carried out via the Club , highlighted within the  attached Preventative Spend Report; is in line with the Councils community engagement plans?

I would like to ask SLC, who they think will pay for this missing income after they vacate? Are they at all concerned about the amount of children and young people along with their familiesnow at severe risk by this decision and what do they expect this community club to do about it? My personal reactions to this decision are that of neglect, brought about by; an unconscious and senseless decision of the Council to remove themselves from the offices they currently lease at a total space of 23,037sq ft. Let me ask; where is the community partnership? It is evident by vacating the office premises that a seamless partnership vital and of benefit to the community will end and therefore directly impact the Scottish Government ambitious plans for growth by 2030, (Fairer Scotland Action Plan, The Scottish Government, 2016).

The decision to terminate this vital income enabling the necessarycommunity work at HAFC will impact negatively on twenty five current projects that are in place to tackle social-economic deprivation. [The full list of projects can be found with the ‘Preventative Spend’ Report attached with this letter].

The projects are forever evolving and growing based on feedback we receive from the community in which they serve and we base them on what they need, which is again an objective of the Councils, in which they state;

“Aim to ensure children, young people and their families get the help they need, when they need it. Our vision is to ensure that children and young people live in a community where they feel safe, active, healthy, achieving, included, nurtured, respected and responsible.

They should be art if a society where they have the opportunity to maximise their full potential and have access to good quality health, education and leisure facilities.

(South Lanarkshire Council, December 2015)

Within HAFC we are actually listening and delivering these needs, it is not just written in a policy somewhere! As well as the projects the club supports and successfully manages HAFC Youth Academy. Our Youth Academy has been accredited Platinum Level by SFA Club Academy Scotland, just one of nine clubs across Scotland to possess such an elite status within Scottish Football. The Academy does not just support the 110 youths currently on board but also their families. Our academy encourages; active participation, commitment, focus, hard work, and doing well at school along with many more benchmarked accolades our youths must achieve to succeed. It provides them a safe place to thrive, providing them with life skills for their futureby forming social and community bonds. Playing in a Youth Academy builds a strong connection with the local and wider community (Coalter, 2013).

Our young people foster relationships with both club and league officials; and build upon their relationships with both respected and trusted adults which provides important role model opportunities. They can also see at first hand, the value of volunteering within a community and can witness this service meaning they have an understanding of what it means to be a positive community contributor.                                                                                                                            

What kind of message is this sending to our Academy? That by removing these opportunities for some if not all, and how it willimpact on their mental health, social identity and acceptance, if we, as their Club, have no option but to close our Elite Academydue to reduced income?

So as you can see it is much more than the physical benefit of sport. The other derived benefits as such, will also be put in jeopardy after May of next year when the funds to support themwill cease to exist. I am already struggling to find the answers I will have to try and come up with when staff, coaches and these young individuals and their parents come looking for explanations.

The health and wellbeing of all our community members within HAFC is at the forefront of all our projects. We as a communityestablishment believe thoroughly that there is ‘No health without mental health’ and are committed to delivering a range of support services to reflect and support mental health in the community and fully support the strategy set out by NHS Lanarkshire to ensure we get it right for everyone (A Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy for Lanarkshire, 2019- 2024). It is therefore the fundamental reason why we have implemented specific projects within the club to promote and protect wellbeing, prevent common mental health issues and strengthen the provision of mental health care as well as most importantly putting mental health on equal footing as physical health. The health of a club is therefore extremely important for sustainable growth. Evidence suggests a positive effect on anxiety, depression, mood and emotion, self-esteem and psychological dysfunction along with reducing alcohol and drug dependency can come from community sport activities, particularly within Scotland as there were 987 deaths from suicide last year as a direct impact of drug and alcohol dependency.  Therefore, taking part in sport has a positive impact on academic achievement, identification, increased acceptance, self concept and increased attention (The Social benefits of Sport; putting sport first, Professor Fred Coalter, Sport Scotland Glasgow, 2013).

South Lanarkshire Council, according to their policies, statutory purpose is to protect and improve the health, safety and the environment of the people of the communities in which they serve (Environmental Service Enforcement Policy, January 2016).The Council also states that; it will ensure connection between sustainable development and climate change and are more explicit by setting their approach to the challenges and opportunities of climate change (Sustainable Development Strategy, 2012- 2017). The Council outline that sustainable development is not a thing we do or a program we carry out, but it is a set of fundamental values by which we make decisions. These decisions are outlined in the 17 Global Sustainable Goals.  This decision to terminate the lease therefore directly impacts the Council’s responsibility to the environment and our community’s declaration towards tackling climate change. It does this by not accepting responsibility for the Global Goals. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) or ‘Global Goals’ a series of goals set out by the United Nations in 2015 and agreed by an international framework. The goals are now embedded in the National Performance Framework and as outlined by the First Minister; “Scotland cannot act with credibility overseas, if we are blind to inequality here at home” (First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at NIDOS Conference November 2015).                                                                                        

Therefore, I cannot fathom how the Council cannot see the direct impact to not achieving these goals, if they cannot build on inequality within their own home of Lanarkshire? It is my opinion that terminating this lease without the option of discussion of renewal will have a negative impact on Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communication, Goal: 17: Partnership to achieve the Goals, and may others which are intertwined within the Scottish Framework and therefore the Councils own framework.  This decision also reduces the capacity for HAFC to grow and developsustainably in the future. The club has ambitious plans to incorporate projects within the grounds to encourage the local community to be more aware of their own environmental responsibilities.

These projects will not go ahead as planned within our timescalesdue to reduced income. I am not sure what kind of message the Council are sending to future generation by ending this agreement and reducing our commitment as a club to grow and develop our business. Particularly, when the Council state clearly that growing business within South Lanarkshire aim to support younger age groups to access employment initiatives.

As well as the impact set out beforehand, which I am sure you can agree will be catastrophic to the community, there is also the issue of public health and safety and the implications this will bring. As of May next year and the vacating of the Council from the office space, there could be a potential risk to public health in the form of nuisance. These offices will lie empty and could encourage vandalism, noise pollution, security and maintenance issues; not to mention the impact of energy waste this will have as the building will still require lighting to try and ease security issues.

As a club we will have to find income to reduce these issues,funds directly being taken away from the community services we provide.

AS CEO of Hamilton Academical FC, I would like to openly and publicly ask the Council if there is room for negotiating the lease in the first instance, with the possibility of extending as I feel I have outlined the extreme impact this will have.

Secondly, if this is not an option and agreement we can come to; Iwould like to ask the Council if they would open to discussion in regards to payment of the rental value for a period of 12 monthsafter they vacate. My reasoning behind this request is that as of January 2020 LVJB had an under spend of £0.545 million on the boards revenue budget. This under spend resulted in a transfer to reserves of £0.465 million, leaving a balance of £0.889 million to be carried into 2020/2021.

As the board is responsible for ensuring that their business is conducted in accordance with the law and proper standards, that public money is safeguarded, properly accounted for and used economically, efficiently and effectively. I feel that providing the club as a gesture of good will, to the value of £299000.00 at the end of the lease period, would be in the best interest of public spending and to ensure this public money is safeguarded for the future development of our community.

I would like to finish this letter by offering my availability to discuss any information set out within this letter in person, over the phone or digitally at any time.

I thank you for your time and look forward to the Council’s response.

Colin McGowan
CEO Hamilton Academical FC

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