FOOTBALL supporters could be handed the legal “right to buy” their clubs after the move was backed by MSPs at Holyrood last night.
The Scottish Government now has the power to bring in a fans’ right to buy as part of the Community Empowerment Bill in a move hailed as a “landmark decision” for football.
A consultation has now been launched on the shape of changes, but it will cover the right to buy, the right to bid for a club, the right to govern and for fans to be involved in the running of clubs. But a call for the government to cover the cost of buyouts through loans or grants was rejected by Scottish ministers.
Sports minister Jamie Hepburn said last night: “The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to increasing supporter involvement in their football clubs.
“To get this right its vital that the voices of fans, clubs, and the footballing authorities are heard. That’s why we’ve brought forward amendments to ensure there is full consultation to determine what future changes to the law may be needed in this area.
“Over the summer and through the beginning of the new football season we’ll be seeking the views of everyone who cares about football to ensure that any measures brought forward benefit the game.”
There are currently four community owned clubs in senior Scottish football – Stirling Albion, East Stirlingshire, Dunfermline Athletic and Clyde.
But Hearts, through the Foundation of Hearts, and Motherwell have significant fan ownerships And after the upheaval at Rangers in recent years, the club is on course to be about 15 per cent fan-owned through the Rangers First and Rangers Supporters Trust groups.
Green MSP Alison Johnstone, who has been campaigning for the change, said: “This is a landmark decision for Scottish football, a measure designed to support fans and protect clubs.
“The principle of a fans’ right to buy is overwhelmingly popular and Parliament is doing the right thing by backing it.
“Many Scottish clubs are well-run but everyone can name others which have been forced into administration, or worse. With this right, never again would fans be left watching on the touchline as their club goes bust.”
The legislation passed by MSPs last night will also extend community right-to-buy legislation, and introduce a new right to buy neglected or abandoned land – even if the owner is unwilling to sell it.
“Blight sites” which have been an eyesore to communities for years could be brought back to life through the bill.
It is part of the SNP government’s target of having one million acres of land in community ownership by 2020.
Cassiltoun Stables in Glasgow is seen as an example of the kind of project that will be helped by the bill. The site transferred from council to community ownership in 2007, and has since developed into facility which hosts community events, offices, training suites and a nursery.
The Community Ownership Support Service (COSS), which helps groups and local authorities transfer buildings or land assets, will see its funding increased to £400,000 over the next year.
The funding will help the organisation support the implementation of the new legislation.
Community empowerment minister Marco Biagi has said: “Every community across the country has a building or area of land that could be transformed if local people were in control.
“This funding will help communities realise their ambitions and find a way to improve their areas by injecting life into an old office block or wasteground.
“Taking over land or buildings can give communities the opportunity to protect services that might otherwise have been lost, it can provide jobs, training and opportunities to generate income or allow groups to refurbish and make alterations to buildings they already use.”