Give tax breaks to fan-owned sports teams, ministers urged

Hearts fan and Labour MP Ian Murray at Tynecastle
Hearts fan and Labour MP Ian Murray at Tynecastle
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SCOTTISH ministers are facing a call to give tax breaks to sports teams and clubs owned by their fans when the government’s budget is finalised in the New Year.

The plea was made by Labour MP Ian Murray, the chairman of the not-for-profit Foundation of Hearts, which promoted the idea of fan ownership and successfully ­acquired the majority share­holding in the Tynecastle club after it suffered relegation from the Scottish Premier League and faced financial collapse with the threat of extinction.

Campaigners at UK level have called on the government at Westminster to consider exempting community run sports clubs from corporation tax and allowing breaks such as Gift Aid on donations.

Supporters Direct, a UK government-backed body that helps fans run football clubs, is working with HM Revenue & Customs to examine what help it can offer to such initiatives.

However, Murray, the MP for Edinburgh South, wants the Scottish government to look at how it can use newly devolved powers over tax to help other fans run their football clubs and sports teams along similar lines Hearts.

Murray said ministers should also look at offering financial aid to groups such as the Supporters Direct Scotland, which supports community ownership of football clubs.

He said: “I would encourage the Scottish Government to look at all aspects of how they can support these initiatives, including, if possible, financial support through Supporters Direct Scotland (SDS) and other organisations.”

The SDS group has campaigned for the “German model” whereby 51 per cent of top flight clubs in the country’s top division, the Bundesliga, must be owned by club members and supporters.

Murray, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for Scotland, said the Scottish government should examine how it can use the new powers over tax that have been devolved to Holyrood as part of the Smith commission launched after the independence referendum to help sports clubs.

He called on Finance Secretary John Swinney to add such plans to his budget when it is fully signed off at Holyrood in early 2016 as part of a plan to “give a new lease of life” to football and sports clubs in Scotland.

Murray said: “There is no doubt that well-run football and community sports clubs can really be a power for good in the community, by opening facilities to neighbourhood groups, schools and youth clubs, becoming a place where local people go to learn lessons about healthy living and sport. “That is why we see the real benefits of the supporters at Hearts being an integral part of their team.

“The Government has a real opportunity to bring a new lease of life to both football clubs, who are at the heart of all communities in Scotland, and wider sports/social clubs.

Clive Efford, UK Labour’s shadow sport minister, has a private members’ bill going through the House of Commons that would require football teams to sell supporters shares in the club upon a change of ownership.

However, Murray wants the Scottish government to look at how it can use its own powers to promote greater fan ownership and supporter involvement in the governance of sport.

As well as the Hearts model, fan ownership has also been popularised by the success of AFC Wimbledon, now in the English League Two, which was set up by fans after the original south-west London team controversially moved to Milton Keynes.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The government already funds a range of rates reliefs for community-owned sports clubs. Mandatory relief is available for sports clubs that are registered charities or registered community amateur sports clubs (CASCs). Councils can also award rates relief to other not-for-profit sports clubs.”