‘A sorry state of affairs’: Council responds to damning Cobblers report

The leader of the council repeated his apology to the people of Northampton

By Natalie Bloomer

The leader of Northampton Borough Council last night branded the handling of the missing Cobblers loan a “sorry state of affairs” as he presented the authority’s response to last month’s Public Interest Report into the matter.

At a full council meeting last night Councillor Jonathan Nunn said:

“The granting of the loan was done in a woeful and deeply disappointing way, an earlier speaker described it as a ‘sorry state of affairs’ and I would go along with that.

“When I joined the Cabinet in 2016 the inadequacy of the activities and decisions taken around that time in 2013 had already started to become clear. It was clear that an apology was due and I took it on my shoulders to be the person to make it. I reiterate that apology to the businesses and people of Northampton for the poor way this was done.”

Cllr Nunn went on to detail some of the actions that have already been taken since the scandal and presented a draft plan in response to recommendations made in the KPMG Public Interest Report (PIR). He gave assurances that no points made by KPMG would be “overlooked or ignored” and said that any unresolved actions as of March 31 would be progressed by the new West Northamptonshire Council “as it sees fit”.

The £10.25m loan which was given to Northampton Town Football Club between 2013 and 2014 should have been used to redevelop the club’s stadium and nearby land but the work was never completed and the money was not paid back. The leader of the council at the time David Mackintosh went on to become the MP for Northampton South.

The KPMG report identified “serious failings” and “unlawful” decision making by the council in its handling of the loan. It said:

“In conclusion, this whole episode demonstrates poor decision making based on inadequate reports leading to public money being lost, and demonstrates the need for careful thought, structure, independent advice and monitoring in making such decisions on a transaction which was significant and unusual. There was a near complete lack of an approved business case,  appropriate independent advice and documented risk management and proper governance process followed. Documents presented to members for decision making purposes and records of decisions taken by officers were deficient.”

Leader of the Labour group in Northampton Danielle Stone, presented a break-down of figures at the meeting which she said shows the total cost to the council from the loan now stands at between £16m - £17m. She said the figure included interest on the loan as well as the cost of investigating the matter and trying to recover the funds.

“Cabinet members were not asking questions, they were not asking what was going on. They allowed their cabinet meetings to last sometimes for just three minutes. That is absolutely outrageous,” Cllr Stone said.

“What is the restitution? What is the consequence for those people who allowed it to happen? We need to see consequences. The KPMG response is astonishing, I’m really angry on behalf of our residents.” 

Lib Dem councillor Sally Beardsworth said those responsible should not be allowed to get away with it:

“I am very concerned that people that were portfolio holders at the time knew so little about what they were doing that they allowed this to happen. I find them culpable. We cannot let councillors get away with things like this. I don’t know how we can repay the people of Northampton for all that money - it could have been put to such better use.”

Northampton Town Supporters Trust board member Kevin Simons also spoke at the meeting and said the scandal had “stained the club for a generation”. He said taxpayers in the town who are not regular supporters of the club will, when talking about the Cobblers, ask when they will get their money back. The Trust has called for action to be taken against anyone responsible.

“Should any councillor or officer be implicated as having some responsibility in this matter but is not subject to proceedings brought by the CPS, then this council has a public duty to consider what alternative actions might be appropriate for the failings which the KPMG report has deemed to have been unlawful,” he said. 

The council is in its last days before being replaced by the West Northamptonshire unitary on April 1.

A police investigation into the loan scandal is ongoing and an update on whether anyone will be charged with a criminal offence is expected shortly.