Scandal-hit borough council’s hefty spend with town’s rugby club

Northampton Borough Council spent more than £400,000 with Northampton Saints in just three years during the Mackintosh era

If you are not already subscribed to NN Journal click below to support our independent journalism.

By Sarah Ward

Northampton Borough Council (NBC) spent a whopping £414,000 on hospitality and advertising with the town’s premier league rugby club during the three years it was led by tarnished leader David Mackintosh.

The authority, which was led by Mackintosh from 2011 to 2015, spent an average of £138,000 per year with the Northampton Saints business during the financial years 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2015/16.

In 2013/14 just under half of the authority’s £219,036 spend on advertising was with the rugby club as the authority paid £106,920 to it for promotion. That sum dwarfs the £13,844 it spent during the same period advertising with a local newspaper.

That same year it spent just under £24,000 on hospitality. The following year its hospitality bill was £31,181 and it was £10,000 the year after that (with £112,000 on advertising).

The financial records also show it was paying the club for equipment hire as well as giving it grants, some spend was logged under training and professional services.

The business arrangement with the club dropped off dramatically after Mackintosh was elected as an MP for Northampton South in May 2015, with just £6,213 spent in the 2016/17 financial year and just over £1,000 the year after.

It is not known who enjoyed the hospitality each year, or what the exact arrangement was, but former NBC cabinet members Cllr Mike Hallam (now a West Northants Council cabinet member for HR and corporate services) and Cllr Brandon Eldred listed Saints hospitality on their register of interests during that period.  David Mackintosh has also listed some Northampton rugby hospitality on his own register of interests along with the council chief executive of the time David Kennedy.

The Mackintosh era has been mired in scandal since he left local politics to go into the national arena and the finances of that period are still in the spotlight due to the millions that went missing which were loaned to Northampton Town Football Club in July 2013.

The stadium was never developed and the authority has spent millions more trying to recover the funds. A six year long police investigation (Operation Tuckhill) resulted in several charges last month concerning election offences relating to donations made to the Northampton South Conservative Party in the run up to Mackintosh’s election campaign. More charges are expected.

Mackintosh also enraged residents and made national headlines when he authorised the sale of the town’s Egyptian artefact Sekhemka.

A deal his executive was involved in with Church’s shoes in March 2014 has also come under the spotlight recently, after NN Journal exclusively revealed the authority may have bought some land in the St James area of the town on Church’s behalf and then sold it to the private firm for a loss. The site has not been developed and stands empty today.

The new unitary, which took over from the borough council in April, has not been able to provide the contract to show how much the land was bought for and says it does not hold it.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Sally Beardsworth, who was a serving NBC councillor during the Mackintosh era, has called the spend with the sports club a ‘disgrace’.

She said:

“We (the Liberal Democrats) stopped all spend on hospitality from 2007 to 2011  as we felt it wasn’t right to spend taxpayers money on hospitality for councillors.

“That’s why we stopped the balloon festival - it was costing too much money. It was on for three nights with hospitality including free food and booze.

“But after we left Mr Mackintosh came along. He absolutely didn’t tell us about this and what you don’t know you can’t do anything about.

“The whole lot was just a disgrace.”

Cllr Beardsworth says she was never offered any of the hospitality the borough council was paying for at the rugby ground and said she would not have accepted it if it had been offered.

West Northamptonshire Council, which succeeded NBC in April and the rugby club have been contacted for comment.

Many thanks for reading. If you are an unpaid subscriber you can upgrade your membership and pay £5 a month for five original Northants stories each week. Our model is ad-free, independent journalism but we need the support of the county’s residents to help us keep going and to hold those in power to account.