The Higgs Charity View

Peter Knatchbull-Hugessen, clerk to the Trustees of the Alan Edward Higgs Charity, feels that the £14m bail out of the Ricoh Arena by Coventry City Council has given Arena Coventry Limited even more stability.

Mr Knatchbull-Hugessen posted on Sky Blues Talk:

"It has been difficult keeping quiet, having information and not being able to share it. The Coventry Telegraph will have more I am sure about what has happened this afternoon.

We have been working hard to do what any business should do when faced with such a serious challenge as ACL has faced with Sisu’s rent strike. I am sure that many of you will have heard the news that Coventry City Council has made an agreement with Yorkshire Bank for the Council to pay off the debt Arena Coventry Limited previously owed to the Bank. The Council will now make a loan to ACL of £14.4m, which will make repayments to the Council at an interest rate much more affordable for ACL as a business. 

You will have other questions about how much, how long, what rate of interest etc, at the moment I am unable to answer as they remain under commercial confidentiality.

The agreement gives ACL’s already strong business even more stability. It means that the Board of Directors can plan for the long term with more confidence than ever. The people of Coventry will also benefit as the interest on the repayments made by ACL will be available to the Council to spend on goods and services. 

This is a decisive move by the Council to secure the long-term future of the Ricoh Arena as an asset for the City of Coventry and a decision which ought to be welcomed and applauded by everyone posting on this forum.

I am already receiving calls and messages asking me what this means with regard to the situation with Coventry City Football Club. The short answer is that nothing has changed. CCFC, under the ownership of Joy Seppala and her Sisu staff including Tim Fisher, has a legal obligation to pay its stadium rent. 

The Board of ACL has already issued a Statutory Demand for payment, the deadline for which has long since passed, and is now looking at its legal options. These legal options include petitioning the courts to grant an order to wind up CCFC and starting off the process of placing the Club into compulsory liquidation. 

Nobody wants this to be the outcome, but the clock is ticking and now is the time when Joy Seppala and her colleagues need finally to take responsibility for their actions, pay the rent which is lawfully owed, and come to the table with the Board of ACL to present a realistic business and financing plan which will safeguard the future of CCFC.

And why wouldn’t they want to do this? The City Council has just presented them with an opportunity to build a better business relationship with an outstanding business which is in an enviable and sustainable financial position. Everyone at ACL is absolutely committed to seeing the Sky Blues play at the Ricoh Arena for many years to come. 

My appeal to Sisu is therefore a simple one; please come and have a sensible conversation. And please stop trying to blame all the Club’s financial problems on the stadium rent, while drawing misleading and inaccurate comparisons between the rent paid by CCFC and that paid by other Football League One clubs, none of whom enjoy the benefits of a facility comparable to the Ricoh Arena.

From the Higgs Charity’s perspective as a shareholder, we are completely in support of the Council’s move today. I am sure there will be speculation also about the Charity’s intentions in relation to holding on to its stake holding in ACL. Some of you may even feel that this would be a sensible time for Sisu to make a realistic offer to assume the Charity’s share.

Again our position is unchanged. The trustees are proud to be part of ACL and we’re committed to the Arena for as long as it takes. We won’t be bullied or harassed by anyone trying to take our share in the business for less than its true value. But, if any third party makes a sensible and realistic offer, then we will of course give it the consideration it merits.

Once again I apologise for the length of this update. I would of course have preferred to share this sooner but I am bound by the obligations of the law and of confidentiality on this hugely sensitive matter. As ever, I am happy to answer questions where I am able to do so."