26th May, 2019

Is this the council leader who'll preside over Coventry City leaving Coventry - after he snubbed crucial talks at Westminster? We question him

Les Reid 15th Mar, 2019 Updated: 18th Mar, 2019

IS this the Coventry City Council leader who will preside over the 136-year Coventry City Football Club leaving the city – after he failed to turn up for crucial talks in Westminster?

Council leader George Duggins is pictured here at a Wasps match promoting Coventry as the European City of Sport for 2019, at the Wasps owned Ricoh Arena.

Time is ticking on Coventry City to extend its Ricoh tenancy beyond this season – but Wasps and the council are insisting Sky Blues’ owners Sisu must first drop legal action against the council’s 2014 Ricoh sale to Wasps.

City face potential expulsion from the English Football League at an Extraordinary General Meeting on April 25 if there is no Ricoh deal – and could be forced to groundshare outside the city.

While the Coventry Observer has consistently called for ALL sides in the long-running Ricoh Arena dispute to find a fairer stadium and academy deal for Coventry City, we earlier this morning put the following open questions to Coun Duggins after his surprising ‘no show’.

Coun Duggins and the council also failed to send to the meeting in his absence any of his political deputies or cabinet members. Council chief executive Martin Reeves, another leading protagonist throughout the Ricoh Arena dispute, also failed to show up.

Instead Coun Duggins and the council only sent the council’s solicitor to take notes.

The football club revealed on its website yesterday that the following people attended the meeting with the Secretary of State.

Jeremy Wright (Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Mims Davies (Minister for Sport), their ministerial colleagues and local MPs.

Julie Newman, Coventry City Council

Nick Eastwood, Wasps

Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor

Shaun Harvey and John Nagle, EFL

Mark McCafferty, Premiership Rugby

Joy Seppala, SISU

Laura Deering, SISU

OUR OPEN QUESTIONS TO GEORGE DUGGINS, COVENTRY CITY COUNCIL LEADER…

Why did you not personally attend the crucial meeting yesterday in Westminster aimed at keeping Coventry City Football Club in Coventry, instead sending the council’s solicitor Julie Newman to take notes when all other parties in the Ricoh Arena dispute sent their leading decision makers? Does this display leadership of the city by you?

This, coupled with your statement yesterday afternoon, has been widely understood by many as an indication that you have absolutely no intention as a local authority of taking any meaningful part in the process involving the secretary of state Jeremy Wright MP, in which he yesterday publicly urged all parties to ‘work together urgently’ to keep Coventry City in Coventry for next season. Is this the case? If so, please explain why. If the council IS to take part in the ongoing process, please make that clear now in the public interest.

Do you accept as a politician that very few multi-party disputes in history, including legal ones, have ever been resolved by one side caving in after being backed into a corner, and that in all walks of life resolutions require a negotiated settlement, with give and take on all sides, AFTER mediation or discussions?

Do you personally understand that the Coventry public and fans – even the anti-Sisu Sky Blue Trust representative on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire on Wednesday evening – want all sides to discuss the matter urgently and resolve it so that Coventry City stay in Coventry after this season? You are leader of the council that is the Ricoh Arena’s freehold owner and which has powers and influence across the city.

Do you understand that you personally with your actions will be held personally responsible alongside representatives from Sisu, Wasps and others if Coventry City is forced out of Coventry? You having taken part in collapsed talks in 2012 as then council deputy leader alongside then leader John Mutton about joint ownership of the Ricoh Arena with Coventry City.

Do you understand that the clearly divisive decision you personally supported alongside colleagues to sell the Ricoh Arena to London Wasps Holdings Limited in 2014 on a 250-year lease not offered to Coventry City (whatever bargaining positions were expressed at various times) continues to greatly financially disadvantage the club over ownership and revenues, and that is why it is still being legally contested?

Do you personally want, as some failed campaigners seem to ‘talk up’, a phoenix club emerging at the Ricoh Arena stadium playing non-league football, with Coventry City under Sisu and Mark Robins frozen out of the city and distressed by many fans’ non-attendance at a groundshare elsewhere, as a high risk strategy for potentially ousting Sisu? If not, please state so categorically now that you do not want this even more divisive outcome. Please also categorically state that you understand, as most fans and the public clearly do, that this would be a disaster for our historic football club.

Are you aware that a leaked council email we published in 2016 proves beyond any reasonable doubt that the council has indeed sought to block Coventry City’s attempts to have a new stadium – in this case the previous joint exploration between CCFC and Coventry rugby club of a groundshare at a greatly expanded Butts Park Arena? The email stated the council would block all professional football played at such a development as the council-supported Ricoh project needed to be protected.

Finally, Wasps will alongside Coventry City Council be attending the MIPIM international property conference in Cannes, France this year to showcase the city’s regeneration, with Coventry being European City of Sport 2019. Were Coventry City Football Club ever invited by the council for the event?

COUN DUGGINS’ RESPONSE..

“The reason why Julie attended on behalf of the Council is as follows. The primary aim is to encourage SISU to drop all legal action and to move forward  and this has been the stipulation of WASPS before any further agreement is reached, this needs to happen now as time is running out.

“It is Julie Newman as the City Solicitor and the Council’s most senior legal officer who has the authority to settle, withdraw or otherwise act as appropriate in relation to legal proceedings and to give effect to decisions to act in the Council’s  interest. It would be Julie Newman who would confirm consent to the Court if any application had been made by SISU to withdraw proceedings; unfortunately SISU has chosen not to do this. You will note after yesterday’s meeting we are where we began much as I anticipated.

“I do not accept for one minute that I will be the Council Leader who will preside over Coventry City Football Club leaving the Ricoh that is a decision for the owners and the owners alone. It was they who left the Ricoh in 2013 and it will be they who can avoid a repeat in 2019. David Johnson’s excellent article points to “..enough judges to form a football team, ruling on various stages of legal action.

“I will be making a Leaders statement on Tuesday, and have a series on interviews lined up with the BBC in which all aspects of the situation will be dealt with.”

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