David Prosser: Taxpayers cannot continue to bail out clubs

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The Independent Online

No one wants to see Portsmouth, Cardiff or Southend disappear, but why should we continue to bail out football clubs that have been so badly mismanaged that they can't even find the cash to pay their tax bills? For that is what taxpayers are being asked to do at many failing clubs.

HM Revenue & Customs is quite right to pursue football clubs for the money they owe. Every penny of their unpaid tax is a penny less to spend on, for example, schools and hospitals (or a penny more for the rest of us to make up in the form of higher tax bills).

It is not just the taxman that is owed money. Our local councils, police forces – even the expenses of the volunteers from St John Ambulance – are all going unpaid by many clubs. Anyone can sympathise with the fans of teams under threat, but we can't allow them to treat charities and the public sector in this way.

As for the complaint that HMRC has begun to take a much harder line with failing clubs, football has only itself to blame. For years, clubs in financial difficulties have been opting to go into administration to protect themselves from their creditors. When they eventually emerge from this arrangement, they pay just a fraction of what they owe – except to other football clubs, who must be paid in full under the rules of the Premier League and the Football League.

In other words, taxpayers lose out while the football industry gets its money. This is why HMRC dislikes administrations and so often applies to have clubs wound up.

Taxpayers asked to pick up the bill for the failures of the banks are understandably enraged. Not least because the greedy, bloated bankers got themselves into trouble by taking irresponsible risks with other people's money. Does that sound familiar, Pompey?

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