Sport: Lewes chairman questions Govt non league support

Lewes FC Chairman, Stuart Fuller, has questioned the Government’s handling of a non-league support fund.

Stuart Fuller, Chairman of Sussex non league club, Lewes FC has raised a number of issues with the DCMS’s Winter Survival Package for British spectator sport.

The financial support fund has been cut from £14m to £10m with zero explanation, and many non league clubs have been left totally in the dark as to its payment date, application processes and ultimate amount.

Writing in a personal blog post Fuller said: 

“On the 19th of November the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced the Winter Survival Package for spectator sports in England. The news was welcomed not only by football but by other sports who had suffered with the loss of income caused by the pandemic. For clubs who played at Step 3 to 6, there was to be £14 million made available to provide financial relief with the details of how it would be allocated to follow.

“November became December and the worsening position with the pandemic led to all football from Step 3 downwards indefinitely suspended, with the pre-Christmas announcements from the Government putting the whole country into lockdown. But Non-League football still had the Winter Survival Package to see them through, right? Erm, well nobody knew.”

Clubs were given a no-strings attached cash sum in October 2020 to ensure payment of running and staff costs, and a second package was then promised.

As the new year came around, however, non league clubs were none the wiser about the missing money, which had been changed from grants to loans in the interim – a financial burden that many can simply not take on.

Clarity was later restored, but the picture shown was not a pretty one. Lewes FC are currently eligible for £27,000 of aid (due to being in step three of the non league pyramid) to cover the period of January-March 2021, but such comes with caveats.

Firstly there is no clear indication that further support will be available to cover costs incurred past the first quarter (there is precious chance that clubs will resume playing in April when the season is due to finish in May, meaning there is zero chance of match day revenue from that point) and the application process for the loans themselves is awful at best.

“The information required as part of the grant application is extensive. It is also only applicable, unless clubs face extreme hardship, for operational costs due from 1st January to the 31st March 2021. Therefore, any costs that clubs incurred from the moment football ceased (for most clubs) on the 31st October until the end of the year (i.e in the first part of Winter), where most has zero income, cannot be reclaimed from a grant, entitled the Winter Survival Package. However, any predicted spend until the end of March could be claimed even though the payments weren’t yet due.

“The other concern was the administrative burden. Based on a review of the application process, it would take each club at least 5 hours to complete the grant process. It would likely take at least a couple of hours on receipt to check it. There are over 800 clubs at Steps 3 to 6. If every club applied for a grant, which according to the details issued, would be paid by the 31st March, then assuming one person could deal with 4 applications per day, working 5 days a week then it would require at least 10 people, assuming no sickness or holidays to ensure that payments were made in March, plus at least the same again to check that the predicted incurred costs in the application will have been paid by the end of May.

Assuming that half of those people will need to be resources at an average cost of £10 per hour, then is that cost really justifiable when the simplest solution would be to just give the clubs the cash without any strings?”

Away from purely financial concerns, there are further issues regarding the completion of the season. There will be many clubs across the country that have invested heavily for promotion bids, clubs that have outstanding bills on recent ground upgrades following steps up the ladder, and clubs that patently should have moved between leagues over the last two seasons but haven’t.

There is an unbearable burden being placed on the clubs and the leagues they make up to provide a resolution framework for the season, and that’s before you even delve into the world of sponsorships, player contracts and stadium leases.

And yet the DMCS seems dead set on tying clubs up in obtuse, incomprehensible red tape just to secure their continued fiscal survival, when they should be free to focus on the bigger picture.

Then again, when it comes to this Government little has the capacity to surprise any more.

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