Kirklees Council has refused to open up to public scrutiny over claims it has written off millions of pounds over the John Smith’s Stadium.
The council’s Liberal Democrat leader Clr John Lawson again challenged the Labour-run Cabinet to answer detailed questions on its strategy and decisions.
Clr Lawson asked Cabinet to refer the issue over the future operation of the John Smith’s Stadium to the council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
A scrutiny panel, made up of councillors of all parties, examines council decisions and ensures councillors and officers are held accountable.
The Cabinet, which met on Tuesday, backed a proposal for a senior council officer to enter negotiations with Huddersfield Town owner Kevin Nagle and Huddersfield Giants chief Ken Davy over one – or both – of the clubs taking ‘operational control’ of the stadium.
Kirklees Council no longer wants any involvement in the running of the stadium but will retain the freehold to the land on which the stadium is built.
Clr Lawson has asked many times about public money being written off but there has been no confirmation from the council.
A council report confirmed that the company which runs the stadium, Kirklees Stadium Development Ltd (KSDL), had been subject to “financial restructuring” with the council not pursuing “debts outstanding at the present time.”
KSDL is owned by the council (40%), Huddersfield Town (40%) and Huddersfield Giants (20%) but the council is not putting any more money in and the company is only kept afloat by cash from the two sports clubs.
At Tuesday’s meeting Clr Lawson (pictured above) again pressed the Cabinet to open up its decision-making for scrutiny.
He said: “I believe a multi-million pound write-off of public money should be fully accountable and the decision should be examined. I highlighted several areas where we had made mistakes as a council and if we don’t learn from those mistakes we are not doing our jobs properly.”
In response, Cabinet member for regeneration and finance, Clr Graham Turner, said: “It will come to Scrutiny when we have something to report on. As soon as there’s any movement or we think we can get a deal done we will come to Scrutiny.
“I think we have already learned lessons from this but don’t forget this is a deal from around 30 years ago.
“What looked like a good deal at the time – probably was a good deal at that time – the world has moved on, the sports have moved on. We learn lessons all the time and we will take those on board.”
Council leader Cathy Scott agreed Scrutiny was important but said it was still too early. She added: “We can’t judge something and make presumptions about monies and losses, it’s a negotiation that’s not even been entered into yet.”
Huddersfield Town is keen to take over control of the stadium and has said all options remain on the table, however any agreement is likely to be six months away.
Clr Turner told the meeting: “We have for some time been working on a plan to find a resolution to the financial issues at KSDL. Talks and negotiations have been going on for many, many years but have yet to be resolved.
“Negotiations are with both stakeholders with a view to them taking full operational control of the stadium. Any agreement will have to be ratified by Cabinet and full council.
“It’s also worth pointing out that we retain the freehold so if any deal is done with either owner or both owners, the freehold of the site will remain with the council so there’s no risk of the loss of the stadium to the public of Kirklees.
“We hope, finally, real progress can be made now that we have committed and stable ownership of the football club.”