Former MD defends role in Falkirk FC tax bill saga

PIC LISA FERGUSON - ''GEORGE CRAIG

PIC LISA FERGUSON - ''GEORGE CRAIG

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The former managing director of Falkirk Football Club accused of misleading directors over arrangements to pay an outstanding tax bill has defended his role in the affair.

George Craig was blamed for the Bairns being fined more than £11,500 by 
HM Revenue and Customs after failing to settle a demand for £322,000 PAYE on 
time.

At an Appeals Tribunal, chairman Martin Ritchie claimed the directors had relied on assurances from Mr Craig that everything was okay with HMRC.

He argued that the board had been misled and the first they had known of the problems was when HMRC took action.

Dismissing the club’s appeal against the financial penalty, Judge Anne Scott said she was not satisfied there was a reasonable excuse for the late payments.

She said it was clear the professional advisor responsible for payroll matters at the club should have been aware of the penalty regime if the payments were not made on time.

However, she added there was no evidence there were failings in what she did or did not do.

The Tribunal also found the club’s explanation that its “executive management” did not appreciate the importance of paying particular debts on time - including HMRC - did not amount to being a reasonable excuse either.

But this week Mr Craig insisted the issue was not as straightforward as his former employers were suggesting and it was “unfair and untrue” to suggest he had misled anybody.

The Tribunal heard the club had faced “serious challenges” in 2009-10 while in the Scottish Premier League. The collapse of the television deal with Setanta which cost it around £400,000 and looming relegation had forced cutbacks which included the loss of a full-time member of staff working on their finances.

Mr Craig said: “The board was kept fully informed of the steps that were being taken to manage the football club’s cashflow and pay its bills on time.

‘‘It was a joint decision to downsize and, as managing director, I was part of that.

‘‘I had a good working relationship with the finance person that was brought in one day a week and the responsibility for the payment plan was left with her.

“But the board also had financial acumen – they were not financial novices – and were given monthly reports regarding the situation with our creditors.

‘‘It was a calculated balancing act. Basically the football club was trying to manage its money on a week-to-week basis.

“I reported to the board in good faith that the situation with HMRC was being dealt with but, for whatever reason, that plan was not put in place. What I reported to the board was what I thought the situation was.

‘‘I don’t tell lies. I reached a verbal agreement with the HMRC myself and understood a formal plan had been put in place.

“There was a club inquiry later that found there were lessons to be learned by all of us, including me as managing director.

“A team effort got the club through a difficult phase, but, in retrospect, it was probably a mistake to replace a full-time finance person with a part-time one.

‘‘However, a lot of difficult decisions were being taken at the time.

‘‘In the end the board and managing director worked together to get us through a very difficult period in the club’s history.”