The leader of Northampton Borough Council has responded to calls for a public inquiry into the Cobblers £10.25 million loan fiasco, by saying “there is no hidden agenda.”
In an interview with the Chronicle & Echo, Councillor Mary Markham (Con, Park) also defended the borough’s reasons for giving Northampton Town a £10.25 million loan in he first place and has claimed that weekly requests to ask Cobblers chairman David Cardoza where the loan money have gone have never yielded a “satisfactory answer.”
When asked whether she would support a public inquiry into the whole saga, she said: “There’s no hidden agenda here.
“We have already sent in financial advisors a week ago to take over at the club and look at the finances- so we can get a true handle on exactly what the finances at the football club look like.
“Now that doesn’t sound like somebody who is trying to make a cover up.”
She went on to say she is making attempts to find where the loan money has gone.
“If I knew where the money was I would share it with the people of Northampton,” she said. “But I, like the people, have no idea where that money is or was and the only person who can answer that question is David Cardoza at Northampton Town Football Club.”
“We have asked him through legal representation for many weeks now that same question - where is the money? And we haven’t had any satisfactory answers.
“We will continue to pursue, to ask them. It’s my job to make sure we get back that money.”
Councillor Markham said the financial advisor, sent into the football club last week to look through its finances, is set to produce a report on the findings.
However she could not say when that would be.
The council has, over the past few weeks come under fire for continuing to hand chunks of the loan to the football club in “tranches” of up to £1.5 million through 2013 and 2014, even though work on the stadium appeared to be stalling.
At last night’s special council meeting, Councillor Danielle Stone (Lab, Castle) asked the authority: “Why was so much money given to Northampton Town Football Club without them sufficiently progressing with the development?”
When Councillor Markham was asked whether she felt the council was “confident” such a sizeable loan could be repaid by a club sitting in the fourth tier of English football she replied: “We were confident yes.
“We had regular checks done - all of which they passed
“Make no mistake we didn’t just hand over 10.25 million pounds - this money was handed over in tranches as the development progressed, as different trigger points were reached.
“This was all monitored.”
“In fact on one occasion we didn’t pass on the money because the paperwork that came through didn’t satisfy the criteria needed, so we withheld the payment.”
She later went on to say it was David Cardoza who had not supplied the paperwork.
She added: “As a local authority - this council was subject to rigorous internal and external audits.
“We didn’t just give this loan six months ago - this loan has been through two of our internal and external audits we were audited more rigorously than any company I know - so all of those procedures were all in place.
“In handling the taxpayers money I don’t think there was much more we could do.”
However Councillor Markham said her immediate concern is trying to reach an agreement with the Kelvin Thomas-led consortium looking to take over at Cobblers and any developer interested in the land around the stadium.
The council has previously said the outstanding debt would only be paid back to them if that land - which the authority owns - could be developed.
Current Cobblers chairman David Cardoza has also urged the council to give Kevin Thomas’s consortium some leeway on repaying the loan and using the proceeds from a land development to do so.
But while Councillor Markham would not talk about the finer details of the ongoing negotiations, she said: “I could phone you tomorrow and say everything is sorted, it could be next week, but there are so many twists and turns.
“It can if everybody is sensible and gets round the table - it’s the same as selling a house.
“It depends how much you are willing to negotiate.
“The difficulty is we are working with taxpayers’ money. We want to realise that money, that is my big priority, but I would like to work with the supporters’ trust and with Kelvin Thomas in maintaining a football club.”
She added: “I can’t give you any assurances we will get a deal through with the football club what assurance I can give is that the officers and myself are working to tirelessly to make sure we can realise the development, that we can realise the taxpayers money and at the sane time working extra hard with the help of the supporters trust to try and find a buyer.
“We lent the money to progress the football club - how sad would it be if that was its demise in the end and that would be no fault of this council.”