Speech on Arsenal Fanshare scheme & fan involvement in football

My Lords it is a pleasure to follow my friend the noble Lord Holmes, even though he plays in blue.

I declare an interest as a lifelong supporter and current Season Ticket holder at Arsenal Football Club.

I know only too well the unique bond that exists between a supporter and a club. Often it brings frustration and despair but also the greatest moments, such as winning the Cup at Wembley.

It is a commitment for life and the power of football in people’s lives can bring many positive things including the focal point of community pride. But we must remember that without Fans football is nothing. For example at its most cynical, fans are vital wallpaper and ambient sound for lucrative TV coverage.

I was until recently a Director of the Arsenal Fanshare Scheme. This is a pioneering scheme that enabled Arsenal fans to buy a part share in Arsenal. As the price of one share is now £15,000 the scheme allowed fans to come together within the scheme to own an affordable part of a share – called a Fanshare.

The FSA regulated scheme was successful at its launch and hailed by many including the FA, the Premier League, Michel Platini of UEFA and Jeremy Hunt and Hugh Robertson who as Secretary of State and Minister for Sport respectively spoke positively of the scheme as a model for football clubs to follow in terms of supporter ownership engagement.

The scheme quickly secured almost 2,000 members and collectively they held 120 shares in Arsenal. That meant that 2000 more fans had a small share in Arsenal’s ownership and there were 120 places to attend the Annual General Meeting and hold the Club’s Directors to account. Fanshare holders received the Club’s Report and Accounts and all the information that Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis sent to Arsenal’s Supporters.

Arsenal has benefited greatly over many decades from maintaining stability in its ownership structure, and from having supporters who own shares and are actively involved in this structure. Plurality of ownership has served Arsenal well and is the best way to ensure the necessary checks and balances are in place to protect the club’s long-term future.

Sadly for Fanshare there was a takeover of Arsenal Football Club by Stan Kroenke during the early days of the scheme. This changed everything. Despite many attempts to engage Mr Kroenke has refused to meet with anyone from the Scheme and he has refused to support it to develop. With him buying up all the shares during the takeover, the scheme has struggled to find new shares to buy and was unable to market itself to new members. It is now facing closure. A final plea for him to issue new shares to the scheme has been refused.

In this regard it is a great pity that the DCMS has taken so long to establish its Expert Group on Football Ownership as recommended to it by the Arsenal Supporters Trust. If it had done so it might have found ways to provide more support to schemes like Fanshare. While Ministers spoke highly of it they have regrettably offered no tangible support when it mattered.

As the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust advised the Culture, Media and Sport Select Cttee, there are legislative barriers such as those contained in the Financial Markets and Services Act that made it more difficult to promote the scheme and I welcome that there is now finally a group to look at these barriers.

But we need to go further. We need to discuss how Supporters are given a greater say in the way that Clubs are run. That is why I welcome the proposals put forward by Clive Efford MP and my party to have Fans elected onto the Boards of Football Clubs.

In my opinion, and many other fans I meet, clubs like Arsenal are too important to be controlled solely by just one person and these measures would address that.

This could be achieved by legislation. It could also be achieved by the Premier League and the Football League making changes to their rulebooks.
The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust has argued that these rules should reflect supporters at all Clubs being treated in the way they would if they held equity in the Club, even in cases where they do not:

Engagement would specifically cover:

1. Providing a financial and reporting format similar to that required under the Companies Act.

2. Twice yearly meetings between representatives of the supporters’ trusts and directors and/or executives of the club, at which discussion can take place on the performance of the club and the views of the wider membership can be directly reported.

I hope that the Government can make progress with these issues in the recently announced Expert Working Group. And I also hope that they will correct their omission of not including any representatives from Premier League Clubs who face these engagement barriers.

But their track record to date isn’t encouraging. For real change we have the proposals from Labour and that is why my advice would be to always support the team in Red!

Thanks to @timpayton

lords, Politics, Uncategorized

From the Ridiculous to the Sublime – the Lords Delivers!

I must confess.

Today I voted in one of the most bizarre elections in the world. And I voted for someone who was eligible to be a candidate because he is the great grandson of Herbert Asquith, the former British Prime Minister. I was also one of an exclusive electorate, as members of the House of Lords were the only people eligible to vote.

But the Lords are not elected, I hear you cry! That is mostly true but not when it comes to the ones that are there by birth. Yes, this was the by-election for a vacancy for a hereditary peer (see my earlier blog), and on this occasion the whole House was eligible to vote (with convention saying it ought to be a Liberal).

I voted because I thought I should, but clearly this is the Lords at its most ridiculous.

redbenchesBy contrast I also picked up a copy of the Lords internal newsletter the Red Benches. This included a story telling me that they were testing a new system of recording votes using iPads. This is so that they can record them more efficiently and publish the results more quickly.

This is a very good thing for accountability.

All Lords divisions are published and are easily searchable. The public can then see how we all voted, very soon after we did.  We have nothing to hide.

The Lords have been doing this for some time. It begs the question as to why the Commons don’t do the same…


Change the political paradigm

Six months ago I stood down from the Labour frontbench after nine years, to take up an exciting full time job in education. I still attend the Lords to vote and speak, but I have enjoyed having some distance to reflect on politics in this country.

Outside of Westminster and the media, most people say the same thing: “I’m not really interested in politics…they’re all the same.” I’ve heard that on doorsteps for over twenty years, accompanied by declining turnouts at elections, but I’ve rarely stopped to really drill into what people are saying.

A yes supporter decorates his home -
That changed last month when 85% of voters in Scotland showed they were deeply interested in politics. When politics became relevant to them. Whilst the Yes campaign lost, there was a strong sense that voters on both sides wanted politics to change significantly. I don’t believe Scottish voters are unusual.

At one level “they’re all the same” could be about people in politics. Too many private school and Oxbridge educated white males – like me. Too many who’ve never achieved anything outside politics, and too much over-promotion of intellect and under-promotion of empathy.

But reflect longer and there are perhaps two other aspects where it may look like “they’re all the same”.

they’re all the same

First, is the appearance that they care more about winning power than using it. I know the vast majority of politicians are in it for the right reasons but the entire political culture is geared around Westminster elections and the positioning needed to win them.

The middle ground is where elections are won and so parties disproportionately focus on how to win votes and craft policies to appeal to the same few electors – leaving everyone else feeling irrelevant. It exposes politicians as being inauthentic; because what they feel is hidden behind what the middle ground tells them they want to hear.

To the disengaged this looks like a game. A game where negative campaigning wins. That dwells on image. That does so because political parties can’t risk setting out a vision that describes doing anything profoundly different, in case it loses the election.

This is the second problem. The way politics is done hasn’t changed much since the Empire. The debates for decades have been about the role of the state, and the balance of tax and spend. Now the main UK parties seem to agree on cuts and balancing the budget, but with a heated debate about which benefits to cut and how much tax to give away. But it all sounds very similar.

The old ways of doing things are now as useful as Stone Age tools in the Bronze Age

An ageing population, climate change, globalisation, technological change, indebtedness – all the great challenges facing us mean the current paradigm must change. The old ways of doing things are now as useful as Stone Age tools in the Bronze Age.

The case for wholesale change in the way representation, executive decision-making and law making is done has never been stronger. By happy coincidence the public are desperate for a new way of doing things too. Many politicians are starting to see it too but like music industry bosses waking up to Napster and iTunes a decade ago, they don’t know what to do. Meanwhile the destructive populism of UKIP is allowed to thrive in the vacuum.

There are no easy prescriptions to the sickness sweeping our politics. But I would start with looking at what is going on in the new economy.

In their 2010 book Macrowikinomics, Dan Tapscott and Anthony Williams offer some clues.

They start with the story of how Ushahidi was used in the 2010 Haiti earthquake to massively improve the effectiveness of disaster response. This crisis mapping site was developed over a weekend by a Kenyan lawyer in 2008, following disputed elections. When the Haiti earthquake struck it took an hour for the same platform to start recruiting the global Haitian diaspora, from a basement in Boston, to translate, categorise and geo-locate thousands of text messages in real time. They used Skype to then relay information to search and rescue teams in Port-au-Prince and respond to requests from the World Food Program and the US military. This bottom up technology proved way more effective than observation on the ground.

This is a social application of the disruptive technology that is the heart of the sharing economy.

The Linux free open source software, that is now in everything from BMW cars to Android phones, has spawned a $50,000,000,000 Linux economy. There are many other examples where co-production of services by consumers is creating massive value and disrupting whole industries, most recently Airbnb. Many of these “prosumer” products are highly resource efficient, empowering of the public and are growing really fast.

What if these forces were embraced by government? What if the sharing economy was accompanied by a sharing society? Could we design public services to cut out the middle layer, the agents, the managers, the bureaucrats, and directly connect consumers and professionals?

There are signs that some are starting to do this.

  • Fix my Street, here in the UK, is a long standing example of changing the relationship between local people and local government.
  • I met a group from China last week who told me about their system of national care credits, where the care you give can be exchanged in the future for care you receive.
  • The US Patent Office has moved to using the public to check patent applications – the volumes became unmanageable and so they had to crowd source it to keep up with innovation (if patents can be effectively regulated by the public, why not replace the House of Lords with mechanisms for the public to improve legislation instead?).
  • TES Global operates a platform for teachers to share their teaching resources. The network has over 6.5 million members downloading over ten items per second.

digital mutualism

Truly designing digital mutualism for public services ought to be a no-brainer for progressive politicians. It is putting power wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many not the few. It is the co-operative movement re-born in a post-industrial age. But is does mean those with power and influence choosing to give it up – including at the top of the Labour movement.

Embracing a new political paradigm is a big ask. Are we ready for strong government but less active government? For public sector innovation, ending the cult of the policy expert, and being open, transparent and collaborative?

The prize is better services, more personal and at less cost. It depends on rebuilding trust out of the trust we have to share our homes on Airbnb, rather than out of the ashes of the expenses scandal.

This sharing socialism may not be the new paradigm. But I am convinced that the old paradigm is over. If we don’t find a new one fast we will be left behind, and people will find a new politics.

Jim Knight is a member of the House of Lords and Managing Director of Online Learning at TES Global.