Questions were appropriate

I'm the shareholder referred to by Douglas Younger in his letter about Berwick Rangers' AGM (Berwick Advertiser, March 2) and I'd like to address the points he makes.

Monday, 20th March 2017, 8:00 am
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:19 am

The AGM provides shareholders with a rare opportunity to hold the people charged with running Berwick Rangers PLC – the board – to account.

To give some context about why that’s important, Berwick Rangers’ average league position over the nine years since the last take-over is closer to seventh than sixth, in a 10-team league.

The club reported an £82,000 loss in the previous financial year, and this season the team exited two cup competitions in embarrassing defeats to non-league opposition. Off the pitch, stadium issues need a long-term resolution.

In light of that fairly grim picture, challenging questions about the management and future direction of BRFC are absolutely appropriate. In fact, it’s surprising that more supporters aren’t looking for answers.

Shareholders have a right to scrutinise the way a board runs a PLC, particularly when performance is sub-par and a coherent plan is needed to deal with future challenges.

Good business practice means boards delivering poor performance are either compelled to improve or are replaced. Berwick Rangers is not a special case, and I’d contend that the board has got off lightly over the past few years, considering years of substandard league campaigns.

The accountant who delivered the PLC financial report at the AGM was clear that whilst the club could just about cope with another year of similar financial loss, it could not sustain a third consecutive year of heavy losses. And the chairman, in his downbeat opening statement, said that if BRFC were relegated into the Lowland League, the club was finished.

So no cause for complacency there, though it would be helpful if we had some idea of how the board plans to retain BRFC’s league status in the context of reduced budgets.

The questions which seem to have upset people were put to the board in the context of governance.

I made reference to a deal by the largest shareholder, the Supporters Club, to purchase shares from the retiring chairman. Via its own social media, the Supporters Club initially reported that the deal would not affect its financial contribution to BRFC, only to report at a later date that its contribution to the club would be several thousand pounds less than envisaged as a result of the share purchase.

I asked why the Supporters Club felt the need to reinforce its shareholding when it was already the largest shareholder, a consequence of which meant that the football club received less money than expected. That potentially affects playing budgets and translates into performances on the park, now thankfully on the upturn after a worrying dalliance with the dreaded relegation spot.

I think it’s appropriate to ask that kind of question.

I also asked a question about the potential impact of the county council’s requirement to save a further £36million over the next three years on future plans to develop Shielfield, but new board member and serving county councillor Douglas Watkin declined to answer.

Shortly afterwards, the chairman decided not to take any more of my questions and called the meeting to a close. Denying shareholders the right to put questions to the board is hardly flying the flag for transparency.

During AOB, the chairman twice invited other questions from the floor so everyone got the opportunity to put their hand up, including Mr Younger. The only other question on the night came from the Supporters’ Trust chairman.

In regard to the point about people wanting to hear from the manager, who was in attendance, there was no such provision on the meeting agenda.

If the AGM is to include a slot for the manager to update shareholders on team matters, which seems sensible, then next time include it as a stand-alone agenda item.

I was heckled and felt threatened at the AGM, yet Mr Younger fails to mention any of this in his letter.

Berwick Rangers FC faces some major challenges over the coming years. It’s time to park the playground politics and start thinking about the best way to make Berwick Rangers a thriving, community-based football club.

David Cook