Coutts spends big on club

Sir Russell Coutts, left, and Harold Bennett.

A large investment in both time and money by former America’s Cup skipper Sir Russell Coutts is paying dividends at the Manly Sailing Club.

Sir Russell, arguably one of New Zealand’s all-time top yachtsmen, is the club’s commodore, and has personally spent more than $250,000 on the club’s youth sailing programmes and clubhouse improvements.

The reward has been 102 new members in the past year. In addition, the Coutts name, and the quality of coaching it has attracted to the club, has benefited many of the region’s young sailors. Around 140 young people took part in the sailing courses last season. Sir Russell has also been involved in the coaching, providing his services free of charge.

The Russell Coutts Sailing Foundation, a charitable trust, was set up last year to run courses for the club. It employs two fulltime coaches and a part-time administrator. A pool of other coaches is available when needed.

Trustee Harold Bennett says the foundation was formally registered as a charitable trust in February because it had become clear that it was making a loss and would need to apply for grants in future to be sustainable.

He says of the four trustees – himself, Sir Russell, Auckland businessman Barry Thom and Fiona Rist – only Fiona is paid for her role as a part-time administrator.

Draft trust accounts for the last financial year show that course fees brought in $60,000. The foundation paid $5000 to Manly Sailing Club, spent $120,000 on buying new boats and paid more than $100,000 in coaching fees. To help balance the books, Russell and Jenny Coutts contributed $210,000.

An issue noted by the Hibiscus & Bays Local Board is that all this activity is taking place in and around a club that operates from an Auckland Council-owned facility and pays a peppercorn rental – $10 per annum, if demanded.

Although it is Council’s view that the foundation “does not physically occupy the leased premises”, its courses operate from the sailing club, as do its staff. The foundation owns 42 sailing boats, most of which are kept at the club.

As a result, some members of the Local Board are asking whether the community is happy to effectively subsidise the foundation’s operations, in return for the benefit gained.

Member Vicki Watson says there are obviously spinoffs for the club and the community from the foundation’s operations. However, she says while a charitable trust cannot make a profit from its enterprises, if it is paying staff and charging for courses, the issue of whether or not it should also pay a market rental should be considered.

“I am also concerned that a narrow group are the beneficiaries and ratepayers could be subsidising one small portion of the community that can afford their own sport,” she says.

Deputy chair Janet Fitzgerald says the Local Board understands that the foundation is operating within its lease provisions, but that Council’s leasing team has advised it will monitor the situation.
Sir Russell was not available for interview.


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