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Rangers director forced to hand back £200,000 bonus

AN activist investment group that has a key role in who runs Rangers has forced the club's finance director to return a controversial £200,000 bonus.

ISSUE: Brian Stockbridge had accepted the £200,000 bonus after Rangers won the third division title last season. Picture: Mark Mainz

Isle of Man-based Laxey Partners, the biggest shareholders in Rangers International Football Club (RIFC) plc, told fans it remains in support of the current board, after insisting Brian Stockbridge repay his £200,000 annual bonus from last year.

The move has concerned fans' groups who are fighting for revolution in the boardroom.

Supporters were told by Colin ­Kingsnorth, chairman of Laxey, which has 11.7% in RIFC, that the company had insisted on the return of the bonus and otherwise may not support Mr Stockbridge's re-election to the board.

RIFC said Mr Stockbridge had agreed to return the bonus, which he accepted for Rangers winning last season's third division title, and a cheque would be provided "in the next day or two".

The Rangers Union of Fans group met Mr Kingsnorth to discuss what they said were shared concerns about the running of the club, but were told Laxey was "unlikely to change" the support for the current board.

Mark Dingwall, of the group, said Mr Kingsnorth acknowledged the bonus was far from the only issue with Mr Stockbridge. He added: "We remain unclear on the reasoning behind this [the support for the board], particularly given these shared concerns."

An RIFC board spokesman said: "The fans' group went to Laxey seeking to get Laxey to withdraw its support in entirety for the board and to support the requisitioners. Mr Kingsnorth refused. But he did concede that he would only support Brian Stockbridge if the bonus was paid back.

"The bonus issues only related to support for Mr Stockbridge. There was not any question that Mr Kingsnorth wouldn't support the other board members."

The rebel group aiming to be voted on to the Rangers board at the club's annual meeting on December 19 had vowed not to work with Mr Stockbridge if elected.

Scott Murdoch, one of four nominees put forward as potential directors by activist shareholders headed by Jim McColl, insisted the track record of Mr Stockbridge makes his position untenable and is adamant he must be axed.

Laxey is described as an "activist shareholder" in various companies, where it has purchased a small stake and used its position to call for the removal of board members over poor performance of firms.

This has included an attempt in 2002 to remove John Ritblat, the chief executive and chairman of British Land, one of the largest property companies in the UK, from the board after Laxey Partners purchased a 9% stake in the firm.

It also headed up a motion at the annual meeting of the Dundee-based investment firm Alliance Trust last year in an attempt to remove chief executive Katherine Garrett-Cox, citing five years of "underperformance". Laxey had raised the motion, which was defeated by a vote, after buying a 1.7% stake in Alliance.

Laxey has since sold out of Alliance. But, in October, Alliance came under fresh fire amid claims of bloated management and warnings the board may have to reconsider the position of investment chief Ms Garrett-Cox.

Alan MacDougall, managing director of shareholder consultants PIRC, said that, while activist funds such as Laxey use "various techniques" to bring about change to improve the value of companies and therefore the share price, it may not always be in the best interests of the club.

He said: "I know Laxey and they are pretty aggressive in wanting change in companies to extract greater value.

"I think it's a good thing. There is a lot of lazy management out there and they are sitting on unrealised value in their companies. And it means these activists come along and start gingering them up, which is good for all the other investors who are still holding the stock.

"I imagine because they are supporting the new board, they think there is untapped value to be had by supporting a competent management structure.

"What might be good for the fans is one thing, what might be good for the long-term future of the club given the commercial interests at stake might be different. The trick is to merge the two."

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