East Lothian Tory chairman's firm goes bust with £1m debts leaving boat racers out of pocket

Anthony Stodart
Anthony Stodart, Our Isles and Oceans Co-Founder and ArdMoor Managing Director -Credit:Sunday Mail

A firm run by a top East Lothian Tory chairman has folded after backing out on a £900,000 sponsorship deal with one of the world’s biggest boat races.

Anthony Stodart, chairman of East Lothian Conservative and Unionist Association, and business partner David Stewart Howitt had agreed to sponsor one of 11 yachts taking part in the 10-month long Clipper Round the World contest.

However, as the Sunday Mail reports, the company, Our Isles and Oceans, went into liquidation with £611,841 in sponsorship cash still due to the race ­organisers Clipper Ventures.

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Figures obtained by the Sunday Mail show the firm has total debts of about £1.1million but assets of only £1708, and £108 in the bank.

Clipper Ventures claims it was told by Stodart and Howitt that the six-figure debt would be paid days before the firm went under on May 3.

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Executive chairman and co-founder William Ward, 67, said: “They had grandiose ideas but unfortunately they did not come to fruition.

“It was almost like an ego trip for them. Even up to a week ago their solicitor wrote to say they recognised the debt and intended paying it. I never believed they did.”

Clipper Ventures, based in Gosport, Hampshire, was co-founded by yachting star Sir Robin Knox-Johnston in 1995. In 1969, he was the first person to sail around the world single-handedly.

The marathon yacht race began last September and the racers will be visiting Scotland for the first time with Oban being chosen as one of the last destinations before it wraps up in Portsmouth in late July.

The £900,000 sponsorship gave Stodart and Howitt the opportunity to promote their firm at global corporate events during stop-offs.

They don’t appear to have organised any activities. The deal also allowed the firm’s branding to be put on the boat.

The company also owes £40,000 to Donald Houston, one of Scotland’s biggest landowners, who has Ardnamurchan Estates in the West Highlands.

A report by liquidators Anderson, Anderson & Brown show £200,000 was paid to Clipper Ventures with £611.841 still due. Clipper Ventures insist the ­agreement was for £900,000. The firm has been told it is unlikely it will get any money back.

Ward added: “I am thoroughly disappointed in the pair of them – if I am being polite.

“They have engaged in something far bigger than their capabilities.

“They were literally out of their depth.”

The company also owes Glasgow-based marketing firm GRM £110,000.

Its managing director, Gordon Ritchie, said: “This pair have left small ­businesses like ourselves with a real mess to sweep up.

“The due fees and promises made have not been delivered.”

Clipper Ventures makes money from the sponsorship deals, from the ports that host different stages of the race and fees charged to become crew members.

The costs can range from £15,000 for six weeks to £60,000 for 10 months.

Ward described the race, which has stops in Spain, Uruguay, South Africa, Australia, Vietnam, China, USA and Panama, as the sailing equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.

Stoddart, 54, is a dad of three who runs an online country clothing company and lives near North Berwick.

He was appointed chairman of the local Conservative ­Association in 2021.

Howitt, 59, is a former Royal Marine and a director of a number of firms including an energy company.

Stodart claimed the cost-of-living crisis, the war in the Ukraine and general political ­uncertainty had affected their ability to sell on the sponsorship rights and persuade firms to take part in commercial events.

He said both he and Howitt had done their best to save their company and had lost almost £500,000 between them.

Stodart added: “We set off with all the best intentions.”

Howitt also expressed his regret over the firm’s collapse.

He added: “It is a terrible outcome. We made our level-best efforts over a long period of time and unfortunately were unable to deliver.”