Telford & Wrekin Council set up a private limited company with the Advantage West Midlands, the unelected regional development agency, called Transforming Telford.
The company spent over £1m last year whilst running as a “shadow company” (ie. not doing anything). Only 2 of the board members are elected councillors, the rest being representatives from regional quangos and private companies.
When the Conservative opposition booted the Labour administration out for the first time in the history of the borough earlier this year, they launched an investigation of Transforming Telford. I have it on good authority that financial irregularities were one of the reasons that the company is being investigated. However, for some unknown reason the new Leader of the council has decided to appoint a councillor that runs regeneration consultation meetings on behalf of Transforming Telford to carry out the investigation. Not that there’s likely to be a conflict of interests there.
Meanwhile, a local resident has decided to take Transforming Telford to court over a land-grab that the Spaniards would be proud of. One of the old housing estates is currently undergoing multi-million pound regeneration. The project was run by the aforementioned Advantage West Midlands until recently when Transforming Telford took it over. Using Advantage West Midlands’ powers, the resident has seen part of his garden given to his neighbour as compensation for losing part of his garden. The reason why his neighbour has lost part of his garden, though, is because the garage he bought years ago is being demolished and as compensation for losing his garage he is having two garages and a hard-standing area built on his garden free of charge!
Now, you’d expect this kind of thing to be taken up by the intrepid reporters at the local newspaper, the Shropshire Star, right? Strangely, they don’t seem too keen on stories about this quango recently and I’m sure this is nothing to do with the Chief Executive of Midlands News Association – the owner of the Shropshire Star – having a seat on the board.
These companies are cropping up all over the country under the banner of “regeneration and investment” and are usually conceived in secret with the help of the local regional development agency and quietly announced in the local press. They are taxpayer funded and immune from the Freedom of Information Act. I’d be interested to know of anyone elses experiences of these companies elsewhere in the country.