The following article is in tonight’s Shropshire Star …
The leader of Telford & Wrekin Council today defended himself against claims of hypocrisy for taking an unpaid job with a controversial limited company in the West Midlands.
Councillor Andrew Eade said although he had reservations, he felt that it was important for Telford to play a part in an organisation which could have a huge impact on the borough.
The formal decision to join up with the Birmingham, Coventry and Black Country City Region limited company is due to be made by Telford & Wrekin’s cabinet on Monday.
And the cabinet is recommended to appoint Councillor Eade as Telford’s representative and a director of the company.
He and his Conservative colleagues questioned the city region concept and suggested withdrawing from it during the run-up to the May elections when they seized power from Labour.
And although it is now official council policy to support the city region, they have since repeatedly expressed unease about the benefits and cost of joining up.
Supporters say it will help Telford win millions of pounds of investment boosting the economy and creating jobs.
Critics say the city region is an unelected quango and a waste of tapayers’ money.
The claim the real cost to Telford is about £200,000 for the next financial year, not the £37,000 claimed by the council, and fear that joining a company limited by guarantee will have potentially huge cost implications for the council.
Stuart Parr, Telford-based founder of the West Midlands NO! campaign, accused Councillor Eade of being hypocritical and of sending out mixed messages over the city region.
He asked: “If the Conservatives do decide to stand by their election pledge and pull out, will they have to pay the city region off?
“They are gambling with taxpayers’ money without a mandate from the electorate.”
Councillor Eade said today: “Yes, I have always had reservations about the city region but it is important to ensure the borough is represented at the highest level where decisions are made that directly affect us.
“We have decided to assess the benefits of membership first and then make a decision about continued membership in the future.”
I would like to take this opportunity to just clarify a couple of points.
The £200,000 figure comes from Telford & Wrekin’s own budget proposals for 2008-09 in which they have allocated £100,000 to administration costs and £100,000 for wages.
The city region’s limited company will be limited by guarantee but who will be providing the guarantee? Council Tax payers of course. And who will be paying the pensions of the city region’s employees? Will it be the local authorities who make up the city region or will it be the city region limited company itself? Either way the pension fund will be made up of taxpayers money.
And if Telford & Wrekin decides to leave after a year when the city region produces no tangible benefits will they have to pay to leave? Will they have to “buy” themselves out of the company? Will the taxpayers money they will be putting into pension funds and guarantees be refunded?
This doesn’t just apply to Telford & Wrekin, it applies to every local authority that is taking part in the city region. The further you get from Birmingham – Coventry, Telford, Wolverhampton for example – the less interest the city region will have in you. The city region was conceived as “Greater Birmingham” and like all the other unelected regional quangos in the West Midlands, Birmingham will come first.
It will be interesting to see whether any of the councillor in line for directorships of the city region will declare a prejudicial interest. The Standards Board for England, which has the job of making sure that councillors in England behave themselves, says that a prejudicial interest is not just about a councillor standing to gain financially from something they vote on but also to gain increased stature amongst their colleagues. Increased stature such as a company directorship, for example.