SOME councillors are demanding an emergency Coventry City Council meeting into who is running the local authority and whether rules have been breached, following this newspaper’s revelations from a leaked email concerning the chief executive’s job.
Conservative councillors have called for a rare emergency Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) of the full council ahead of elections on May 5, including over whether the public was told the truth, as the council’s Labour leader Ann Lucas today sought to defuse the growing controversy.
We exclusively revealed on Wednesday a private email leaked to us – written by council chief executive Martin Reeves and received by some councillors and staff on March 11 – which showed senior officer Martin Yardley had been quietly appointed as the council’s ‘acting chief executive’.
Some councillors in Coun Lucas’s own Labour group – who were already mounting a leadership challenge in a plot to oust Coun Lucas next month – are furious with the lack of transparency with the Coventry public. One source also said some are questioning whether the appointment breached the council’s protocols, as the decision taken by Mr Reeves and Coun Lucas did not go to the Labour group, let alone to the full council of democratically elected councillors.
One Labour councillor said: “Many of us knew nothing about it until we read it in the Coventry Observer this week, and some Labour councillors believe it is unconstitutional that such a key decision did not in the first instance go before the Labour group.”
Mr Yardley’s appointment came just days after Coun Lucas insisted in media interviews that Mr Reeves would still be performing his role in the top executive job for Coventry, for which he earns £175,000 in salary alone from Coventry taxpayers, with pension contributions and other work taking his total remuneration to over £200,000.
It followed an announcement that, from March 1, Mr Reeves had been appointed to become interim chief executive of the controversial interim West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
He and Coun Lucas had insisted in media interviews in early March, including in a Lucas interview on BBC Coventry and Warwickshire’s breakfast show, that he would still be able to perform his Coventry role, doing ’18 hour days’ if necessary to fulfil both jobs.
The council’s website failed to notify taxpayers and voters that an acting chief executive had been appointed, or update senior management roles, and there was no public or media announcement via the usual press release.
The leaked email revealed Mr Yardley, also the council’s ‘executive director of place’, had been appointed by Coun Lucas and Mr Reeves as ‘acting chief executive’ as cover when Mr Reeves was doing WMCA work.
The saga has left many to question why the public was being told one thing, while something else was happening in private.
In response to our story on Wednesday, the council has now re-iterated Mr Reeves’ claim that, as we revealed, he is working approximately ‘two days a week’ on developing the emerging WMCA before it is supposed to be fully operational in June after Parliamentary approval, after which it is not known whether he will stay on in the role.
Coventry’s inclusion with seven other West Midlands councils in what has been dubbed a ‘Greater Birmingham’ ‘super-council’ had prompted thousands of Coventrians to petition and protest over a loss of Coventry’s identity and some decision-making powers to the new WMCA headed by an elected mayor – an idea rejected by Coventry voters two-to-one in a referendum in 2012.
Tory group leader, councillor John Blundell, interviewed by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire’s Phil Upton last night in response to our revelations, said an EGM was necessary to establish how the council was being governed, how many hours Mr Reeves was fulfilling in his council role paid by city taxpayers, and whether the interim WMCA should reimburse Coventry council for hours lost. He also questioned Coun Lucas and Mr Reeves’ handling of the entire affair, and whether councillors and the public had been misled.
An irate-sounding Coun Lucas, invited to explained why Coventrians were not informed of the acting chief executive appointment, told BBC Coventry and Warwickshire’s breakfast show this morning: “Are we having a re-run of the conversation we had weeks ago?”
Asked if she had misled the public when saying Mr Reeves would be able to continue performing his Coventry job, she said: “No, you know me well enough to know I am very straight in what I say, and I stand exactly by what I said.”
Appearing to contradict a council statement yesterday that Mr Reeves was performing two days a week for the interim WMCA, she added: “..Only on the very rare occasions when Martin (Reeves) is not contactable, as happens now sometimes, then the ‘go-to’ person will be Martin Yardley.
“We’re talking as if there is another business somewhere away from Coventry. This (WMCA) is integral to what happens to Coventry over the next few years.”
She claimed all chief executives of councils involved in the WMCA were doing “extra work”. However, only Mr Reeves and one other were appointed to executive WMCA roles last month.
Asked by BBC’s Trish Adudu why the public was not informed of the acting chief executive appointment and why people including councillors only found out from the Coventry Observer front page and Mr Yardley’s LinkedIn profile, she said: “It’s an operational management move just for the moment.”
Appearing to oppose having an emergency EGM, she said the matter should be discussed in council after the elections.