5th Dec, 2016

EGM public debate on £175k council top job, combined authority and secrecy is scrapped

Les Reid 16th May, 2016 Updated: 28th Oct, 2016

A RARE extraordinary meeting of Coventry City Council agreed after controversy raised by the Coventry Observer about the £175,000-salaried chief executive’s role has been scrapped.

It has also emerged for the first time that the controversial West Midlands Combined Authority is now taking up to THREE days – not just two – of chief executive Martin Reeves’ working week – despite him being paid by Coventry taxpayers to be Coventry council’s chief executive.

The claim is made in a council press release issued on Friday (May 13) which announced that incoming new council leader George Duggins and Tory group leader John Blundell had agreed to cancel the Extraordinary General Meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

We revealed before this month’s council elections a leaked council email which showed senior officer Martin Yardley had been quietly appointed acting chief executive as cover for chief executive Martin Reeves on days when he was performing his new role as chief executive for the emerging West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

Mr Reeves is paid over £200,000 a year (including pension and other earnings) as Coventry council’s chief executive.

The leaked email – which stated Mr Reeves and outgoing leader Ann Lucas had selected Mr Yardley – was sent in April by Mr Reeves to all councillors and some council staff.

The public had been told in media interviews by Coun Lucas that Mr Reeves would be able to perform both roles, working 18 hour days if necessary.

We also revealed that councillors had been quietly informed by Mr Reeves he would be doing two days a week for the controversial combined authority, dubbed by protesters including thousands of petitioners in Coventry as a ‘greater Birmingham’ ‘super council.’

The ‘two days a week’ estimate was later confirmed by Mr Reeves in media statements.

The latest council press release claims for the first time that the WMCA was not just taking up two days a week but ‘two to three days per week of his (Mr Reeves’) time’.

In response to our story, the council’s Tories called for an EGM to publicly debate how the council was being run. They claimed the public was not being told the full truth and that important decisions should be made by democratically elected councillors.

The council agreed to hold the EGM, with Coun Lucas stating in another leaked email revealed by us that it was necessary to hold it because it had been a valid request.

But the council has now announced the EGM had been cancelled as incoming leader Coun Duggins had ‘promised regular updates to all councillors on the West Midlands Combined Authority.’

Of the role for the WMCA, it states: ‘These remain temporary, interim arrangements until the new combined authority is constituted and can put in place its own permanent senior management structures – this is likely to be in 2017.”

Cllr Duggins said in the press release: “As incoming Leader, I have requested a review of all officer time being spent on the combined authority, to ensure it is appropriate and effective, and I will continue to keep these arrangements under review because, for me, the business of Coventry City Council is the priority. This information will be made available on request to councillors through the Scrutiny process.

“The Leader of the Opposition and I have agreed that holding an EGM on this issue is not an effective use of public money and there are better ways of ensuring that we keep councillors and Coventry residents updated and scrutinising the development of the combined authority.

“Given the significance of the issue, I intend to make a regular Leader’s statement on the combined authority at future Council meetings. This will allow councillors to get full and regular updates on a key area of work for ourselves and councils across the West Midlands.”

The interim WMCA is expected to be up and running by as the WMCA proper by next month. A so-called ‘devolution deal’ which would see some budgets pass from London for economic and transport to the WMCA, and an elected mayor heading it, is yet to be finalised and debated at Coventry council under new leadership from Thursday.

Tory-run Warwickshire County Council is on Tuesday widely expected to renege on its previous opposition to joining, amid is set to become a non-constituent, non-voting member of the WMCA.

Coun Blundell said, if that materialised, his group would consider adopting a ‘pragmatic’ position given that Coventry and Warwickshire would then be united in a combined authority, albeit with the West Midlands metropolitan councils as well.