COVENTRY council leaders are to face more questions next week over its shadowy overseas investments.
Opposition leader Gary Ridley is to raise formal questions at next Tuesday’s full council meeting (December 5) following revelations published in the Coventry Observer.
We showed that, in the wake of the Paradise Papers scandal about offshore tax avoidance practices, leading council figures did not know the precise whereabouts of council taxpayers’ money invested in ‘pooled funds’ internationally to get the best return.
They had also ruled out having an ‘ethical investment policy’ – which might potentially prevent funds being invested in unethical companies, regimes or practices.
Coun Ridley (Conservative) last week called for an emergency meeting between senior finance officers and all councillors, in requesting more transparency.
As we reported, that call was swiftly rejected by Labour finance cabinet member John Mutton, who said it would be wasting officers’ time.
Coun Mutton backed the explanation of finance director Barry Hastie that the complexity of investment vehicles including ‘pooled funds’ meant having an ‘ethical investment policy’ would be impractical.
Now a council officers’ Second Quarter Financial Monitoring Report – to go to the Labour-run cabinet tomorrow (Tuesday, November 28) – has revealed the following: “As at 30th September 2017 the pooled funds were valued at £39.9million, spread across the following funds: Payden & Rygel; Federated Prime Rate, CCLA, Standard Life Investments, Royal London Asset Management and Deutsche Bank.”
Coun Ridley said today: “The response from this failing Labour administration is extremely disappointing, but hardly surprising.
“They recently agreed to purchase Coombe Abbey Hotel in secret and now starkly refuse to answer questions on where balances believed to be at least £30 million are invested.
“We need an all-member seminar to clear the air and allow everybody to take stock of the situation.
“The council should then consult with the public on the development of ethical investment policy with quarterly reports to Cabinet as part of its established financial monitoring regime.
“The seven principles of public life say that councillors should be selfless and serve with integrity, they should be objective and accountable, be open and be honest and show leadership.
“By concluding it’s impractical to have an ethical investment policy they’ve let down the people of Coventry – and they’ve let down themselves.
“It’s not acceptable for this matter to be hushed up, so I’ll be raising it at the next meeting of full council.
“The people of Coventry deserve better than another Watergate so I say to Labour leaders, come clean, do it now and tear down this shabby veil of secrecy.”
Observer enquiries to another council show Solihull councillors receive monthly so-called ‘transparency reports’ indicating which countries their investments are located in. But there is scant information there too, amid similar opposition calls for an ethical investment policy.