COVENTRY council is facing questions over whether chief executive Martin Reeves is doing his job for which city taxpayers pay him £175,000 salary and whether the public has been misled – as a leaked email revealed underling Martin Yardley was quietly appointed ‘acting chief executive’.
It follows Mr Reeves’ appointment last month (March 1) as temporary interim chief executive of the interim West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), when council leader Ann Lucas insisted in BBC and other media interviews he would be able to perform both roles, saying she would not have approved otherwise.
Yet, in an email now leaked to us, written to councillors by Mr Reeves on March 11, he informed them of Mr Yardley’s ‘appointment’ by him and Coun Lucas as acting chief executive as cover for him while on WMCA duties.
Any such appointment was not voted on by democratically elected councillors – who are supposed to be in charge of unelected officers.
It has prompted accusations that while voters and taxpayers were being told one thing, the opposite was happening privately.
It raises further questions about Mr Reeves’ future as Coventry council’s chief executive, a position he took in 2009.
The Coventry Observer has also learned that, while Coun Lucas implied publicly Mr Reeves would be performing ’18 hours days’ to perform both roles, councillors were briefed in private by Mr Reeves that he would be doing an estimated two days a week for the controversial emerging WMCA.
Mr Yardley, another senior executive, declared on professional networking website LinkedIn that he has been ‘Coventry City Council’s acting chief executive’ for two months since March. His new role is not mentioned on the council’s website listing of senior executives. Some councillors told us his new job was news to them.
Mr Reeves is paid more than £200,000 a year – comprising £175,000 salary as Coventry council chief executive, pension contributions and varying annual remuneration as the returning officer overseeing elections.
Coventry council’s inclusion in the WMCA – steamrollered through by the Labour majority – prompted thousands of Coventrians to sign petitions and protest that the city would lose status, identity and some decision-making powers to a new elected mayor heading a ‘supercouncil’ in ‘Greater Birmingham’. Two thirds of Coventry voters in a referendum just four years ago rejected the idea of having an elected mayor system, with one person heading the council.
The interim combined authority comprising leaders from seven West Midlands councils, including Coun Lucas, is expected to be ratified as the combined authority proper in June after Parliamentary approval.
It is not known whether Mr Reeves’ WMCA role will become permanent when the combined authority is fully up and running.
Coun Lucas also claimed last month Mr Reeves had been busy for the previous 18 months developing proposals for the WMCA in his role of Coventry chief executive.
Informed of latest developments, Conversative opposition leader councillor John Blundell said: “This all raises further questions. It needs clarity.. If you state there is an ‘acting chief executive’, it says the ‘chief executive’ is not there.
“No such decision has been taken by council. The public and councillors had been told Martin Reeves is continuing as chief executive for Coventry City Council, where taxpayers pay his wages.
“We have already questioned the assertion that Martin Reeves or anyone else could, or should, be performing ’18-hour days’ to fulfill both roles.
“More clarity is also needed on the financial arrangements. Is Coventry going to be compensated for hours lost while Martin Reeves performs his role for the combined authority?”
Mr Reeves’ leaked email states he needs to “update” them on “senior management arrangements for the coming months as I continue to spend some time as Chief Executive for the West Midlands Combined Authority.”
It adds: “It is important and helpful for a city council and city that is moving on at such high pace to have a “go to” senior manager here when I’m on combined authority business.
“So the Leader of the Council, Cllr Ann Lucas OBE and I have asked Martin Yardley, our Executive Director of Place to take on the role of Acting Chief Executive.
“This means that whenever I am not in the Council House and/or when I am committed on West Midlands Combined Authority business, Martin will have full authority to make any decisions as necessary.
“As you can imagine, there are still lots of practical issues to work through and detail to be discussed but as this becomes clearer, I will of course keep you updated on a regular basis.”