The consultant with the ????? in the board room. Play Leeds regeneration Cluedo!

Leeds City Council’s internal investigation into the attempted hijacking last autumn of a key new committee overseeing housing and regeneration in the east of the city has finally borne some fruit.

And raised as many questions as it has answered.

Councillors had been trying for months to establish who wrote a set of controversial papers drawn up and distributed ahead of a planned first meeting of the committee.

It now turns out that the author of the papers was Paul Forbes OBE, a former Leeds City Council officer now working as a consultant.

“So what?” I hear you ask? “What’s the big deal?”

Squeaky clean

Well, the committee in question forms part of what’s known as the Leeds Initiative, an organisation which brings representatives from the local authority together with people from other public bodies and local business to see what they can do together to make things happen in the city.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it’s just another “usual suspects'” talking shop. But it isn’t.

A committee like this one overseeing housing and regeneration in east Leeds would be making recommendations about potential development projects worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

So, everything the committee does – every step it takes – has to be transparent, clearly led by the Council, and squeaky clean.

In particular the committee has to bend over backwards to ensure that no one with a pet development project manages to exert any influence over its membership, the way it works or the topics it discusses.

Conflict of interest? You bet 

So. Those papers. Here’s why they’re important, one by one:

How did they influence membership?

The papers that we’re now told were drafted by Mr Forbes proposed a make-up of the new committee (known in Leeds Initiative lingo as a sub-board) that included three representatives of the local Chamber of Commerce, including its president (Nigel Foster of consultants Arup) and Mr Forbes himself.

No problem there, you’d think. The Chamber and the Council work together on all sorts of stuff. Their relationship is a model of what they call “partnership working”.

Big problem, though.

The local Chamber of Commerce is working closely with private developers the Scarborough Group and construction group GMI on a major initiative called New East Leeds that, they say, could “power the growth that the city needs”.

Conflict of interest? You bet.

The setting up of the New East Leeds company was enough to prompt Leeds Council’s chief executive Tom Riordan and council leader Keith Wakefield to resign as directors of the Chamber.  So, given the Chamber’s close relationship with the company, ANY Chamber membership of this new sub-board (let alone three members) might compromise the board’s integrity.

Private tail wags public dog

The papers drafted by Mr Forbes demanded that the Chamber of Commerce coordinate all private sector involvement in east Leeds. They stipulated too that all investment proposals for the area be closely linked to the “soon to be developed Thorpe Park area of New East Leeds”.

As well as being openly critical of the Council’s executive team, the papers also insisted that the Council refer all potential investment requests to the sub-board and consult with the board first before selling any public assets or land in the area.

And what merited a special place on the agenda of this meeting? What was the only substantive regeneration issue up for discussion? The New East Leeds initiative, launched to great fanfare in September by the Chamber, the Scarborough Group and GMI.

Council reputation for integrity at serious risk

Now, as we know, the inaugural meeting of this sub-board got pulled at the last minute, but not before Leeds Council had come within a whisker of having its reputation for integrity left in tatters.

The government in London would have had (and still could have) a field day: “Labour Council Committee overseeing developments worth hundreds of millions hijacked by private sector to push its own initiative”

Rogue consultant? Unlikely

After three months of investigations we now have the name of the consultant who wrote the papers. But consultants don’t take the initiative in these matters – they get commissioned and they work to a brief.

So, who commissioned Mr Forbes to write the papers and what was the brief?

The local Chamber of Commerce now admits that Mr Forbes had been hired by them as a self-employed consultant, but it continues to insist that it was not involved in the drafting of any reports.

Now here’s a funny thing. Type “Paul Forbes consultant” into Google and what do you get? This – that one of the companies that Mr Forbes has worked for as a consultant in the past is GMI property, a sister company of GMI Construction, one of the development firms behind the New East Leeds initiative! Spooky coincidence or what?

Hurrah for local democracy!

And what about the senior officials of the Council and the Leeds Initiative who were supposed to be overseeing the setting up of this committee, ensuring that it was squeaky clean from the off?

Which of them allowed Mr Forbes to be in a position to draft these papers? And which of them gave the nod to the papers before council leader Keith Wakefield got sight of them and decided to put a stop to the whole shady enterprise?

And what was the role of East Leeds MP George Mudie? Who suggested to Mr Forbes that Mr Mudie be proposed as chair of this compromised committee, and why? We wrote to Mr Mudie in November, but haven’t had a reply.

What’s most disturbing is that none of the people involved in this sorry saga are prepared to tell the whole truth, to come clean and say “this is what happened”.

In the meantime, three months into the Council’s internal (and public) investigation it appears that our local media (papers and BBC local radio)  aren’t going to touch the story with a barge-pole.

Hurrah for local democracy!

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5 Responses to The consultant with the ????? in the board room. Play Leeds regeneration Cluedo!

  1. Seapig says:

    I notice the Leeds Initiave has been very quite on this post!

  2. Martin says:

    So how do we stop this unwanted development destroying vibrant east Leeds communities and bring these big businesses to book?
    Where is the so called democracy in this country, guess might aswell live in a free and democratic country as Russia !

  3. I’ve been following all developments of this as I live in East Leeds, have done my whole life and so have my family going back to the 1700’s … No matter how Rosy a word they use like Regeneration of East Leeds .. this is all nothing more than Urbanization of it …. maybe the powers that be, Council, Chamber of Commerce, Scarborough Group and GMI should Google the difference ….. this is nothing more than extending the Leeds City Boundry and removing the Green Belt that protects it …. Green Belt is there for a reason ans should be adheared to … Development/City Boundries have to stop outreaching and expanding somewhere …. there has to be a cut off point !!!!! and what adds insult to injury is the Olympic Games are having an Opening Ceremony on the Green green grass of home .. and yet behind the scenes Corporates are destroying it !!!!

    • Martin says:

      What do we need green fields for, cant we rely on the rest of the world to feed us, is this the thoughts of the money men behind all this.
      These fields are our rainforest, why should other countries protect the rainforest if we can’t protect our greenfields

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