Leeds City Council’s top two leaders are going to update one of the council’s watchdog committees about latest developments over the city’s bid to host the European Capital of Culture in 2023.
Chief Executive Tom Riordan and council leader Judith Blake have been asked to give a verbal update to councillors at a meeting of one of the council’s scrutiny boards next Wednesday morning (13th December).
Given that talks may still be going on between the UK government and the European Commission on the question of the UK’s eligibility to participate in the competition, it’s unlikely that we’ll get to hear much new at this stage.
The two leaders will say their bit and the board will decide “what, if any, further Scrutiny action it may wish to undertake” on the matter, says the agenda for the meeting.
It’s a bit premature for a full-blown inquiry, but it seems inevitable that councillors will want at some stage to establish how Brexit was factored into the risk assessments carried out by the Leeds bid team.
I imagine they will want to look at three sets of paperwork:
- The routine risk assessments carried out by council officers recommending spending on the bid – from the Tory general election victory of 2015 (when it was clear that there would be a Brexit referendum) through to last month’s “shock” announcement by the European Commission of the UK’s ineligibility.
- The risk register maintained by the Leeds bid’s steering group since it was set up (the register, along with the rest of the steering group paperwork, hasn’t been made public).
- Any written reassurance about eligibility from the organisers, Creative Europe, to the Leeds bid team over the same period.
We will, of course, be told that everything was done by the book, that the team sought advice – especially post Brexit – about continuing with its preparations. The councillors will want to know who gave what advice when and who in Leeds decided that the advice was reliable and why.
In terms of the first set of paperwork – the publicly-available routine risk assessments prepared for the council’s executive board – I’ve been looking back at the many meetings held to authorise pursuing the bid (and spending on it), and have found no mention yet of Brexit as a specific risk.
There’s plenty about the risk of bidding and not being shortlisted/winning, but Brexit doesn’t seem to figure.
I tell a lie. It does. Once. When council bosses met to rubber stamp the “bid book” as recently as October, the risk assessment included the following unfortunate mention:
“The risk of a public misconception that the city will not be allowed to submit a bid because of Brexit is being addressed through all our communications …”
Still. That’s all for the future.
It’s unlikely that any of these issues will be raised in depth next week. What we’ll likely get is some finger-pointing at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and maybe a clarification of the actual amount that has been spent on the bid so far.
The latest I’ve seen is £150,000 by the council and a further £600,000 by local businesses and universities (who’ll now be looking at their own risk assessments too presumably).
But hang on, I hear you ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Or in English: why did nobody on the watchdog scrutiny committee raise Brexit as an issue for the bid over the last couple of years?
I don’t know.