Leeds: inquiry into £4.8m taxpayer loan that got written off starts this week


An inquiry into what went wrong with a £4.8m taxpayer loan to a Leeds hotel project that ended up going bust gets under way on Wednesday.

The loan, issued in March 2013 by local funding body, the LEP, has now been written off, Leeds City Council admitted last week.

Among the questions councillors sitting on a watchdog committee of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) want answered are:

how was the loan decided?

what level of checks were made about the recipient?

and how did Leeds City Council manage the possible conflict of interest arising from its role as both the accountable body for the lender AND an interested party in making the deal happen?

Building work at the site – on Portland Crescent near the Leeds Arena – ground to a halt in March 2015 after the original contractor and its development arm went bust, leaving the Co-op Bank and the local funding body, the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP), as the major creditors.

The part-completed building  – which has been exposed to the elements for nearly two and a half years – was destined to be a 206-bed hotel as part of the Hilton franchise.


The two VITA student developments in Manchester

It was announced earlier today that the site is now going to house 273 premium student apartments by the Select Property Group, who run top-end student housing in several UK cities under the Vita Student brand.

How much of the building (as far as it got) can be salvaged is anyone’s guess, but given the change of use, there’ll have to be a new planning application submitted.

You can see details of the scope of the enquiry in this document drafted for Wednesday’s meeting.

The meeting’s open to the public.

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Yorkshire daily papers’ print collapse continues on schedule

paperspics1Print sales of Yorkshire’s regional daily papers have continued their collapse, according to figures released last week by the Audit Bureau of Circulation.

Nothing too remarkable: the Yorkshire Evening Post (YEP) leads the latest slide with one of the biggest drops (16%) of all regional dailies in the country, with the Yorkshire Post (13%) not doing that much better.

What’s worse is that figures for our two Leeds papers are not quite what they seem.

Only 16,700 of the 23,000 copies recorded for the Yorkshire Post are paid for at the full rate, with 5,000 sold at a discount and a further 1,500 as multiple copy sales distributed at hotels and transport hubs.

Similarly, only 11,300 of the YEP’s recorded overall circulation figures of 15,192 are paid at the full rate, with 2,700 being given away for free and a further 1,100 sold at a discount.

Interesting to note the contribution to the overall figures made by the Yorkshire Post’s Saturday edition (always a decent read for the price), which averaged 46,292 sales a week in the first six months of this year, compared to 18,143 for the Monday to Friday edition.


Where is this inexorable decline heading?

Three years ago (2014) I projected the sales of our regional dailies through to 2023, based on the amount they’d been falling since 2011. It was an attempt to work out when the plug might be pulled.

I had a look at the projections today and they’re pretty close to reality, with most papers’ print circulation falling faster than projected and just one, the Sheffield Star, more slowly.

Here’s what I came up with in August 2014 for the first half of 2017, compared with where they actually are:


Which is a roundabout way of saying that by 2023, if not earlier, newspaper owners are going to have to finally confront the awkward truths about the viability of some of their print titles.

You can see the projections here. They’re grim.

Bradford’s T&A LOSES online audience

Still, digital is the answer. Apparently. “Digital will save us,” has been the cry from regional publishers. The theory goes that revenue generated by a rapidly expanding digital audience will, at some stage in some (as yet unfathomed) way, make up for the revenue lost by print.

So it’s a bit dispiriting to see the figures reflect what many readers have known intuitively for some time – that the publishing group that owns three of our local dailies, Johnston Press (JP), hasn’t really got its head round digital for local papers yet.

While rival regional publisher Trinity Mirror increased its daily average “unique browsers” by 99% year on year, Johnston Press appears stuck in the digital doldrums at just 12.3% growth.

Of most concern locally to JP will be the continuing sluggish online growth of the Yorkshire Post. At an average 41,000 unique browsers a day and growing at only 8% a year, it’s failing to keep up with the Grimsby Telegraph (for example) and doesn’t look like swelling its owners’ coffers any time soon.

Having said that, spare a thought for the two local papers owned by the Newsquest Group: Bradford’s T&A has actually LOST some of its online audience, and the York Press has seen such measly growth that it doesn’t really count as growth.

To paraphrase Wilde, one is a misfortune, but two looks like carelessness.

online aug 2017



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Leeds – council watchdog to hear official response to Burberry deal collapse

Temple Mills, Leeds (2)

The fall-out from international fashion giant Burberry’s withdrawal from a proposed deal to build a new factory in south Leeds is going to get a public airing next week.

One of Leeds City Council’s watchdog committees has called on a senior officer to come and explain the council’s response to the move and its implications at a meeting a week tomorrow (Wednesday, 26th July).

No prizes for guessing what the councillors on the committee are going to want to find out from Martin Farrington, the Director of City Development.

Here’s a list of the likely questions he’ll get, with the likely answers in brackets:

  • Q: What went wrong with the deal? (A: Burberry, for their own reasons, couldn’t commit to spending £x million restoring Leeds’ greatest industrial monument, Temple Works, on top of the £50m they’d planned to spend on the new factory. But we’re still good friends.)
  • Q: What happens with the factory plans now? (A: That’s up to Burberry. If they still want to build on the land they’ve bought in the area, we’ll help them if we can. Ditto if they fancy doing it elsewhere in Leeds. For the moment we don’t know. But we’re still good friends.)
  • Q: What are the implications for the council’s ambitious plans to develop the “South Bank” area of Leeds? Wasn’t the Burberry factory an invaluable endorsement that was going to have a “transformational impact” on that part of the city? (A: That’ll all be fine. We’ve got X, Y and Z in the pipeline … and The Tetley … and here’s HS2 coming!)
  • Q: What happens to Temple Works now? How are you going to stop it falling down? (A: We’re on the case. Can’t share our thoughts with you at the mo. No more questions? See you.)


Whether Burberry end up doing any more in Leeds after deciding recently to relocate their business services operation here – a “token offering“, according to the Yorkshire Post – is anyone’s guess and a bit of a sideshow. On past form, no-one should be holding their breath.

Temple Works is another matter. It’s now back to where it was 10 years or so ago (minus the alternative fun stuff that stopped while Burberry had its long think). Back then, restoring the grand, but crumbling, Grade-1 former flax mill was already being costed at £20million.

Who’s got the cash and the interest and could make it pay as a working building? Some think it’s not worth the bother.

In a dream I once saw it as Leeds’ answer to those old Berlin railway goods yards, thriving home to autonomous spaces for creativity, funky tat stalls, drinking dens and dancing palaces.

But Leeds isn’t Berlin. And even in Berlin those old goods-yards-turned-alternative-spaces are falling into the hands of property developers. And it was only a dream.





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Revised Leeds housing target “may be in region of 55,000 homes” (not 70,000)

leeds homes

Controversial figures for the number of houses Leeds is going to need over the coming years look likely to be revised downwards later this year by a significant amount.

The Labour council’s housing target of 70,000 new homes (from 2014-28) has come under consistent fire since it was announced, with opposition parties and campaign groups in parts of the city saying it was far too high and didn’t reflect the latest evidence on population growth from the Office of National Statistics.

A council press release today quotes one senior councillor involved in a review of the figures as saying that initial findings indicated that “a revised housing need for Leeds may be in the region of 55,000 homes up to 2033”.

Cllr Peter Gruen, who chairs a consultative group made up of house-builders, community groups and others, said that once the review is complete the council will have to consider its findings. “Any revised housing figure would then be subject to wider public consultation by the end of the year,” he added.

The council launched a review of the figures back in March 2015.

Council planning chief Cllr Richard Lewis said today that “latest information and population evidence points to lower and slower growth than was originally forecast.”

“So it is likely this review will recommend the overall figure for housing need should be reduced to reflect what we know now,” he added.

The review of housing need – known as the Strategic Housing Market Assessment – was supposed to have been finalised this month. It will replace the previous version that was published in 2011.

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PFI waste contractor to pay Leeds council undisclosed sum for performance failure

Recycling plant

Leeds City council has come to a financial agreement with its PFI waste contractor Veolia over targets the company has consistently missed since the facility opened.

The £450m energy recovery and recycling facility in Cross Green Leeds became fully operational in April last year. Under the 25-year PFI contract, it’s supposed to separate out for recycling 10% of the household black bin waste that it processes.

It achieved 1.3%.

What’s worse is that, according to a council report, there’s a high risk that the performance target is going to be missed again this year (2017-18).

So Veolia has offered the council an undisclosed sum* and the council in return has promised that it’ll waive its right to issue the company with a Performance Warning Notice (PWN) even if Veolia misses its targets again this year.

(two PVNs in a 24-month period and the council is within its rights to cancel the contract … unthinkable!).

Veolia are installing new equipment next month and have built a paper pulping facility that’s going to turn all the paper and card separated from the black bin waste into fibre, that they (Veolia) are hoping to find buyers for.

Not a great start.

According to the latest figures I’ve seen, the council will be making payments of over £31m for the waste facility over the first two tears of its operation (2016-18).


*the amount that Veolia is coughing up for its performance failure is being kept secret in an appendix to the report that’s not being published for reasons of “commercial confidentiality”. Maybe some Leeds councillor who’s into transparency can ask for the details to be published.



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York 4 – 1 Bradford, opera, bums on seats & other Arts Council funding tidbits


The Council for the Encouragement of Music and Arts (forerunner to the Arts Council) players rehearse Shaw’s ‘Village Wooing’, watched by a group of wartime women factory workers

I realise it’s old hat to bang on about the amount that the two jewels in the Leeds arts crown – Opera North and Northern Ballet – get in funding from the Arts Council, but it is a bit odd, isn’t it?

I mean, I realise that they both put on stuff that is probably fab to watch and costs a lot to produce, and I know that they aren’t just Leeds companies, but national touring ones … but I cannot for the life of me work out why the esoteric cultural pleasures they provide are so massively subsidised by the state.


This morning the Arts Council announced which of its “National Portfolio” organisations are getting what for 2018-2022. So I looked up the annual attendance figures for some of Leeds’ big hitters (you can see the full list of who got what here) to see how the funding works in terms of subsidising bums on seats (ACE funding divided by audience).

bum94 quid?!!!

I know the figure might need to be tweaked a bit in terms of other … erm … outreach outputs of the company, but it feels to me like a pretty solid example of how some state-funded art is just a redistribution of money (whether from tax or lottery) from the poor in society to those in upper and middle income brackets.

(There’s a lot of that kind of redistribution about lately – and from where you’d least expect it)

There’s a bit less to moan about this time around about the imbalance in Arts Council cash awarded to London and the rest of the country. Funding outside London has been increased by 4.6% for the 2018-22 period. Hurrah! Arts organisations in Bradford, for example, are benefiting from this largesse and will get more than double what they did for 2015-18. Hurrah! Again.

Except that even with this boost, Bradford, a city of 520,000 souls, gets £3.50 each year per head of population from this big Arts Council pot. In York it’s over four times that, at £15 per head. In Leeds (with its two national/touring companies) it’s not far off £30.

And another perennial curiosity while we’re at it.

The amount given to Opera North and Northern Ballet this morning for the next four years (£54m) is greater than the sum of ALL the money given to all the organisations in Bradford, Sheffield, Kirklees, Calderdale, Barnsley, Hull, Rotherham and Wakefield COMBINED.


To be honest, as I looked through the list of the Leeds winners this morning, I couldn’t help asking myself what would happen if someone pulled the plug on national state funding of the arts. Who would be poorer? And why?

And I couldn’t help ask myself how in heaven’s name did we cope before 1945, when John Maynard Keynes set what was an amateurish wartime spirit-raising operation on its way to becoming the cultural behemoth (and supreme arbiter of taste) that it is today?

Anyone got any answers?

In the meantime, I’m planning a trip to go and see Ed Stones & The BD3 at Parkside Social Club in Keighley: state subsidy nil.

Come along.


State subsidy nil




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Which Leeds arts organisations have won what Arts Council funding? Here’s the list


It’s D-Day for those Leeds arts/culture organisations that have been looking for funding from Arts Council England as National Portfolio organisations.

The funding was announced this morning. Here are some facts that catch the eye:

Not far off two thirds (62%) of all the funding heading to Leeds is shared by two organisations, Opera North (£41.5 million) and Northern Ballet (£12.4 million).

Notable new entrants on the list include the organisation that runs The Tetley, Project Space (now under new management), who get £1m, Invisible Flock (£780k) and “disruptive philanthropy” organisation Cause4 (£2m).

There’s a return to the list for the Red Ladder Theatre Company (£660k), whose response to being dumped last time round (2015-18) was to set up a successful #gisatenner crowdfunding campaign.

The organisations that seem to have lost all funding are: Blah Blah Blah Theatre, and Alchemy.

Two entries on the list for the omnipresent East Street Arts (I’m not clear what’s going on there).

Here’s the list. Note that the portfolio funding is for four years, not three as previously, so what might look like increases may well not be.


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The £1.5m grant that swung Burberry’s decision to move its services centre to Leeds


It’s only a minor footnote in the history of Burberry’s ongoing bromance with Leeds, but hey, I didn’t know how this stuff worked before this morning, so I thought I’d share it in case anyone else was interested.

It turns out that when Burberry were looking to cut costs by consolidating their business services operation in a new centre outside London, they had two options in mind, Leeds and Krakow in Poland.

The Krakow option was going to cost the international luxury brand £3.8m less than the Leeds one. So Burberry asked the powers-that-be in Leeds for £1.5m towards the overall project cost of £17.7m, and made an application for that amount to West Yorkshire’s regional public funding bodies.

According to papers released recently by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA), the application made it clear that “without a grant of £1.5m the project would not take place within the proposed location”.

“If the grant application is not approved it is unlikely that the scheme would be
located in Leeds, and would instead be located in Krakow,” the papers add.



The reason they wanted the money was not just to narrow the cost gap between the two competing locations, but to “demonstrate to the organisation’s (Burberry’s) board that Leeds City Region is supportive of the company’s investment plans”.

Oh, and Burberry needed a decision pronto too.

So, no pressure, then.

The application – code-named “Project Primrose” to keep the applicant’s identity under wraps – was duly pushed through the system at speed in March and April, with final approval delegated to the WYCA’s managing director.

He gave it.

When Burberry made their announcement at the beginning of May, Leeds council leader Judith Blake said it was “hugely exciting that we are the clear choice for Burberry to locate their newly-created shared service centre.” (ed: my emphasis)

Whether Leeds would have been “the clear choice” if we hadn’t coughed up the necessary £1.5m in double quick time is probably debatable.

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Time to ditch the Leeds Visitor Centre? And while they’re at it …

Leeds visitor centre1

2012: shortlisted as “one of the best in Yorkshire”

Remember how baffled everyone was when the council decided to shut the tourism information centre at the city’s railway station and move it to the art gallery’s shop?

“Ridiculous … idiotic … ludicrous … leave it where it is,” summed up the general response to the decision.

It seems they had a point.

Figures released by the council earlier this month show a dramatic decline in the use of the service following the move from the concourse of the busiest rail station in the north of England to a relative backwater in the city.

The service lost over two thirds of its users in its first year of operation at the art gallery shop, down from 490,000 to 150,000, and fell further in the second year to 114,000.

In January 2015, the month before the move, 34,500 people visited the centre. In January 2017 the number had crashed to 6,300.


2017: tourism boom, visitor centre bust 

The collapse in the numbers using the service has coincided with a boom in the numbers of people visiting the city, rising 5% in two years to 26.21 million “tourism visits” in 2015.

Go figure.

When the decision was taken, the council promised a review within 12 months to see how the move had gone. Guys, if you’re still thinking about it, don’t bother. It hasn’t gone well.

Time to pull the plug?

To be fair, the cash-strapped council was in a bind when it decided on the move two years ago: its lease at the station was up for expensive renewal; the city’s (now defunct and discredited) investment and tourism quango, Leeds and Partners, wanted shut of the service; and face-to-face tourism services all over the country were already losing out big time to online.

It’s a national trend. Councils have no statutory obligation to provide visitor centres, so they’ve been paring them down or shutting them for years now.

In light of the dismal figures above, maybe it’s time for councils like Leeds to pull the plug on tourism services and let the private sector take over.

Privatisation? Let’s not be squeamish.


Here in Leeds (as in most other major cities) we’ve had some of the council’s meet-and-greet, marketing and promotional functions ceded to the local business organisation, the Business Improvement District.

BIDs (here and elsewhere) sub that tourism work out to private companies like The Welcome People whose jolly, bowler-hatted droogs now offer identikit “street concierge services” throughout the country (you can tell what city you’re in by the colour of the hatband).

Maybe now’s the time for the council to think about ditching the visitor centre, throw in the council-run tourism websites for good measure, and just do what it HAS to do (what the private sector can’t). It could save a bit of cash.

It won’t happen yet, of course. We can’t be seen to be cutting back on tourism services while we’re monomaniacally pursuing the bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2023.

So the agony of the Leeds Visitor Centre will be prolonged. But if the bid isn’t successful, maybe then we can put it out of its misery.

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UKIP gifts Morley & Outwood and Leeds North East to Tories?

Ed-Balls-on-Strictly-Come-Dancing-683318UKIP isn’t putting up candidates in five of the eight constituencies in the Leeds area at the forthcoming General Election, leaving some 26,000 votes they won in 2015 going begging.

They aren’t fielding a candidate in Morley and Outwood, where their 8,000-odd votes in 2015 played a big part in unseating Ed Balls, or in Leeds North East, the only marginal in the area (according to the bookies).

They’ve also withdrawn from Pudsey and Elmet & Rothwell, pretty much guaranteeing (what were already forecast to be) sizeable increases in the Tory majorities in both.

They’re not standing in Leeds North-West either – the most pro-Remain constituency in West Yorkshire, according to these estimates – where they polled 3,000 in 2015.

Morley & Outwood a marginal? Come again?

Morley and Outwood is a weird one, now a straight fight between the Tories, Lib-Dems and Labour. Weird because both Momentum and the Greens are describing it as a marginal (the Greens have stood down in favour of the Labour candidate there).

Don’t they look at the polls? And haven’t they looked at Oddschecker?


Compare and contrast with Leeds North East, where Fabian Hamilton’s Labour seat was already looking under serious threat before today’s announcement of who’s standing where.

Under threat? Well, here are the findings of some research three days ago into how the Tories are picking up votes from the other parties.


Translated to Leeds North East that would wipe out Fabian Hamilton’s 7,200 majority at a stroke and give the Tories a majority of under 1,000. With UKIP now not standing, all 3,700 votes of its 2015 votes are going begging.

Here’s what Oddschecker makes of the Leeds North East contest.  It’s a proper marginal. And when the bookies clock that UKIP’s dropped out, the odds on the Tories will shorten further.


You can find chapter and verse of who’s standing where in the Leeds area here.

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