Sharon Graham commissions QC-led inquiry into hotel and conference centre

Elliot Chappell
© Andrew Skudder/CC BY-SA 2.0

Sharon Graham has commissioned a QC-led inquiry into the construction of the Unite the Union Birmingham hotel and conference centre, after an estimate of its value was found to be lower than the cost of the project.

Announcing the inquiry today, the general secretary said an audit of the project “gave the accounts a clean bill of health” but added: “A recent expert valuation has now estimated its value as being considerably lower than the costs incurred in developing the site.”

Graham declared: “I am therefore commissioning an independent inquiry to be led by a QC and supported by an external law firm in order to review the costs incurred and address the question of how and why this difference has arisen.

“These questions need to be answered in a timely fashion and in order to ensure transparency the outcome of the inquiry will be made public. I will also be doing everything possible to recover all monies due back to the union.

“I expect the terms of reference and the arrangements for the scope of the inquiry to be agreed in January and I hope to be in a position to provide an update by the end of March. As it will be for the inquiry to establish the facts in this case we will not be giving out any further details that may prejudice the investigation.”

Graham, who was elected as Len McCluskey’s successor in August this year, described the inquiry as “important” but sought to reassure members of the union that it “will not detract from our absolute focus on the jobs, pay and conditions”.

The now complete project in Birmingham, which includes new union offices, was said by the union to be a way of saving on hotel rooms and conference bills. After an initial estimate of £7m, costs rose to £57m before Unite confirmed the final cost as £98m.

McCluskey said in April that “those who have sought to question the integrity of the Birmingham project” were engaged in a “disgraceful smear campaign” as the conference centre would be a “powerful resource for working people”.

“Those in any doubt of the wisdom of this development need only compare it to similar projects in our cities to see for themselves what a sensible investment this is for our union. This facility is an investment for shop stewards and 1.2 million working people by their union, because their best interests are our driving force,” Unite said earlier this year.

The union explained that the cost increased to more than £98m due to adding an extra floor on the hotel, upgrading it to four star plus, extra fire safety measures and employing only unionised workers on at least national pay rates.

Graham was elected as Unite’s new general secretary in August. She ran against Steve Turner, the assistant general secretary for manufacturing backed by McCluskey, and Gerard Coyne, the former West Midlands regional organiser who ran against McCluskey in 2017.

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