On 14th December in his column Les Reid said “Coventry people will vote …..in a £130,000 referendum paid for by you”.
On 6th January this year he reported “Councillors are calling for the government to foot the £130,000 bill of an elected mayor referendum……….but ministers appear unlikely to U-turn on plans to make Coventry taxpayers pay…..”. He reported John Mutton demanding the government pay.
On 10th January he reported “The government says it will foot the bill……” In this article he reported John Mutton had written asking for the money and Martin Reeeves as saying the council had not been notified of any government intention to pay……..
He reported that the government had denied this and that “The Telegraph has asked for evidence”
Let me be clear these stories were not about top slicing grant. He reported separately comments from John Mutton saying even if the government paid he was not confident they would not claw it back. I think this was a correct point to make properly reported.
However the impression given by these articles was the government had tried to make Coventry pay directly for the referendum and had been forced to U-turn.
On the 23rd June last year a government minister told the Lords that the government would pay. In a parliamentary question I asked the minister to say when he had told Coventry council the government was going to pay. And because I am not predisposed to believe Tory ministers I asked him to place a copy of his letters in the public domain.
It turns out the minister had said in a letter to Cabinet member Phil Townsend on 24th August last year “….and I just wanted to confirm that these costs will not fall on the council but will be met by central government”
So all three of the articles referred to above were incorrect. I have accused Les Reid of bias in his reporting on mayors. He has said repeatedly that it his job to research the facts and counter the spin of politicians.
The facts speak for themselves… It is not Les Reid that has done the research. These articles were either deliberate bias or shoddy journalism. If the Yes to a Mayor campaign had gotten something like this so wrong he would have hammered us for it. It will now be seen whether these fabrications will be corrected.