The Mayors Referendum: Who pays and who says otherwise?

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.

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12 Comments

Filed under Coventry News

12 responses to “The Mayors Referendum: Who pays and who says otherwise?

  1. In fairness to Les, Bob, there has been precious little info on all this from the Government, which has been making things up as they go along. I think he’s right to have challenged this in the past and to continue to challenge it as things go on. Who knows what the government will snatch back if the likes of Les don’t make a public record of them. And by the way, I’m not just backing Les – I actually have a different opinion to him, and have always felt proper referenda should be held (as opposed to the flawed consultative ballot in Birmingham in 2000).

    • Bob Ainsworth

      Hi Steve Les was not talking about the possibility of clawback as I state in my piece. He was claiming govn’t wanted Coventry to pay directly for the referendum when they had said otherwise in Parliament and in a letter to the council months earlier. He did this without checking his facts. He simply regurgitated “NO” campaign propaganda and he is provably wrong. It is part of a long standing bias in his reporting on the issue of Mayors.

      • Hi Bob, Thanks for replying. I’m obviously not as abreast of the details, dates, publications, etc as you are. Regardless of those details, however, I would be interested in whether Les Reid’s alleged bias is in his column, or in news reports. If the latter, I can understand your angst. But if in his personal column on politics, then I’m afraid this is where his opinion (and bias) is allowed. Doesn’t mean he can get facts wrong, of course, and I’m sure if he has Les will correct those. But a column is accepted as a place where opinion pieces can be written, however one-sided they might be. I’m sure the Tel has allowed you to write on you opinions? Anyway, as said before, this is all rather funny as I don’t happen to agree with Les’ opinion on mayors and referendums. But as a former regional editor (and ongoing media ‘watcher’) I do rate his coverage and feel he is right to challenge people, to have opinions (in columns) and to annoy politicians and powers that be. Long may he continue! Best wishes, Steve.

      • Bob Ainsworth

        Hi Steve
        These claimed facts appeared in both the column and articles and come from a guy who says the rest of us are all spin he is the one who gets to the facts and does his research.

  2. Bob, I think it’s important and fair that readers of your blog are also able to read the second article written by Les in order to see how he sets the record straight on referendum costs (quoting all sides). People can then make their own judgement. The link is here… http://www.coventrytelegraph.net/news/coventry-news/2012/01/10/government-to-foot-bill-for-mayor-referendum-in-coventry-92746-30088848/

    • Bob Ainsworth

      Hi Darren Thanks for your response. I would be happy to accept what you say if the Coventry Telegraph are doing what that second article says. It says you have asked for evidence. Have You? If so would you like me to send over the letter sent to the council months ago and the Hansard reference from last summer? Because without that further examination of this episode the second article adds to the distortion of the facts rather than puts them right.

  3. Les Reid, political correspondent, Coventry Telegraph

    Well said Steve and Darren.

    Let’s see if Bob will, this time at least, practise what he preaches by publishing this reply. I’m taking a record of it in case he does what he’s done before in blocking my reasonable replies to his highly personal and false allegations. If he blocks this, I will say so by publishing elsewhere.

    Bob, I’m afraid, completely misrepresents above my reporting on referendum costs, as any neutral reading would glean. The article from January linked by Darren above sets the record straight (quoting all sides) after much confusion in Coventry, and a DCLG document (impact assessment) which gave people every reason to think councils would have to foot the bill.

    As my report states, Coventry returning officer Martin Reeves up until January was among those under the impression the council would have to pay – and he was clear the council had not been informed otherwise. Questions will remain at the council until it is re-imbursed for the upfront costs it will still have to allocate in its budget.

    Bob is continuing what is clearly an on-going and counterproductive smear campaign against informed journalism which seeks to challenge government spin, and his own assertions in his quest for the mayoral job – exactly what journalists should do.

    I take it as a compliment, and I believe most people will see straight through his tactics.

    Instead of playing the man, he should finally play the ball. He should, as pro-mayor Lord Adonis and Conservative cities minister Greg Clark have done, reasonably respond to me and the substantial points I make after much neutral research.

    I have reported that Lord Adonis’s own Institute for Government has stated the empirical evidence is non-existent that elected mayors outside the London mayoralty have made any impact on economic growth. The continued problems of Hartlepool, Doncaster, Stoke etc are obvious and go well beyond governance structures at local authorities.

    Further, Lord Adonis’s Institute also accepted to me elected mayors have failed to boost interest in local democracy, as measured by average council election turnout at mayoral authorities.

    I have also highlighted how – on the crucial issue of devolved powers – much of what is illustrated as a potential menu of powers in the DCLG City Deals document hardly suggests “transformative” powers will be offered to elected city mayors, relative to a continued central government stranglehold in major policy areas – not just health and education but councils’ finance too, amid the 27 per cent funding cuts Bob has been so critical of.

    In any case, ministers including Nick Clegg have made clear that devolved powers under City Deals and the wider “localism” agenda will not necessarily be exclusive to just those cities electing mayors. This crucial point is often lost in the government’s spin, and the reporting that regurgitates it.

    In his criticism, Bob conveniently forgets the Coventry Telegraph published 600 words from him on why Coventry should have an elected mayor. There will be more to come from all sides, as we have always said, including an interview I have written with Lord Adonis where he eloquently addresses the points I make above – and thanked me for helping to stimulate the debate.

    Bob, are you finally capable of addressing the real issues?

    • Bob Ainsworth

      Hmmm First, the fact is our intrepid journalist got it wrong; the govn’t had said in the House of Lords that they would pay and had written to the council cabinet member saying the same months before his article. He made a claim and didn’t check it out because he wanted to believe it.

      Second, he didn’t really correct it in his second article, and still hasn’t. His second article said the govn’t claims this had been made clear, but the Coventry Telegraph were seeking evidence. Well, have they asked for the evidence? Has this evidence been received? Can we see it?

      None of this would be worth comment, because people do make mistakes, if this were not the guy who keeps saying everyone else spins, I research and report the facts.

      • Les Reid, political correspondent, Coventry Telegraph

        Oh dear Bob. So this obsessive little smear campaign of yours against me on Twitter and on here is all because I dared to point out a politican’s “spin”? Heaven forbid, you don’t spin do you?

        Or were you upset with my evidence-based argument that the hype and rhetoric about elected mayors meaning “transformative” change does not match the reality, or the empirical evidence?

        I really don’t know why you can’t be more dignified, like pro-mayor Cities minister Greg Clark, or Lord Adonis – both of which acknowledged my evidence-based research as a valuable contribution to the debate.

        You only diminish yourself with your counter-productive tactics. You haven’t achieved what you set out to have you? People see straight through it. Many say to me they get the impression you are getting over-sensitive and desperate because you fear you can’t win the real arguments about mayors.

        On your very narrow point about referendum costs, the great irony is you only learned about the “government letter” and the House of Lords statement – neither or which anybody in Coventry including the chief executive/returning officer knew anything about – through my reporting of it. Don’t try and pretend otherwise.

        That is, my reporting of it in the entirely accurate article which set the record straight from all sides – the one you have completely misrepresented above.

        As my report also accurately stated, the government’s impact assessment stated the government expected councils to meet the costs. The council still says it has to make provision in its budget, and has to take the government on its word it that it will be re-imbursed.

        It should be added you pick up a lot of your information through my journalism which you have praised in the past – take Coventry’s latest retail ranking for example. But you just can’t stand when journalism challenges you, can you?

        Your website is littered with countless falsehoods about me. If you practise what you preach, you will correct them.

        Try getting on with something more productive. Stop wasting your time and mine. Perhaps if you want to persuade people that an elected mayor (or you as mayor) would be better, you could start by addressing the real issues I raise above, and in my newspaper columns. The 600 word feature we gave you doesn’t really address them.

        Do as other Yes campaigners have urged you, and get out of the gutter.

  4. Tom

    Even if citizens did pay (and it turns out they don’t), it works out at 40p per head.

    So I now get to vote for the right to choose an executive leader, rather than being forced to accept a Capita-appointed £250,000 pa town clerk.

    What’s not to like?

    A vote could re-ignite interest in local politics and breathe some life into the listless Coventry Telegraph’s political reporting.

    Having studied Constitutional Law at university, it makes me very suspicious how anyone with a scintilla of common-sense can be against a democratic referendum to decide.

    Could it be that the CT’s reporter’s ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach has alienated all candidates and he fears the final humiliation of having to work with an elected leader?

  5. Tom

    Hmm… any ‘journalist’ who has to preface his description of himself with ‘Award-winning’ perhaps needs some encouragement. So here it is;

    Number of words typed in post: 540
    Number of times he tries to change the debate from his reporting errors to other issues: 6
    Number of times he blames others for his errors in reporting: 2
    Number of times he admits to his errors: 0

    Does Trinity Mirror pay for quantity or quality?

    If Coventry Telegraph is to survive, it needs local issues like this to be aired, not censored and pushed out to private blogs.

    It’s never going to happen, is it?

    • Bob Ainsworth

      Very good analysis of his response Tom. I thought it was like one of those comedy shows where the husband critisises the wife and she lets him have it for everything he is supposed to have done during 25 years of marriage.

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