Coventry Ltd means business

Catherine Pepinster on how a city centre was privatised

As Duncan Sutherland looks out of his seventh-floor window in Coventry's council offices on to the city below, he knows that next month it will all be his. He will be neither mayor nor town hall chief executive, but the first of a new breed of city boss - at the helm of Coventry Limited.

Coventry is being privatised. The West Midlands city destroyed by the Luftwaffe then rebuilt as the capital of the car industry is being recreated again, this time as a US-style privately run district. A limited company will take over the running of the city centre in June.

Instead of the local council, the company will be responsible for keeping the streets clean, safe and secure; car parking, litter bins, shopping streets, pavements, toilets, street lights, cycle paths, Christmas decorations and closed-circuit security cameras will all be its responsibility. A team of 75 "ambassadors" will be recruited to work in the city centre, welcoming shoppers and visitors, and urging them to "have a nice day".

Other towns and cities across Britain, and Environment Secretary John Gummer, will be watching the experiment closely. If it proves successful, others may imitate it, to counteract the competition from out-of-town shopping complexes which has proved so damaging to the fortunes of the high street.

The change is the brainchild of Labour-controlled Coventry council. Running the city centre, which was largely rebuilt in the Fifties and Sixties, costs pounds 1.6m a year, and the council cannot afford to spend any more. Councillors believe Coventry, which has suffered as nearby out- of-town shopping and its arch-rival, Birmingham, have boomed, will only thrive again if business is involved in running the city. The carrot, they say, is giving business more power and more say. So business, along with community representatives, will be given seats on the company board, and encouraged to invest.

Mr Sutherland, currently Coventry's city development director, will be in charge of the day-to-day running of the new company. He said: "The council will never be able to put more money into the centre of Coventry. If we want more investment we have to give business more of a share in decision-making."

Coventry's businessmen share his faith. Martin Ritchley, chief executive of the Coventry Building Society, believes that handing over running of the city to business is its last hope.

"The local authority imposing its views on the city has not got us very far," he said. Its attitude to car-parking charges, for instance, was less about attracting shoppers than fulfilling the requirements of the city treasurer. "At the end of the day the prosperity of our businesses depends on the city flourishing."

Not everyone is persuaded. Members of Coventry's trades union council say it is the end of local government. Nor are they impressed by the inclusion of one local councillor on the board; it just proves that the whole exercise is undemocratic.

Coventry has already set up a shadow board for the limited company, which will take over on 1 June. It will try to give this city of 305,000 people a more distinct identity and combat the fear of crime which has led many people to shop in malls and left a lot of city centres deserted at night. An application for pounds 2m in European Regional Development funding is also being made.

Other towns and cities, faced with similar problems of confidence, have tried to improve their high streets by hiring town-centre managers to co-ordinate services. In 1990 there were just six of this new breed of manager in Britain; today, 154 towns employ them.

Arts and Entertainment
arts + entsWith one of the best comic roles around, it's no wonder she rarely bothers with films
News
people
News
i100
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
News
i100
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
News
i100
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup