The strange case of the Birmingham council boss and the £90,000 sports car (a Rover, of course)
Unions furious at loan of top-of-the-range model to Tory politician as workers are forced to give back their own cars
Sunday 17 July 2005
Angry union bosses arecon-tacting the administrators handling the collapse to find out why the Tory leader of Birmingham City Council, Mike Whitby, has a free loan on a top-of-the-range sports car.
Since MG Rover went into administration, hundreds of former employees have had to hand back the cars that the company encouraged its workforce and their families to buy at favourable rates.
Gerard Coyne, regional secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, said: "Virtually every single employee of Rover had a car they have to pay for or give back. It's astounding that this Tory politician has been allowed to keep his, when you have unemployed workers struggling to find jobs who now haven't got a car, which restricts the places they can work.
"We'll be taking this up with the administrators this week. It's simply wrong, and our members will be furious."
As the head of Britain's largest local council, Mr Whitby has more power than any elected Tory politician in Westminster. His influence so impressed Rover's former management that they decided to lend him an MG XPower SV, their most expensive model, for eight months, with the insurance paid, hoping that the sight of a prominent local figure driving it would attract other buyers.
The car was delivered in April, on loan to the end of the year. Mysteriously, Mr Whitby has not publicly declared the loan, although councillors are obliged by law to register all gifts and hospitality. The council leader's long entry on the Birmingham City Council website shows that he has been meticulous in declaring other perks of office, however trivial. He has declared, for instance, that in February he was given a pair of Wellington boots when he officiated at a ceremony for a new development. But there is no mention of the loan of the sports car on the public register, which appears to have a gap for April this year.
In a statement to The Independent on Sunday, Mr Whitby said: "The declaration of interests has been duly signed. The car was declared on the register of members' interests in the proper way." He did not explain why the declaration does not appear on the website, and neither could a spokeswoman for the council.
He added: "As the leader of Birmingham City Council, I went to MG Rover to offer help and to negotiate a discount on cars for the council's employees. We employ around 57,000 people and I thought it would be a constructive way to help support the company.
"Although I have a driver during the working week, I have always bought Rover cars when it comes to my own personal use, and so I was asked to be an ambassador for the marque, in view of my industrial and commercial connections. The car was delivered to the public courtyard of the Council House. I have had the opportunity to drive it on only a few occasions, and I have made it clear that I am happy to hand it back whenever the administrators request it."
Alistair Morton, a Birmingham magistrate and former public affairs manager for MG Rover, said he arranged the loan because Mr Whitby is a well-known figure who would help to publicise the car. He added: "We needed to promote it among people who could afford to buy it. It was totally above board. We weren't giving it away. Within three days of him having the car, we had three serious calls from businessmen."
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