Don't look to Coyne to clear it up

Submitted by AWL on 2 February, 2021 - 5:09 Author: Ann Field
Gerard Coyne

Courtesy of The Times newspaper, Gerard Coyne is back in the limelight. Coyne stood for Unite General Secretary in the 2017 contest. Cheered on by the media, he ran a foul, racist-scapegoating, muckraking campaign, with large amounts of venom directed at the then Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Having stood on a platform of “cleaning up” Unite, Coyne was then sacked for misuse of data during his election campaign. His claim for unfair dismissal was thrown out by an Employment Tribunal. In recent weeks he has re-surfaced and been offered up by The Times as the authoritative voice of moral integrity in Unite!

Articles in the newspaper have highlighted the spiralling costs of the construction of Unite’s Conference Centre in Birmingham, which also houses a hotel, training centre, and the union’s regional offices.

Originally estimated in 2012 at £7 million, the cost had increased to £50 million by 2016, and now stands at £95 million.

The contract for the Centre’s construction was awarded to the Flanagan Group, a company used by Unite on a number of other contracts over the years. According to The Times, Paul Flanagan, who owns the Group, is “a close associate” of Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey.

Flanagan is currently under criminal investigation for alleged bribery, along with Liverpool’s (former) Mayor Joe Anderson, Anderson’s son, and former Militant member Derek Hatton.

The Times did admit, however: “None of the Unite contracts awarded to the Flanagan Group is connected to the Merseyside police inquiry, and there is no suggestion of criminal wrongdoing in the union’s dealings (with the Flanagan Group).”

Enter, at this point in the articles, Gerard Coyne, to inject an element of moral gravitas: the Centre was “an appalling waste of members’ money”, Unite needed “fundamental change” and should “embrace transparency”.

Disgust at Coyne’s sanctimonious cant is 101% justified. But that legitimate disgust should not obscure the fact that the press release issued by Unite after the emergency Unite Executive Council meeting held to discuss the cost of constructing the Centre (29 January) left a number of questions outstanding:

• What was the original process for awarding the contract, and what was the process for selecting the reported 40 sub-contractors (and who are they)?

• The union’s press release refers to the Unite Protocol (which requires contractors to recognise a union, pay nationally agreed rates of pay, etc.) as a reason for the hike in costs. But surely the Protocol should have been included in the original contract specification, and therefore cannot have been a cause of additional costs?

• If, as appears to be the case, the Unite Executive Committee was not kept informed of the spiralling costs of the project, then why not?

• What is the role of Blackhorse HCC Ltd., mentioned in a number of the Times articles in connection with the construction of the Centre? (Blackhorse HCC Ltd. is one of four companies whose directors are Len McCluskey and the same four members of the Unite’s Executive Council.)

Basic democracy and accountability mean that Unite members have a right to a full explanation of the processes and costs here.

The last person on planet earth to be entrusted with obtaining such an explanation is Gerard Coyne.

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