What's happened to those responsible for the disastrous South Yorkshire Digital Region?

July 30, 2013 12:27 PM

Dominique Lazanksi wrote last week about the disastrous project, 'South Yorkshire Digital Region'. Thankfully the Government has decided to pull the plug so as not to expose taxpayers to even more losses, but what has happened to those people who were responsible for making the decisions?

In the Yorkshire Post last Saturday, some of those questions were answered. Jim Farmery was Head of Innovation at Yorkshire Forward, the now defunct Regional Development Agency (RDA). In 2009, Mr Farmery said: "I don't have any sleepless nights over the business plan. I think if you ask people on the street if they could get five times the broadband speed, would they pay an extra £10 or £20 a month, most will say yes." Clearly Mr Farmery didn't go out on the streets and ask those questions. When Yorkshire Forward was wound up, he received a £70,000 pay-off and he now works as Director of Business Investment for Creative England.

David Holt was Digital Region's first chief executive, paid around £100,000 a year. When the project was launched in April 2010 he promised a "very exciting few months". Just a few weeks later, when the scheme was unravelling, he left his post. He know runs his own management consultancy business, 'Improved Potential Limited'. On his LinkedIn profile he describes himself as a "proven business leader" who can "deliver high-performance results". He also says he considers himself as "versatile, and capable of rapidly adapting to different business environments and situations to deliver results."

The person not mentioned in the Yorkshire Post report was Tom Riordan. He was Chief Executive of Yorkshire Forward from 2006 - 2010, and had been with the RDA since its inception. Since 2010, he has been Chief Executive of Leeds City Council. As the man in charge of Yorkshire Forward at the time, and ultimately accountable for £40 million of taxpayers' money being pumped into the scheme, why wasn't he asking more probing questions?

Not that council chief executives were asking probing questions either. The Yorkshire Post describes Phil Coppard, the former Chief Executive of Barnsley Council, as evangelical about the scheme's transformational impact. In July 2009 he said: "If anyone doubts the value of Regional Development Agencies... then let them look no further for evidence to the contrary than Digital Region." He can hardly be described as a prophet! Neither can former Chancellor, Alistair Darling, who said the scheme would "stimulate economic activity" in South Yorkshire.

We are constantly told that we need to pay high salaries to these people because they are the best, and we need to retain their services to prevent them from moving to the private sector. With this disaster on your CV, which private company would want to employ you? Instead, the majority of those people connected with this failure will continue their public sector careers as if nothing happened. They will go on to retire on generous taxpayer-funded pensions whilst taxpayers pay the price in reduced services and higher taxes.

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