A few familiar names vie for the AWM Chair

Awm_chair_finalists_2 The race is on to fill Nick Paul’s shoes as the £80,000 per-year, 3-day-week Chairman of regional development quango, Advantage West Midlands.


The Birmingham Post today profiled the candidates for the position, with Sir Roy McNulty, Brian Woods-Scawen, Bob Dover, Mike Beasley, Derek Harris and Barry Cleverdon being named as the final six.


According to the Post, Sir Roy McNulty, Brian Woods-Scawen and Bob Dover are the real frontrunners, and the Post is usually right on these things.


Of course you would be forgiven for thinking you’d heard some of these names before in the public sphere. In fact, it’d be very odd if none of them rang a bell. Most are particularly successful business leaders from the West Midlands, and as a result their names frequently appear in the local press.


Unfortunately, this may not be the only reason for their familiarity. Let me enlighten you a little about the additional credentials of two of our so-called ‘frontrunners’…


Sir Roy McNulty may well have an impressive proffesional history with various private aerospace companies, but this has also led to significant involvement with public bodies, presumably leading to his pending application. He is already currently the chairman (£90,000pa, 3-day-week) of the Civil Aviation Authority, and has been since 2001; he has also been the Chairman of the former Department of Trade and Industry’s Aviation committee from 1995 until 1998; additionally he has recently taken up as Deputy Chairman of the Olympic Delivery Authority. Oh, and he’s also Chairman of Ilex, the ‘Urban Regeneration Committee’ in the Derry City Council area of Northern Ireland.


He’s a very busy man indeed! But is it even possible to juggle all of these positions?  Surely at the very least the Civil Aviation Authority position would have to be dropped if he became AWM Chairman, as I doubt he’d manage a 6-day week split between Birmingham and London at the age of 70, particularly with the 2012 Olympics and regeneration in Northern Ireland to co-ordinate as well!


The case is either that this septuagenarian is working himself to the bone in the name of public service, working – at the very least – a six or seven day week and stretching himself between the Northern Ireland, London and the West Midlands (he lives in Warwick). Or that the time constraints are irrelevant, the position is purely a ‘cushy-number’ and the AWM Chairmanship simply represents £80k safely in the back pocket of anyone with the right credentials.


But let's not be unfair here, Sir Roy is by no-means alone in his thirst for board memberships. Another frontrunner, Brian Woods-Scawen, a former PriceWaterhouse Coopers big-wig, also spreads himself pretty thinly for the public benefit.


Mr. Woods-Scawen has already been a board member at Advantage West Midlands (1998-2003) and has previously been beaten off for the much sought after post of Chair. Not that he stayed at home and sulked, no, not when there are plenty of other boards to join. He’s currently Chairman of the Coventry, Solihull and Warwickshire Partnership (which includes the usual suspects: AWM, Learning & Skills Council, Business Link etc), he’s also a non-executive board member of the Department of Business and Regulatory Reform, and in the time he has leftover he acts as the Chairman of Culture West Midlands – an ambiguous local quango, made more ambiguous by the fact that it is a cultural body that apparently has this accountant as it’s chairman.


Another very busy man!Cat_cream_4 


Where these positions are paid, they are paid very substantially, in fact £80,000 or £90,000 is not an unusual sum to be paid for part-time hours. But with the heavy ‘commitments’ these men take on, it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to dedicate that amount of time to each project.


However, the amount of public money that gets doled out to these professional board members as salary is not the central issue, though it is an important factor to consider. Much more worrying is the influence that they hold, and the power that they yield despite their unelected status.


These men have significant input as far as strategy and planning, organisation and structure and, of course, on important decisions about where taxpayers’ cash should be invested. The Olympics, local culture, public aviation, regeneration, and within Government Departments – these men have a say on it all. They don’t confine themselves to the specific sphere of their expertise either, but branch out, influencing areas outside of their professional knowledge.


Should we really be paying for accountant to direct an arts organisation? Or an aviaton engineer to direct a sporting project?


Sir Roy and Mr. Woods-Scawens are, in reality, the tip of the iceberg. Compare and contrast the boards of quangos and authorities in the West Midlands region and you are likely to find that, in many ways, we are being covertly ruled by a select crew of professional board members, with some on as many as five. None are elected, but all have significant powers invested in them, not least regarding public money.


If such quangos did not exist this layer of unelected and unaccountable governance couldn’t either, and as it currently stands, nepotism prevails. The new Chairman of Advantage West Midlands will no doubt count himself lucky to have landed such a well-paid doddle.


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