Unilever starts construction on North West Innovation Centre aided by £4 million of Regional Growth Fund money

Unilever starts construction on North West Innovation Centre
aided by £4 million of Regional Growth Fund money

                                                   

Construction starts on Unilever's North West Innovation Centre L: Cameron Jones (Port Sunlight site leader) Unilever R: Dave Penrith (Vice President Technology & Engineering) Unilever
Construction starts on Unilever’s North West Innovation Centre L: Cameron Jones (Port Sunlight site leader) Unilever R: Dave Penrith (Vice President Technology & Engineering) Unilever

I rarely write stories based on press releases as churnalism isn’t the purpose of this blog, but this story about Unilever and the £4 million of taxpayers’ money it received for a new Advanced Manufacturing Centre in Port Sunlight is one of those rare exceptions.

Unilever (for those who don’t know) is a major employer on the Wirral and employ at Port Sunlight nearly as many employees as Wirral Council including Wirral Council’s own Cllr Steve Foulkes.

Wirral Council’ Planning Committee met on the 20th August 2015 earlier this year and approved plans for the Advanced Manufacturing Centre and you can view the plans on Wirral Council’s website and video of that meeting below.

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Wirral Council Planning Committee meeting of 20th August 2015 which starts at item 15 (planning application APP/15/00829) Unilever Plc, QUARRY ROAD EAST, BEBINGTON – Proposed combined research and development building with ground & first floor offices, conference facilities, warehousing and pilot plant chamber for R & D projects. Constructed within the existing Unilever campus/site to the south-west of the Port Sunlight conservation area. All associated highway access/egress to remain as existing. The proposed development retains the quantity of vehicle parking facilities, cycle parking and also pedestrian access arrangements on site on completion of this development.

Since the planning application was approved in August, work has recently started (as you can see from the first photo in this article). Unilever has received £4 million of Regional Growth Fund money (which they are matching with their own resources). Both Wirral Council and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority have a role in the organisations that Regional Growth Fund monies are allocated to.

I recently brought up with the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority’s Audit Committee, that as the LCRCA now has a website that the Local Government Transparency Code 2015 means the LCRCA is required to publish information on its websites about grants over £500 such as Regional Growth Fund money (in fact this is a legal requirement). This was referred to Merseytravel’s Head of Internal Audit, yes the person who referred to some whistleblowing as "Mickey Mouse" and "complete nonsense" so I’m not holding my breath for a quick response!

I also raised it with the LCRCA Monitoring Officer Angela Sanderson. However the same Code apply to Wirral Council too.

Earlier this year, I exercised a right and request to inspect some information during the period over the summer about some of the payments Wirral Council make to businesses relating to the Regional Growth Fund. The regulations required Wirral Council to provide this within the three-week inspection period.

I barely got to see 10% of what I’d requested, not one page of the councillors’ expenses (perhaps a sore topic since publishing these last year) and despite pointing this out to the Monitoring Officer Surjit Tour via email, so far I have just received stony silence.

So that’s why I’m writing about the £4 million Unilever received of Regional Growth Fund based on a press release, because the mandatory openness and transparency that should be there at Wirral Council and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority over how millions of pounds is spent doesn’t seem to be happening!

I will point out that the LCRCA state that they publish this information on Merseytravel’s website instead, however considering how many payments Merseytravel make over £500, however finding this sort of information is like finding a needle in a haystack!

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