Reports on Unite’s Birmingham hotel find ‘potential criminality’

<span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

Unite has shared two independent reports on the construction of a near-£100m hotel and conference centre in Birmingham with police after they uncovered what the union said were “very serious concerns about potential criminality”.

The trade union’s plan to build the 170-room complex – which began under the leadership of former general secretary Len McCluskey – was forecast in 2015 to cost about £35m, but is now expected to run to £98m.

Sharon Graham, who took over from McCluskey last year, commissioned two reports on the project, one by a senior lawyer and another by a firm of accountants, Grant Thornton.

On Thursday, the union said both reports would be shared with police and would not be published while officers looked into what they uncovered.

A Unite spokesperson said Graham had commissioned a report by Martin Bowdery KC looking at why the project went so over budget, and then an “external forensic investigation into Unite’s affiliated service providers”.

The spokesperson said: “Due to very serious concerns about potential criminality that have emerged, both these reports are now being shared with the police. The police have requested that Unite does not release the contents of the reports while they are conducting their inquiries. While these are ongoing Unite will not be making any further comment.

“The general secretary is committed to doing all in her power to recoup any moneys lost, by all means necessary and holding anyone responsible to account.”

In April, South Wales police and HM Revenue and Customs raided Unite’s offices in central London as part of an investigation into allegations of bribery, fraud and money laundering, connected to the hotel project.

Sources said contracts related to the centre were part of their inquiries. Police took away files and a computer from the union’s office, and also searched a number of other addresses in south Wales, Merseyside, Cheshire, north Wales, Greater London and Northamptonshire.

A leaked document seen by the Guardian in January 2021 indicates that a project reported in 2015 to be budgeted at £35m had up till then cost the union £74m. The current total budget is estimated at £98m, with some reports saying the value of the complex could be about £30m lower.

In January 2021 McCluskey told a meeting of the union’s executive council that costs had risen because of the union’s promise to employ workers who had union membership, avoiding the involvement of firms that had a history of blacklisting, directly employing workers and paying them at least national pay rates.