Much of the coverage surrounding the Birmingham Hotel Aloft huge overspend by Unite’s leadership has focused on the appointment of The Flanagan Group. However, it is also important to look into another company who have long links with Unite and are also implicated in the Birmingham conference scandal.
Purple Apple Management Limited, the company appointed by Unite as project manager for their £98m Birmingham Hotel Aloft and conference centre, brought in Safety Support Consultants (SSC) as health and safety consultants for the development. SSC is owned by David Anderson, son of arrested ex-Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, who was also arrested as part of operation Aloft, a Liverpool Police Bribery and Corruption probe into Liverpool City Council’s dealings with developers. There is no suggestion of any criminal wrongdoing in the union’s dealings with SSC or a link between the investigation in Liverpool and the development.
But the connection between Purple Apple Management and Unite goes back over a decade. In 2008, one of Unite’s then two general secretaries, Tony Woodley, was paid between £60,000 and £100,000 to leave an apartment owned by another union who had leased it to him at a hugely subsidised rate— Woodley also never paid any council tax on the flat. A Scottish property company intended to buy the building but Tony Woodley rejected their initial offer for him to vacate the apartment and then the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) put in an offer on the same building. That is until Purple Apple owned and directed by Gerry White, put in an even higher offer for the building and further increased Woodley’s payout for the flat. Purple Apple were already TGWU’s property manager and had been since 2005, with the owner of Purple Apple, Gerry White, being an old acquaintance of former general secretary and McCluskey ally, Tony Woodley.
After White’s death, Michael Ryder formed Purple Apple Management in 2010. Red Roar understands from a source in Liverpool that this is the same Michael Ryder that first introduced Howard Beckett to Len McCluskey and the union before Beckett sold his company and joined Unite. Ryder and White were business partners together around 2004 at Reddington Finance.
And now the strength of Purple Apple Management’s relationship with Unite is such that the union reportedly refused to accept Birmingham City Council’s chosen developer for the Birmingham complex, instead insisting that Ryder’s company be their property manager despite warnings that, as it had only had an average of four employees since 2010, the company was not capable of completing the project “to a fixed time and price”.
Mr McCluskey yesterday again asserted that there were independent property experts overseeing Birmingham. Were these ‘independent experts’ Purple Apple? To repeat: there is no suggestion of unlawful or criminal behaviour in any of this. The question is, though, whether Woodley and McCluskey made the right judgements about members’ money they in effect held in trust and whether Beckett or any other member of the leadership group could be trusted to make the right judgments in the future. Given this evidence, Unite members getting ready to vote in a general secretary election will understandably want to know more about whether companies who are receiving their member funds are properly vetted, properly appointed and properly overseen.