As ballots are being sent for the Unite general secretary election, questions still surround Steve Turner’s candidacy and what a victory for him and his running mate Howard Beckett would mean for the union’s finances.
Since Turner acquiesced to Beckett’s manifesto demands, it increasingly seems that the financial mistakes and waste of Unite’s recent past would continue under a Turner administration. A quick look at Unite’s financial accounts explains why this would be terrible for members and for the union.
In their 2019 accounts, Unite state that the union planned for income of £16.9-million for the sale of Esher Place, a grade-II listed country house in Surrey, pending the approval of planning permission. It is in those same 2019 accounts (submitted and published months late) that Unite accept that by the end of 2019, £75-million had been spent on the Birmingham hotel project, a scandal which has been widely covered. The total cost has since risen to just below £100-million.
Then, last year, Elmbridge borough council refused the planning application for Esher house, causing Unite’s predicted sale to fall through. Had this £16.9-million sale of Esher Place gone ahead, Unite’s leadership would have surely sought to mitigate the controversy surrounding the splurging of members’ funds on a 4-star hotel vanity project by displaying the Esher Place sale as a bit of sound business.
It may even be the case that those overseeing Unite’s finances and the Birmingham hotel project had previously built in the sale of Esher Place, ex ante, as a financial factor that would theoretically have reduced the total mammoth outlays since 2015— when members’ money first began to be splashed by the leadership on the hotel project.
Members have been frustrated at the waste of union funds over the past decade at Unite and as voters decide how best to shake up the stale and profligate leadership of the country’s biggest union, they will be looking to candidates’ history of financial decisions within Unite to determine who deserves their vote.
Steve Turner’s decision to continue to carry failed candidate Howard Beckett— who brings with him all the baggage of past mistakes during his tenure as assistant general secretary, head of legal and overseer of the hotel scandal— will only lead members to question whether Turner himself will not simply continue down the path laid by Beckett and McCluskey before him. A path down which members’ money is spent on projects for the self-aggrandisement of the leadership and for purposes of factional infighting.
A union with a pot the size of Unite’s must be using its members’ hard-earned money wisely and Unite members will be taking this into account when deciding whose name to put a cross next to when their ballots begin to arrive next week. Turner does not have long to show members that he is not a McCluskey, Beckett, financial mismanagement continuity candidate, and he is yet to make a start.