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Birmingham landmarks like the NEC could be sold off

January 15, 2014 10:24 AM
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Birmingham landmarks like the NEC could be sold off

Landmarks such as the NEC could be sold to pay legal claims over equal pay totalling more than £1bn, Birmingham City Council has said.

The council has agreed settlements with thousands of women who were paid less than workers - mainly men - who did equivalent jobs.

It has agreed to defer these until the next financial year to give the council time to pay, the BBC has been told.

The council has already paid out nearly £500m after being allowed to borrow the money but the Department of Communities and Local Government will not allow it to borrow any more, leaving a shortfall of £550m.

A council spokesman said the authority had assets of about £5bn, and they "continually review all assets within our portfolio to ensure that the best value is obtained for the taxpayer".

Those assets include the NEC group - the National Exhibition Centre, the LG Arena, the National Indoor Arena (NIA) and the International Convention Centre.

A confidential report was circulated among councillors asking them to consider various options, BBC correspondent Phil Mackie said.

"The council remains guarded about how quickly it needs to pay the claims, and which buildings will be offered for sale.

"It doesn't want to create the impression that its hand is being forced and that it's holding a fire sale," he reported.

The NEC group said no decision had yet been taken regarding a potential sale.

Chris Benson, from law firm Leigh Day, which represents women who are taking equal pay claims against Birmingham City Council, said there were a number of ways in which Birmingham could have avoided a £1bn bill.

"They could have settled with the workers they underpaid instead of paying London lawyers to defend the indefensible for two years," he said.

"They could, of course, have paid the women fairly at the time, as other councils did.

"Instead they are now left with so much to pay as they owe these women many years of wages, with interest on top."

The Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart, said selling assets to pay the bill was the only available option left.

"If you were the leader of Birmingham City Council at this point you have inherited a legacy of a huge legal bill, you're facing financial cuts, you're facing a situation where some of your basic services can no longer be delivered because of the funding formula.

"I think with a very heavy heart you face up to the fact that you're caught between a rock and a hard place, you get the best deal to settle what was a liability that should not have occurred."

Richard Taffler, professor of finance at Warwick Business School, said the process of valuing assets such as the NEC was done by predicting the future revenue and taking away the running costs.

"But it's not as straightforward as that because then you have to discount back to the present, because owing to inflation, £1 is worth less in the future than it is now," he said.

The trouble with valuing a venue such as the NEC, he added, is the uncertainty of its future performance and the amount of investment needed to make it profitable.

"[Birmingham City] council hasn't released a financial appraisal and estimate yet, but it's likely the NEC is probably only worth £300m.

Source: bbc.co.uk

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