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Dale’s Diary: ‘Baron Whitby gets a transfer, and Jerry bows out’

Dale’s Diary: ‘Baron Whitby gets a transfer, and Jerry bows out’

🕔30.Jun 2015

It’s all gone a bit quiet for Mike Whitby since the former Tory leader of Birmingham city council decamped to the red leather benches of the House of Lords to begin life as a working peer.

No ministerial position, not even a junior one, precious few speeches and, as far as can be ascertained, no questions asked.

Now Chamberlain Files learns that Baron Whitby’s less than stellar career in ‘the other place’ has entered rocky ground.

Regular readers will recall the bust-up 18 months ago between Whitby and his Government whip in the Lords, the Earl of Shrewsbury, over the new peer’s poor attendance record.

Shrewsbury fired off an angry email advising Whitby that, having accepted a working peerage, he “should do something about it” and remember “this place is not a club”.

Since then the relationship between Whitby and Shrewsbury has completely broken down.

“The Earl of Shrewsbury is no longer Lord Whitby’s whip,” a source familiar with the matter tells me.

It appears that responsibility for watching over Whitby has been transferred at his request to another hereditary peer, Patrick Courtown, the ninth Earl of Courtown from the county of Wexford in Ireland.

In football parlance, Whitby requested a transfer and it’s been granted.

Courtown, who lists IT skills as a particular attribute, might care to examine Whitby’s official biographical entry on the House of Lords website which clearly has not been updated since he entered the upper house in September 2013.

Whitby continues to describe himself as leader of the Conservative group on Birmingham city council and a councillor for Harborne ward, two positions he has not held since May 2014.

He is also, apparently, a board member of the Local Government Association and a director of Marketing Birmingham and Birmingham Science Park Aston.

No financial interests are listed other than chairman and director of Skeldings, the Black Country engineering firm owned by Whitby, and a shop in Selly Oak owned jointly with his wife.

As to whether Whitby has been putting the work in, a glance at the House of Lords attendance register confirms he attended 31 out of a possible 65 days between September 2014 and January 2015, the latest period for which figures are available. In common with all peers, he is entitled to claim up to £300 a day in attendance allowance.

Lord Whitby was unavailable for comment.

It’s a busy week for people leaving top jobs in Birmingham. Birmingham City Council’s Strategic Director for Place, Sharon Lea; Birmingham Hippodrome and Birmingham Royal Ballet Chief Executives Stuart Griffiths and Chris Barron; and Chamber Chief Jerry Blackett all close their office doors for the final time in the next few days.

News reaches me from Jerry’s leaving do that he had a special word of thanks for the media, in particular Duckers (John Duckers, sometime Birmingham Post Business Editor) the BBC’s Peter Plisner and….modesty almost forbids me to mention this, Chamberlain Files’ own chief blogger, yours truly.

As was remarked at the occasion, one of Jerry’s greatest strengths has been communication and his willingness to turn out in front of a notebook, microphone or camera seemingly at the drop of a hat. He always managed to do it with a smile and enthusiasm. He became the go to man for business comment.

I’m told he laid claim to the Chamber starting the trend in multi-site operations. It’s Press and PR team, led by the veteran John Lamb, had long operated from Horts Wine Bar rather than nearby Chamber HQ.

Blackett eventually managed to integrate the Chamber spin operation into head office when the bulldozers were sent in to the Edgbaston shopping complex, with the wine bar now flattened to accommodate a branch of Morrisons. Not much to attract Lamb and Co at Morrisons for lunch, you might think.

As former Chamber President Simon Topman also commented, Blackett played a pivotal role in creating the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP. When many in the business community and beyond were struggling with, or ignoring, the Government’s invitation to come forward with LEP bids, it was Jerry who immersed himself and pulled together a team to write the proposal.

Arguably, he and the Chamber have not received the credit they are due for ensuring Greater Birmingham was approved in the first batch of LEPs or for its work in supporting Lord Heseltine and his No Stone Unturned report.

We at the Files and RJF Public Affairs wish Jerry well – and hope the writing and travelling do not prevent him from staying involved in Greater Birmingham’s business and political scene.

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