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Gloucestershire Business News

Gloucester businesses "let down badly" says councillor

Members of the Gloucester Business Improvement DIstrict have been "let down badly" after a "virus" infected its financial relationship with Marketing Gloucester, according to a city councillor.

Liberal Democrat group leader Councillor Jeremy Hilton was questioning Gloucester City Council leader Councillor Richard Cook about a report by accountants Kingscott Dix during a cabinet meeting.

Mr Cook has passed the report, compiled on behalf of the BID following the collapse of Marketing Gloucester owing nearly £1million, to Gloucestershire police.

Marketing Gloucester, which was owned by the council and was managing the delivery of several BID projects, was declared insolvent in February after its financial position became "untenable".

Chief executive Jason Smith was sacked at the end of 2019, along with Richard Brooks who kept the books.

Mr Hilton said: "It is clear that at the time the report was being prepared, the Gloucester Business Improvement District had been infected by the same virus that infected Marketing Gloucester.

"It seems that two individuals were the carriers of this virus which resulted in poor management and sloppy attention to financial matters within the Gloucester BID.

"Do you agree with me that many businesses who contributed financially to the BID have been let down badly by what went on in relation to the financial transactions between the Gloucester BID and Marketing Gloucester?"

Mr Hilton also asked if the council should help the Gloucester BID in dealing with its affairs.

Mr Cook, who confirmed he had spoken with police about investigations into the report, said: "If I were one of the businesses contributing towards the BID, I would be asking people who are in charge to account for what has happened.

"It is not our place as a council to tell the BID how to run their affairs, but I have asked officers to engage with the BID and offer our assistance on an ongoing basis and even for them to consider offering a place to a council officer to join the BID board so that we can give the benefit of our advice and guidance and help them where it is necessary.

"I certainly agree that we should get involved as the BID will let us, but it is not our duty to do so."

Gloucester BID was launched in 2017 and is in the fourth year of its initial five-year lifecycle with a ballot of city businesses due to decide its future in spring 2022.

BID chairman Kieron Bates last week called for the council and local organisations to work together for the good of the city.

Mr Cook welcomed the call for co-operation between the council and the BID to help the city's economic recovery following the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: "I welcome the BID's commitment to looking ahead to the opportunities for the city centre and their determination to focus on how we can work together to help businesses bounce back from the challenges of the pandemic."

Speaking to before the meeting, Mr Hilton said the "chaotic financial affairs of Marketing Gloucester... infected the Gloucester BID as well".

He said: "Many Gloucester businesses have contributed financially through a levy to the Gloucester BID. They deserve better. Gloucester deserves better.

"It is clear that the fingerprints over this financial and management incompetence are similar to those involved in the collapse of Marketing Gloucester."

At last night's cabinet meeting, Councillor Declan Wilson also asked Mr Cook about the lack of detail about how a £400,000 grant from GFirst LEP to Marketing Gloucester for the creation of the UK Digital Retail Innovation Centre was spent.

Mr Cook said: "The detail isn't there in the accounts that were prepared by Marketing Gloucester or by the UK DRIC itself. There is a considerable lack of detail throughout those accounts."

He read from the liquidator's report into Marketing Gloucester which said the money had largely gone into the refurbishment costs of the UK DRIC's premises in Eastgate shopping centre and that GFirst was "largely satisfied" with the expenditure.

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