The Mayor calls for an inquiry into the Coventry City of Culture Trust

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The West Midlands mayor has called for an inquiry into the Coventry City of Culture Trust, which went into administration this week and resulted in the loss of a three-year legacy scheme and 50 jobs.

Andy Street said questions would have to be put to the trust, which was responsible for overseeing the legacy projects of the year-long celebration and received a £1million loan from Coventry City Council in October.

“We need to know why this happened. This organization has received a lot of public money. We need to understand exactly how we got into this situation,” he told BBC Radio Coventry.

Events group Assembly Festival, which supplied the Assembly Festival Garden, which will act as the centerpiece for City of Culture events in 2021, said the Trust owed it nearly £1.5million and called on the council to take responsibility.

In a letter to councilors on Friday, company director William Burdett-Coutts said: “Assembly Festival is a small organization and this level of debt is affecting our entire future. We believe that Coventry Council should take responsibility for this, both morally and legally.

“Our position should concern you, as we did the right thing with the city. Coventry is now facing a situation where all the good that has come out of the year is being severely tarnished.”

The trust said it brought in administrators on Tuesday after months of financial difficulties, with 29 permanent staff and 21 casual workers laid off.

His request for a £1m loan from the council cited a “short term cash flow problem” and then chief executive Martin Sutherland said he was “confident that we will be able to raise the funds needed to pay this back”.

A report submitted to the council at the time said the loan was “not without financial risk” and the trust had secured only 54% of its budgeted income for the legacy period.

Staff from the University of Warwick and Coventry University walked out on the Trust’s board in protest, with Coventry University saying it was trying to recover monies owed to it by the Trust.

A Warwick spokesman said: “We have not supported any additional public funds being used to keep the charitable foundation running.”

Street said he thinks the inquiry into the trust should first be carried out by local authority: “Whether it needs to be a parliamentary inquiry I wouldn’t suggest at first. I would suggest that a proper investigation, probably led by the city council, is the right place to start.

“Parliamentarians will have their say on whether, for example, the select committee needs to look further, but we have to answer the question: how did that happen?”

Last year it was announced that Bradford would be the next UK City of Culture in 2025, with then Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries saying: “Coventry has shown us how powerful the title of UK City of Culture is in stimulating investment, attracting visitors and Leave a lasting legacy for the local people.”

A spokesman for Coventry City Council said: “The City of Culture Trust is a separate, independent organization over which the Council had no direct control. The Council has also not provided the Assembly Festival with any compensation or guarantee for the amounts incurred as a result of any contractual arrangement with the Trust.”

“Coventry City Council have made it clear that they also want answers about what happened at the Trust.”

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