Brent Council accused of lying about why BBC presenter Jo Coburn was paid £2,500 to host budget meetings

The meetings took place at Brent Civic Centre

The meetings took place at Brent Civic Centre - Credit: Archant

Brent Council has been accused of deceiving the public about why a BBC presenter was paid £2,500 to host two meetings about plans to make cuts of £54million.

The town hall splashed out the four-figure sum on Jo Coburn, the host of the BBC’s Daily Politics Show, to chair the consultation meetings with the public at the civic centre in Engineer’s Way, Wembley, last month.

Cllr Muhammed Butt, leader of Brent Council, told the Times Ms Coburn was paid “to look carefully and objectively at the budget savings proposals being considered by the cabinet, and to provide honest and independent advice on the whole budget process… in addition to hosting two consultation events with the public.”

However a Freedom of Information request lodged by Willesden resident Sujata Aurora revealed Ms Coburn had provided only ‘verbal feedback’ after the meetings took place, and nothing had been documented about the feedback, suggestions or alternatives she may have made to the council.

Ms Coburn had also simply been given the budget proposals to help her host the consultation events, and the council were unable to explain how they assessed the need to hire her because they failed to take minutes of the meeting when the decision was made.

Ms Aurora, who is also a member of anti-cuts organisation Brent Fightback, accused the council of lying.

She said: “There seems to be no accountability for this expenditure.

Most Read

“Ms Coburn seems to have chaired four hours worth of meetings and nothing else.

“We were told she would be giving us impartial advice on our budget process and looking at it in detail. All of that was a complete lie.

“It was an adhoc decision made by people to spend a significant amount of council money and there’s been no assessment of whether it was effective or worthwhile.

“The implication she was doing more than chairing those meetings was totally wrong. She did nothing but turn up.”

Cllr Butt said: “There is no story here. Jo Coburn provided honest and independent advice to myself, the Deputy Leader of the Council, the Chief Executive and our Chief Finance Officer. She was an excellent independent chairwoman at our well attended public consultation events.

“Given the scale of the savings we are having to make due to central government cuts, we wanted to engage as many local people as possible in the budget consultation and the decision to involve Jo Coburn helped us to achieve that aim.”

Related link: Brent Council pays BBC presenter to help them make £54m worth of cuts