The NEC Group could be sold to help pay Birmingham City Council’s giant equal pay bill – but board members are agreed the venue need investment.
Senior councillors have been privately briefed on options to sell some or all of the NEC, ICC and NIA.
The council has had to explore options with the bill for single status – under which workers and former employees are claiming compensation for being underpaid – thought to stand at more than £1 billion for single status.
Council leader Sir Albert Bore, who is on the NEC board, told the cabinet the venues need considerable investment to remain world class, and councillors said this is more likely to come from the private sector.
Sir Albert said: “Substantial investment is required in the venues that comprise the NEC and we need to ensure that the NEC is at the forefront of providing conferencing facilities, exhibition facilities and event facilities.
“The facilities require investment if the NEC Group as a whole are to continue to provide world class facilities.”
Sir Albert privately briefed councillors about options to raise funds, with the leadership refusing to directly confirm the sale plans.
He said that more arenas had opened in recent years providing competition and the NEC “needs to keep up”.
The council leadership has been urged by both backbenchers and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles to sell of some of its £6 billion assets to cover parts of the equal pay bill which earlier this year stood at £890 million.
John Hemming MP (Lib Dem Yardley) said: “They need the cash. They must stop wasting money though. If they hadn’t messed up equal pay in 1999 they wouldn’t have to raise the cash now.”
The Labour-run council was criticised for not making the report public, with claims that the taxpayers of Birmingham had a right to know what is being done with their investment in the NEC.
Opposition Tory deputy leader Robert Alden (Erdington) said: “I understand financial details need to be kept secret, but we are not even listing options for something the taxpayers should have a say on. We are not able to have a public discussion on this, it is not acceptable.”
A 12-month independent survey by KPMG, completed in 2008, reported in excess of £2 billion per annum positive economic benefit on the West Midlands economy. It also confirmed that the group supports almost 29,000 jobs.
All of the economic interest of the NEC Group and 99.99 per cent of NEC’s issued equity is owned by the city council with Birmingham Chamber of Commerce owning the balance.
Jerry Blackett, chief executive of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce Group, which has representation on the NEC board, said it was responsible for around £3 billion of economic activity in the region it was important that there was investment.
He said: “The future for the NEC is very bright because it is already very successful. This success will attract investment and we should welcome this, whether from within the resources of Birmingham City Council or from third parties.”