The crisis surrounding the next chairman of regional development agency Advantage West Midlands has taken a fresh twist after Business Secretary Lord Mandelson revealed that current incumbent Nick Paul is to remain in post for a further 12 months.
Mr Paul had originally been expected to step down next month but the recruitment of his replacement descended into farce earlier this year when a succession of probable candidates dropped out of the running, leaving the Government with no option than to re-advertise the position.
The saga was expected to be concluded early next year following a fresh recruitment drive and a number of high profile candidates were thought to be vying for the £80,000 three-day-a-week position.
However, the sudden announcement by the Business Secretary has thrown the whole issue back into the melting pot.
In a statement released through the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Lord Mandelson announced that seven RDA chairmen around the country would have their appointments extended by up to one year.
“RDAs have a key role to play in helping businesses through these tough times. At this critical time for the economy I want to see continuity at the top of the RDAs,” he said.
He also said he was grateful to the respective chairs for agreeing to stay on.
“We need all their experience right now,” he added.
Two prominent names to have emerged as potential front-runners for the AWM chair were John Crabtree and David Waller.
However, what their fate will be is now open to question.
Sources close to the RDA said they believed that Mr Crabtree was probably the favourite because of his expertise in the manufacturing sector, which is so vital to the region’s economy.
“Whoever takes on the chair is likely to have a strong manufacturing background, which has to make Mr Crabtree the front runner,” said the source.
“From what I understand, he (Mr Crabtree) is restructuring his timetable so that he could accommodate the post,” they added.
Mr Crabtree, who has been a member of the AWM board since 2006, is a former senior partner of international law firm Wragge & Co in Birmingham.
A former president of Birmingham Chamber of Commerce and Industry, he also holds a number of chairmanships, including those of Metalrax, the Birmingham engineering company, SLR Holdings, Claimar Care Group and Birmingham Hippodrome Theatre.
He is also on the Midland board of Icelandic bank Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander, which was put into administration during the recent international banking crisis.
Until recently, David Waller was at the very heart of the region’s business sector in his capacity as Midlands chairman and Birmingham senior partner at accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers.
The previous front-runner, Brian Woods-Scawen, a former high ranking accountant with PwC, is believed to have withdrawn in protest over the prolonged selection procedure.
As late as the beginning of this month, AWM chief executive Mick Laverty was saying that BERR’s timetable seemed to indicate that a new chair would be appointed and in place by next spring.