The row over the Birmingham super-casino bid has intensified with the revelation that the city's Chamber of Commerce has been paid more than #1 million to promote the NEC Group.
The disclosure that the city's leading business organisation receives #130,000 a year from Birmingham City Council to talk up the achievements of the NEC sparked a fresh row about the Chamber's support for a super-casino at the National Exhibition Centre.
Chamber members yesterday voted to back the NEC casino over a rival scheme promoted by Birmingham City Football Club.
However, nearly a third of the membership did not vote and the ballot was dismissed by Karren Brady, the Birmingham City managing director, as worthless.
Ms Brady said the Chamber "would always pick the NEC" because of its financial interest.
Pointing out that the Chamber also supplies four directors on the NEC board, Ms Brady added: "This relationship is too close to mean anything to any genuine voting process."
Birmingham City Council has had a service agreement with the Chamber to supply services in relation to the NEC, the International Convention Centre and the National Indoor Arena since 1976, the year the National Exhibition Centre opened.
The payment to the Chamber was fixed at #100,000 a year in 1995, rising in line with the Retail Prices Index.
The Chamber also has a 50 per cent shareholding in National Exhibition Centre Ltd, with the council owning the other half. The shareholding is dormant and does not pay a dividend.
The Chamber holds 125 ordinary shares of #1 each in National Exhibition Centre (Developments) plc - a shareholding described as "a formality" by a spokesman.
Earlier this week, The Birmingham Post was told by the Chamber's press office that the Chamber had "no contractual links" with the NEC.
Ms Brady, who urged Chamber policy director Jerry Blackett to "do the honourable thing" and resign, said the Chamber had not made clear its close links with the NEC.
Ms Brady's allegations were dismissed by Mr Blackett, who insisted the Chamber derived no financial benefit from its association with the NEC Group.
He said: "It is scurrilous to suggest that the service agreement would have any bearing on how we treat serious business issues, like where a casino should be based."
The #130,000 annual payment was a small amount and should be seen in the context of the Chamber's #30 million turnover, he said.
Mr Blackett added: "The NEC is worth about #1.3 billion to the region's economy. That is why we are proud to promote the NEC facilities."
The service agreement was reviewed earlier this year, with the Chamber given fresh performance targets to meet.
In 2005/06 these included promoting the local rail needs of the NEC, lobbying MPs over the NEC's requirements and promoting the interests of the NEC in the city-region debate.
The Chamber has also promoted the NEC Group at trade fairs in America, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong and Paris.
The agreement binds the Chamber to "signpost" at least 600 business inquiries in the direction of the NEC Group by the end of June 2006 and to participate in at least 15 NEC trade shows.
In addition, the Chamber must maintain an International Commercial Centre website with links to the NEC Group and provide at least six stories a year about the NEC Group in the Chamberlink newspaper.
In a ballot on the casino issue among the Chamber's governing council, the NEC scheme was backed by 53 per cent of those voting, while Birmingham City gained 19 per cent. However, 28 per cent of those voting were unable to decide, and abstained.
Of the 83 ballot papers sent out, 25 were not returned.
Mr Blackett said: "By nearly three to one, the council members expressing a choice between the two bids have put their weight behind the NEC's plans as opposed to those of Birmingham City."