A furious row over the closure of Birmingham’s Citizen’s Advice Bureau offices has led a senior councillor to claim one of the city’s most respected societies is guilty of political bias and could be heading for an internal coup.
Members of the Lunar Society have been caught in the middle of an email exchange – seen by the Birmingham Post – between the Liberal Democrat deputy leader of Birmingham City Council, Paul Tilsley, who is a member of the organisation, and the society’s acting chairman Peter Mayer.
Mr Tilsley, has attacked the society for political provocation, accusing it of party bias and claiming the spat could lead to an upheaval at the top of the organisation.
He told the Post his “patience was wearing thin”.
The row centres on a society circular protesting at the withdrawal of city council funding to the Citizens Advice Bureau which will lead to the closure of the city’s five advice offices this week. But Coun Tilsley said such a statement should not have been made.
Following the announcement of CAB closures, society vice-chairman and CAB volunteer Judy Taylor sent the circular to members urging their support against the council cuts.
She wrote: “I am appalled by the cuts as this could see the end of a much needed service to the public.”
Coun Tilsley then sent his own email in response, asking for it to be circulated to society members.
It pointed out that the council funding was always time-limited. He wrote: “CAB have reserves of £378,000, which in their accounts was identified to the Charities Commission to be three months’ running costs.”
He wrote that other funds were available, and other sources of advice were available to the public, and that CAB had failed to provide a business case for continued funding.
In response, acting chairman Peter Mayer sent an email to members explaining the first circular had been seen as “inappropriate by a small number of people”, and included Coun Tilsley’s response in full. But that email included another statement from Ms Taylor in which she said: “The CAB views on what has happened are very different to Paul Tilsley.”
That then prompted Coun Tilsley to send yet more emails to the leading society officials, copied in to senior Liberal Democrat and Conservative councillors, complaining that the society had delayed sending out his response for two days and had allowed Ms Taylor to make further comment.
He wrote: “I can only take this to be an act of political provocation. I will be circulating the contents of these exchanges to interested parties, who may well take a view of the activities of the society.”
He apparently got no response, and in a follow-up email to the same recipients, said: “I do take extreme exception to the comment in the covering email that the original email from Judy was thought to be “inappropriate by a small number of people”. This again is a political slant and statement.
“You need to get a hold of the Society and its officers, or I’m sure that some members will wish to use the constitution to rectify the situation. This seriously impacts upon the relationship between the city and the society, now and in the future.”
Asked about the spat, Coun Tilsley said: “This was not for public consumption and goes to show the point I have been making, someone is trying to make political capital out of this. My patience is wearing thin.”
The Birmingham Post contacted the Lunar Society, to speak to Mr Mayer and Ms Taylor, but was told there would be no comment on the row.
The Lunar Society was established in the 18th century by leading Birmingham industrialists, intellectuals and inventors, including Matthew Boulton and Erasmus Darwin, to discuss the scientific and political issues of the day. The name derived from the fact meetings were held on a full moon so members could travel home safely. The Society was revived in 1990.