Police have been handed two independent reports into alleged corruption at Unite, one of Britain’s biggest trade unions, after the findings revealed “potential criminality”.
Union officials have disclosed that the separate probes, one by a lawyer and the other by accountancy firm Grant Thornton, both found evidence of overcharging on large contracts.
The disclosure is awkward for Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, as Unite has been its biggest single donor over the past decade.
Sharon Graham, who was elected general secretary of Unite in August 2021, launched the first inquiry by Martin Bowdery KC in December last year.
Graham commissioned Bowdery after an expert valuation suggested that a Birmingham hotel and conference centre built by the union was worth less than the amount spent developing the site.
The project was supposed to cost £57mn but the final bill is now expected to be about £100mn. Previously officials have said the higher total was partly because of the addition of an extra floor and because the hotel was upgraded to four-star plus and employed only unionised workers.
Graham subsequently commissioned Grant Thornton to look more widely at “affiliated services” bought by Unite through various contracts.
Unite finalised the Bowdery report before Christmas and it was meant to be published imminently. But earlier this week Graham told colleagues on the union’s “executive council” that it would no longer be published because it had been handed to the police.
Unite has also given police the findings of the Grant Thornton report, including a claim that one company was awarded a contract worth £100,000 a month for eight years, totalling nearly £10mn
A spokesperson for Unite said Graham had pledged to find out if there was any “wrongdoing” in the construction and spending related to the conference centre, which was why she had commissioned Bowdery and Grant Thornton.
Last month Unite told staff it had cut ties with a supplier, “primarily due to the risk of committing an offence under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002”.
“Due to very serious concerns about potential criminality that have emerged, both these reports are now being shared with the police. The police have requested that Unite does not release the contents of the reports while they are conducting their inquiries,” the spokesperson said.
Unite would not be making any further comment, they continued.
“The general secretary is committed to doing all in her power to recoup any monies lost, by all means necessary and holding anyone responsible to account. It is clear this transparency would not have happened without the determination of the general secretary to ‘leave no stone unturned’ to get to the truth”.