Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation, appears to regard it as an impertinence that one of his constituents should make a detailed enquiry into the MP’s apparent conflicts of interest between being an elected representative at Westminster while also serving as a member of a charitable trust which is involved in a £1 billion land deal at the centre of his constituency.
Despite the benefits of a private school education and Cambridge University, Barwell does not appear to have heard of the principle of being like Caesar’s wife. Above suspicion.
Or maybe he does understand it very well, but knowing the £1 billion Hammersfield development of the Whitgift Centre is crucial to his own hopes of hanging on to power in Croydon Central, and of immense value to the Whitgift Foundation and to generous Tory Party donors Westfield, he prefers to ignore the appropriate course of action.
Judge for yourself. Here’s a letter sent by one of his constituents a couple of weeks ago:
I have been noticing with some interest your vigorous promotion of the Westfield and Hammerson development in Croydon. You have blogged enthusiastically on this subject more than any other on your website.
You appear to be this development’s biggest champion. As stated above, you have promoted it on your website and appear to have lobbied for it extensively alongside Croydon Council. I agree that, overall, it is good news for Croydon, although it does worry me that some businesses and premises will be compulsorily purchased and that the local economy in Croydon will be hit, as the site is cleared and prepared for development.
However something else worries me here. I note on your parliamentary profile that you sit on the board of governors of the Whitgift Foundation, which stands to profit handsomely from selling the freehold to Westfield and Hammerson. Although you say, “I have taken no part in their decision-making on this scheme so that I have no conflict of interest”, you appear to be intimately linked to the development and seem to very well clued up on the development, discussions between the interested parties, timetable for works etc.
Surely for transparency it would be better for you to resign you seat on the board of the Whitgift Foundation? That would reassure your constituents that there is absolutely no conflict of interest whatsoever in managing the role between constituency MP and the Westfield and Hammerson development. You could perhaps rejoin the board after the development has been signed and sealed?
Therefore, with reference to the MPs’ code of conduct and in regards to the Westfield and Hammerson scheme, can you assure me as one of your constituents that you;
• Have acted on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in you. That you always behave with probity and integrity, including in your use of public resources?
• Have based your conduct on a consideration of the public interest, avoid conflict between personal interest and the public interest and resolve any conflict between the two, at once, and in favour of the public interest? Surely in the public interest you would have resigned from the board of the Whitgift Foundation?
• Are personally responsible and accountable for ensuring that your use of any expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided from the public purse is in accordance with the rules laid down on these matters?.
• Have ensured that your use of public resources is always/solely in support of your parliamentary duties.
• Will not receive any undue personal or financial benefit for yourself or anyone else, or confer undue advantage on a political organisation?
It might be a subject for a later blog but it would be helpful if you clearly set out your role as a member of the board of the Whitgift Foundation and what meetings and committees you attend and what involvement you have in the decisions that the committee makes?
Can you explain why you believe there is no conflict of interest in your role on the board of the Whitgift Foundation and that of the proposed development?
Importantly can you confirm that you do not stand to gain financially in any way from the Westfield and Hammerson deal that is rumoured to be over £1 billion? By this I mean that you will not be receiving any payments directly or indirectly or will be accepting any donations from Westfield and Hammerson, for political purposes in any shape or form?
I think it would be reassuring if you set out your role in totally clear and unambiguous terms.
I am a member of the Court of Governors of the Whitgift Foundation. My primary role is Chairman of the Governors at Trinity School, in which capacity I sit on a number of Court committees (Finance & Administration, Education and Salaries & Conditions of Service).
I don’t intend to resign because I don’t see a conflict of interest. What is good for the Foundation in this case – the successful redevelopment of the Whitgift Centre – will also be good for the town, not just through an improved retail offer but through the creation of thousands of jobs and a shift in Croydon’s reputation that will encourage others to invest here (and of course the town will also benefit from the Whitgift Foundation being in a stronger financial position, because it will be able to offer more generous bursaries to pupils from less affluent backgrounds to attend its schools and improve its provision for the elderly). And by not taking any part in the Foundation’s deliberations on this scheme I am free to lobby them if, on some of the detail, I think they are not acting in the town’s interests (as I have done on a couple of occasions).
In my view, this scheme is the best news Croydon has had in my lifetime. I therefore take a very close interest in it – I am on the board that has overseen the progress from announcement through it receiving it full planning permission to the Council now having begun proceedings for a Compulsory Purchase Order. I find it bizarre that you should criticise me for being “very well clued” up on something so important to my constituency.
I am happy to confirm that I haven’t received any payments or gifts in kind from Westfield or Hammerson, nor has Croydon Conservatives received any donations from them.
Notice that: “I don’t intend to resign, because I don’t see a conflict of interest.”
Except that is to miss the point entirely. It does not matter what Barwell thinks on this matter; he needs to act in such a way in which it is impossible for others to perceive even a suggestion of conflict of interest.
And also notice the deliberate disinformation: while he says that neither he nor Croydon Conservatives have received any donations from the developers, if Barfwell reads the Daily Torygraph, he will know very well that Westfield are generous and regular donors to the Tory Party, handing over £150,000 alone when they got help over Sunday opening hours for their Stratford shopping mall during the Olympics.
Barwell is a former employee of billionaire Lord Cashcroft, a master of the use of offshore tax havens. So, Barwell may also be aware that Westfield, after making £40 million in revenues from Stratford managed to get away with paying just £211,000 in tax to the British government. And to think that Barwell has at all times argued against a decent amount of affordable housing being provided within the Hammersfield development because it might adversely affect the developers’ profits…
Barwell has, in another email, added, “I can’t give you any assurance re political donations because that is not in my control, but I can say we haven’t received any, I won’t be seeking any and I would be very surprised if Westfield or Hammerson wanted to make such a donation.” Will that carry the slightest bit of credibility to someone older than six who doesn’t believe in Santa?
So, loyal reader, what do you think? In the words of The Clash, should he stay or should he go?
Coming to Croydon
- Future of Crystal Palace debate, Apr 30
- Groundwork River Wandle project workshop, Apr 30
- David Lean Cinema: The Railway Man, May 1
- Groundwork River Wandle project workshop, May 1
- Hauntology – the architecture of Croydon, Apr 5-May 2
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, May 4
- Crystal Palace Chamber of Commerce Question Time, May 7
- David Lean Cinema: Wadja, May 8
- Coulsdon Euro election hustings, May 8
- David Lean Cinema: Blue Velvet, May 10
- Norwood Society Talk: West Norwood – a place of change, May 15
- David Lean Cinema: The Invisible Woman, May 15
- Coulsdon West local election hustings, May 16
- Croydon RFC charity memorial day, May 17
- Coulsdon East local election hustings, May 19 (confirmed)
- David Lean Cinema: The Rocket, May 22
- David Lean Cinema: Dallas Buyers Club, May 29
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, June 15
- Norwood Society Talk: The Concrete Church, June 19
- Classic Car Show at Purley Rotary Fields, June 22
- Crystal Palace Overground Festival, June 26-29
- South Norwood Allotments open day, June 28
- Elm Tree Cottage garden open day, Aug 10
- Norwood Society Talk: War Memorials, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
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