This boy’ll go far.
Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central, has managed to put another question at Prime Minister’s Question Time. On this occasion, he did it on probably the highest profile parliamentary occasion of the year, right ahead of the Chancellor’s Budget speech.
That Barwell manages to get called to put up a tame question to his party leader on such an important occasion strongly suggests that he is being groomed for greater things than mere back bench status. As a former political assistant of the Conservative party Treasurer and major financial donor, Lord Ashcroft, we ought not be surprised by the apparent fast-tracking of the 39-year-old Trinity old boy.
And at least when Barwell gets a platform on the national stage, he often uses it to raise issues of direct import to his own constituents. Unlike his absentee party colleague and MP for Croydon South, Tricky Dicky Ottaway, whose only parliamentary interests seem to be matters outside his constituency, and outside the country, as he serves out his final years at Westminster, carefully filing his expenses claims.
Today, Barwell used his PMQ to ask Call Me Dave Cameron whether the government would use office space in Croydon to save the Exchequer some cash in business rates.
This comes, of course, barely a month after the Home Office announced it was axing around 1,500 jobs at the Lunar House immigration service offices in Croydon.
But the question, and the answer it received, may be part of an effort to rescue Barwell’s former mates in Tory-controlled Croydon Council and their developer “partners”. If another major government department or agency were to express an interest in moving “sarf of the river”, then perhaps some the vast commercial office developments that are still on architects’ drawing boards might become more viable.
Barwell’s question was: “Croydon town centre is just 15 minutes from central London by rail but rateable values are 60 per cent lower. Does my right honourable friend agree that there is huge potential to save public money by relocating part of the government estate from the most expensive real estate in the country in SW1?”
The Prime Minister, duly primed, replied: “I heard the suggestion from an honourable friend that a new place for IPSA perhaps to be based in, errr, Croydon,” jokingly referring to the new, Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, obviously not realising that it would also save IPSA a small fortune in travel costs when visiting Ottaway’s home and constitency office to check the books.
Call Me Dave went on: “My honourable friend makes a very good point. We have already saved £50 million by relocating government property. My right honourable friend the Minister for the Civil Service who sits in the Cabinet and does an excellent job has saved £2.6 billion in combining quangoes and public bodies, and I’m sure there’s more we can do, perhaps including Croydon.”
So, expect an announcement some time soon to help shore up Cameron’s Crazy Council’s development plans, perhaps including the £450 million “Hub” vanity project.
It may have even been in one of the headline announcements by Chancellor Gideon Osborne’s Budget speech. Addressing planning decisions, authorities were ordered to prioritise growth and jobs (when haven’t they?), and he delivered to the Tory party’s billionaire mates in the major development companies a golden ticket for their big bucks projects, when he said, “The default answer to development is ‘Yes’.”
If conservationists, if not Conservatives, had thought they had won the battle over the half-arsed government scheme to sell-off the Forestry Commission, then the war to save the nation’s – and Croydon’s – vital Green Belt may have only just begun.