In an article posted on this website in the early hours of Friday morning (May 20), we reported the inter-connected funding of local Tory MPs, the Conservative group on Croydon council and the publicly funded, party political jobs of some local councillors.
In respect of Gavin Barwell, elements of the article were unclear and may have suggested that the MP for Croydon Central had not declared all donations which he had received. This was never our intention, and we apologise for any misunderstanding caused. We do not agree that the error merited a threat of legal action which has been made by Barwell, but we are prepared to compensate by offering Barwell a pint of ale in a Croydon public house.
Our errors were genuine mistakes and we are happy to correct them. What follows details the inaccuracies, not only in our article, but also those in the article posted by Gavin Barwell.
Smell the Coffee
Gavin Barwell was elected as the Member of Parliament for Croydon Central little more than a year ago. Nearly 50,000 people in his constituency voted last May, although less than 20,000 felt called to choose Barwell, who was elected with just 39 per cent of the popular vote.
It was those May 2010 elections, local and parliamentary, which inspired the establishment of Inside Croydon, to reflect some of the rum goings ons in the capital’s most populated borough.
We live in interesting times. In the year before the election, the MPs’ expenses scandal had been exposed by the Daily Torygraph, with another local Tory MP, Croydon South’s Richard Ottaway, found to have made claims for a splendid second home, for having his chimney swept and towards the cost of a £5,300 bed.
Croydon’s Conservatives nonetheless endorsed Ottaway as their general election candidate. To coin a phrase, “Smell the Coffee”.
It was Barwell’s maiden speech in parliament that formed the first posting on Inside Croydon, as the new MP reinforced his home borough’s “reputation for rather unwelcoming 1960s architecture and for crime and anti-social behaviour”.
Since then, Inside Croydon has observed Barwell’s first year at Westminster with interest, and we have congratulated him more than once, notably on his support for the libraries campaign and his criticism of the council’s badly handled consultation over parking regulations in central Croydon.
Indeed, when Inside Croydon’s editor met Barwell at the Town Hall, he made the point of congratulating the MP on his support for local residents over the behaviour of his former colleagues on the council. Good, fair, honest and hard-working constituency MPs should always be welcomed.
In the past week, Barwell has become agitated by Inside Croydon’s coverage of his close working connections with certain local councillors. Where it is demonstrated that we have misreported something, we endeavour to correct the error as speedily as possible.
At this point, we will let Barwell take up the story of Thursday and Friday’s online activity:
“On Thursday night, the Inside Croydon website written by Labour activist…”
Sorry Gavin. You are wrong. Inside Croydon is an entirely independent website, written by a small group of like-minded local residents. All are volunteers, no one is paid. Unlike you, we receive no public funding or donations from any commercial organisation or political party. We are independent. Our editor is not an activist for any political party.
We look forward to you publishing a prominent correction and full apology, both to Inside Croydon and the local Labour party.
“Stephen…” Wrong again, Gav. And you are well aware of the correct spelling of the editor’s name, since you have got it right in the past. But onwards. “… Downes published a post, most of which was about the recent Cabinet reshuffle by Council Leader Mike Fisher. In passing, it referred to the fact that Tim Pollard manages my and the Croydon Conservatives websites and possibly Richard Ottaway’s.”
In the interests of openness and transparency, we interrupt Gav’s account of events here to point out that our naming of Tim Pollard as working on these websites is the only public reference to this fact that we have been able to find. Nowhere on Barwell’s nor the Croydon Conservatives’ websites does it explicitly name the very busy Councillor Pollard as performing this function.
Barwell goes on to quote Inside Croydon’s report, where we wrote: “What Ottaway does state, though, is that his website is ‘funded from Parliamentary allowances’. This is certainly what Barwell is doing.”
Very late on Thursday, via Twitter, Barwell took dispute with this passage. Immediately, we corrected this by carrying an update on the original article – “Gavin Barwell has corrected us, saying that his website is not paid for by public money” .
We also set to work on a second article about wider issues of local Conservative party funding.
Barwell complains that we did not call him to check some details in this second article. We apologise for this, but assumed that he would not appreciate a call at 2.30am, especially since we had as source material the Parliamentary public record which Barwell had himself submitted.
“Inappropriate” public funding of MP’s website
We are happy to repeat here what Barwell has written on his own website: “My website has plenty of party political content so it would clearly be inappropriate for it to be paid for by the taxpayer.”
This does prompt a couple of questions.
Is it therefore clearly “inappropriate” for his parliamentary colleague Richard Ottaway to have his website paid for by the taxpayer?
And is it therefore also “inappropriate” for the taxpayer-funded content of Richard Ottaway’s website to be displayed, through live links, on the homepage of the local Croydon Conservatives’ website, as run by its webmaster, Tim Pollard?
Barwell goes on to state: “My campaign did not receive a single donation from Lord Ashcroft personally or from any company in which he has an interest.”
Inside Croydon is happy to accept this to be entirely true. It was certainly never our intention to create the impression that Barwell had not properly declared any money he has received.
However, we note Barwell’s careful choice of words: “a single donation from Lord Ashcroft personally or from any company in which he has an interest” (our italics).
This prompts another question for Barwell.
Was his Croydon Central 2010 campaign in receipt of any money from any funds established by “Lord” Ashcroft specifically to assist Tory candidates standing in marginal seats, as we were informed by a Conservative “activist” during the campaign?
We should also re-state here that before the 2010 general election Gavin Barwell was widely reported as working as an aide for “Lord” Ashcroft, having previously been employed as “operations director” at the Conservative party, which received millions of pounds in donations and loans from “Lord” Ashcroft.
Barwell also takes issue with our statement about the errors that were made in the filing of his and Ottaway’s election expenses last year, saying this was “not true”.
The matter ended up in the High Court last November before Mr Justice Silber. As we reported at the time of the court hearing, the judge ruled that sums had been left off the two Croydon Tory MPs’ expenses declarations, but he accepted that this error was “inadvertent”. This is a matter of fact that is in the public domain.
Councillors’ donations to their own party
Barwell then disputes that, despite his own declaration to Parliament, he has received £40,000 from Croydon’s Tory Councillors.
We had published the official account verbatim, and repeat it here:
“Name of donor: Croydon Council Conservative Group
Address of donor: Town Hall, Katharine Street Croydon CR0 1NX
Amount of donation or nature and value if donation in kind: £40,344.
Donor status: council group
(Registered 7 June 2010)”
In his latest article, Barwell says, “I don’t receive a penny from my former colleagues. They do give money to the local Conservative Party to help pay for the local election campaign and under Parliamentary rules I am rightly required to declare such donations.”
Barwell tells us that the similar £40,000 donation declared by his Conservative colleague Richard Ottaway MP is, in fact, the same donation. “It is the same £40,000 declared twice,” Barwell writes.
This seems to be a very odd piece of accounting practice, but for the record we are happy to accept Barwell’s version of events and apologise for our misunderstanding.
We totalled up other donations made towards Barwell’s campaign funds which had all been properly declared by him on the official record at Westminster. “The implication,” Barwell writes, “is that this is money I receive on top of my salary. It is not. It is money donated to the Conservative Party to pay for leaflets, adverts etc.”
Again, we are happy to accept that this is the case.
We would suggest, in the interests of transparency, that the local Conservative Association’s accounts should be made readily available on their website, so that this spending on leaflets, adverts etc can be easily reviewed. We would recommend all local parties to do the same. Their continued failure so to do will only beg another question: what do they have to hide?
Barwell then confirms as accurate our report that Croydon councillors Sara Bashford and Eddy Arram both work for him at his constituency office, and that they – together with former councillor Sue Bennett and two others – are all paid through his Parliamentary staffing allowance. In the cases of Bashford and Arram, this public funding of their political activity/constituency work could amount to something of the order of £27,000 per year. Each.
As Barwell says, “There is nothing in the slightest bit unusual about this.”
The real point is that the employment of Bashford and Arram, paid for with tax-payers’ money on top of their already generous council allowances (£45,377 per year from Croydon Council in Bashford’s case) is not widely known, nor is it publicised anywhere on Barwell’s or the local Conservatives’ website.
Is it of public interest? We think so.
- Pollard back at the Hub of action after council reshuffle (insidecroydon.wordpress.com)
- Election spending: Gavin Barwell file (channel4.com)
- Election expenses: five more MPs face questions (channel4.com)