Poll: Should MP Barwell resign to avoid conflicts of interest?

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.

MP Gavin Barwell speaking in parliament: but who does he represent there - his constituents or the Whitgift Foundation?

MP Gavin Barwell speaking in parliament: but who does he represent there – his constituents or the Whitgift Foundation?

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.

Whitgift Foundation logoAnd this is how the elected representative, supposedly a public servant, Barwell, replied (from his BlackBerry):

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?


About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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27 Responses to Poll: Should MP Barwell resign to avoid conflicts of interest?

  1. Peter Rogers says:

    He could resign and go back after the next election when hopefully he’ll have plenty of time to give to this role

  2. mraemiller says:

    “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)”

    He seems to miss the point that as part of the organisation himself he is lobbying himself.

    What he is actually saying, as I read it is that he does have power but, like Pontius Pilate, he has decided not to exercise it by excluding himself from any decisions on Westfield and Hammerson, while at the same time complaining or supporting them if he does or doesn’t like them, secure in the delusion that he is somehow outside the Foundation. But he is inside the Foundation.

    This adds up to “I know there is a conflict of interest – trust me”. A masterpiece in doublethink? Or just dumb?

    This is not the first time his role with the Whitgift Foundation has been raised – issues about how appropriate it is for Gavin to hang out down the Whitgift Foundation all day date back to the time when Barwell put his chairing of the Governors at Trinity School in his constituency diary. At this time, I put to him that this public school was not supplying a public service, so why was he putting his time on the board down as hours spent working for his constituents?

    Barwell’s defence was something along the lines that it is a charity and the school is somehow serving the public. But even if this is the case, there are surely other more worthy educational charities that he could give his time to? It’s very hard for me as a taxpayer to see any benefit of his time spent there coming back to me.

    I’ve got nothing against him being on the Governors at Trinity School in his spare time if he wants to do, but it’s got to be the height of tactlessness to say the least if not slightly insulting to put this time down as a “constituency duty” of some type. Don’t we have enough state schools if he wants to be on a board of governors to give something back?

    I’m not sure if Barwell is obtuse, deluded, self-deceiving or what with regards to the Whitgift/Trinity situation, but if you ask me, he’s a bit of a berk.

    “I think it’s a good thing for councillors and MPs to be involved in charities and community groups,” he explains. “That’s why I won’t resign.” Such a shame that there’s only one charity in Croydon.

    I wonder how many bursaries this will actually create for the povs?

  3. davidcallam says:

    Mr Barwell is right to emphasise the importance of the central Croydon redevelopment. It is certainly the most important development to have occurred in his lifetime. And of course as the sitting MP he should be fully informed of its progress.

    But he should not encourage people to question his probity or that of the redevelopment by remaining on the board of the principal beneficiary.

    I have voted accordingly.

  4. I would suggest that Tramlink is a more significant development for Croydon in Gavin’s lifetime.

    The Whitgift scheme, for all its importance and scale, is but another shopping centre in South London. It is not an additional facility but a redevelopment of an existing one.

    Tramlink remains unique in London and has had a very positive impact on Croydon and neighbouring boroughs. It will last 100 years, whereas shopping centres struggle to remain fresh for much over 30 years.

    • davidjl2014 says:

      Now there’s a very interesting comparison.
      Perhaps you can tell me how the leader of the Croydon Council at the time, who moved this project forward with gusto, a Mr Peter Bowness, finished up in the House of Lords?

      • davidcallam says:

        Lord Bowness was Sir Peter before ennoblement. I understand he received his peerage for many and varied services to the Conservative Party. As judged by comparison with his successors from both major parties he was a very good leader of Croydon Council.

  5. There would only be a “conflict of interest” if these various things were pulling in opposite directions. As it is, everything is going in the same direction. The H&W development is good for Croydon, good for Croydon Central and good for Mr Barwell in any case, regardless of anything to do with the Whitgift Foundation.

  6. Good governance is strengthened by many independent voices and hence good division of responsibilities so that there is no real or apparent conflict in all public matters. If we delve further into the Governors of Whitgift we find among others:

    * Dean Sutton JP FRICS, who “spent the majority of his career with Harold Williams and Partners and their successor firm Stiles Harold Williams where prior to retirement he was a Senior Equity Partner”. Stiles Harold Williams are the Whitgift Foundations surveyors (and have been for decades – no rotation of contracts with key suppliers here) led by Mr R H Stapleton FRICS a senior partner who negotiated the deal with Westfield et al.

    * Cllr Dudley Mead MBE MA FCCA FCMA FCIS “is currently Deputy Leader of Croydon Council and Cabinet Member for Housing, Chairman of Trustees for Fairfield Halls, the London Mozart Player and the Garwood Foundation and Governor of Selsdon Primary School.” The council are also a key stakeholder who need to have distance from this deal and provide checks and balance.

    This is a big property deal; it impacts on us all. We deserve better, more independent governance that robustly looks after:
    (a) the interests of local residents through the Council;
    (b) the interests of the electorate in National matters at Westminster;
    (c) the interests of the beneficiaries of the Whitgift Foundation in the spirit of an educational and welfare foundation as established by Archbishop Whitgift. Whitgift Foundation is seriously wealthy it should be bench marking to the best schools in the world and providing really exciting educational leadership for Croydon.

    Croydon is horribly weakened by poor governance reflected in:
    (a) too few people sitting on too many boards;
    (b) squabbling infantile behaviour in the Council Chamber and in behaviour like not taking a robust approach to conflicts of interest;
    (c) secrecy and lack of transparency.

  7. Anyone mistakenly considering this article a serious piece of balanced, representative journalism should look no further that the opening sentence, in which the author refers to Mr Barwell as ‘the MP for the Whitgift Foundation’. A fine example of the unbiased representation of facts and information that one would expect an article to provide readers with in order to allow them to make their own judgement in a fair and valid poll it is not.

    Gavin has performed exceedingly well as a constituency MP and as Chairman of the Governors for Trinity School, and if he can secure the best possible outcome for those living and working in Croydon (which I am convinced the Westfield development is) whilst operating as chairman of the school board, I see no reason why he should not continue with both.

    As a recent Trinity student, I can only praise Gavin as a valuable member of our school community, encouraging students to become involved with positive action within the community, such as the ‘Project Change’ initiative which saw many young people from Croydon schools (not just Whitgift Foundation by any means) raise money for charity and revitalise neglected areas of Croydon in the aftermath of the London Riots.

    Gavin is a man who always puts his constituents first, and I am certain that had he not been involved with the Whitgift Foundation, his decisions on the Westfield developlent would have been exactly the same.

    • So someone who has been educated within the Croydon Establishment defends a member of that Establishment for possibly abusing his public position to further the interests of that Establishment.

      Yay! Privilege rules!

    • mraemiller says:

      “Gavin has performed exceedingly well as a constituency MP and as Chairman of the Governors for Trinity School, and if he can secure the best possible outcome for those living and working in Croydon (which I am convinced the Westfield development is) whilst operating as chairman of the school board, I see no reason why he should not continue with both.”

      When the council CPOs the bits of central Croydon that are not at present part of the Whitgift Foundation’s portfolio in order to build the ever larger monopolistic shopping center that is run by two companies working in extremely close co-operation, then at some point presumably the Whitgift Foundation will be involved directly or indirectly in setting the rents of the new retail units.

      There’s also the question of the speed of the development. It may be advantageous to knock everything down in one go for Hammerton/Westfield/Whitgift as it would lower their overheads, but less advantageous for the town as it would create a “dead space” for three years. On whose side does Gavin come down in such disputes? There are a whole range of decisions to be made where the council, the community’s and the Whitgift Foundation’s interests may be divergent.

      Let’s turn the question round. Why can’t he resign from the Whitgift Foundation and the Governors while these things are being ironed out? Surely Trinity and Whitgift will continue to function without Gavin being Chairman of the Governors for Trinity School? I’m sure Gavin has done a good administrative job for them but is he really completely indispensable? Can no one else do his job? No one is asking him to sever all ties with his old school …just to stand back a bit for the three years we are told it will take to build the new shopping centre.

      The conclusion I have reached is that Gavin being Chairman of the Governors for Trinity School is actually a political statement about the kind of people and demographic he actually represents that is so important he can never step away from it.

      What it is actually saying is not “I’m the Chairman of the Governors for Trinity because it helps the community and is my old school” but “Gavin is here for the privileged and those from public schools and to represent the continuation of that way of life over other ways of life” and that this political statement is so important to Gavin, his cronies and other Tories that it is more important than political or common sense. For Gavin to resign from the Governors for Trinity would be a kind of heresy.

      • If Gavin were to temporarily step down as Chairman of the Governors, it would firstly legitimise the idea that a conflict of interest had existed (where I don’t believe it did) which would be irreparably damaging to the development (and therefore Croydon in the long-term since the central retail experience does need regenerating) and faith in the Croydon political establishment. Upon resumption of his post once the development was finished, he would undoubtedly be accused of ‘not really being distanced from the foundation’ and of disguising a conflict of interest, making the whole move pointless. His stepping down would only see costs to faith in local government and the development, and would be of absolutely no benefit to anyone involved. Whether someone else could perform his role as chairman is irrelevant (of course he isn’t the only man capable of being chairman, but I do think he’s the best man for the job, for the same reasons he makes a good MP; He is fair, principled and most importantly, approachable) his integrity will be demonstrated when the Westfield development is a success for Croydon as a whole, and not just the Foundation.

        • “If Gavin were to temporarily step down as Chairman of the Governors, it would … be irreparably damaging to the development”.

          QED. Thanks.

          • That is unfortunately the case, because whilst his role as chairman has no bearing on the development, to temporarily step down would not, as ‘his constituent’ (any chance of some proof that this ‘constituent’ is in no way linked to insidecroydon?) suggests “reassure [his] constituents that there is absolutely no conflict of interest whatsoever in managing the role between constituency MP and the Westfield and Hammerson development” but fuel his opponents attempts to smear him, the local government and the development by providing them with acknowledgement of a non-existent conflict of interest, and further actions to misrepresent. Of course, you already knew this, and by accepting the logical progression as QED, you acknowledge yourselves as a serious part of the problem with this scenario. Thanks.

          • You clearly have little, if any, understanding of the work of the Nolan Committee, nor any real grasp of the need for utter integrity in the manner in which our public officials and elected representatives conduct themselves.

            The “seven principles of public life” are now outlined for you, and for Gavin Barwell, here.

            This one’s quite good:
            Selflessness — Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.” Those are my italics. In this context, “friends” could be understood to be the charitable foundation that funded an MP’s schooling.

            Then there’s this:
            Integrity — Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships.” Again, have added some italics to emphasise the use of the word “must”. This is not an option; it is a clear instruction, and one which Barwell has failed to deal with.

            Objectivity. Accountability. Openness. Honesty. They all apply, too.

            It matters not in the context of Hammersfield whether Barwell is the chair of governors at your old school, in my opinion. But he should never have been anywhere within a million miles of a place on the board of the Foundation while the redevelopment of Croydon town centre, the planning process, decisions on CPOs and the traffic planning is going on.

            That Barwell has failed to see this reflects poorly on either his judgement or his integrity.

            And as far as your snide attempt to diminish the integrity of Barwell’s constituent, Barwell himself will know who it is, because he has the letter in his correspondence file. And yes, the person concerned is linked to Inside Croydon: they are one of our readers, just as you are.

          • You were correct in assuming I had no understanding of the work of the Nolan Committee, but I am now satisfied, however, that this page contains everything required to give an individual (who reads the preceding commentary) without intimate knowledge of the Croydon political debate a chance to form their own opinion on the matter and fairly answer the poll.
            I still don’t believe he should step down from the board of Trinity School, since I would prefer the work he does in that role not to be disrupted (and highly doubt it could have any impact on the development), but I will concede that an official, if temporary, restriction of his role within the rest of the Foundation to enforce the necessary Chinese wall would likely be beneficial to this entire process.

          • davidcallam says:

            Oops! You appear to have touched a nerve. And who exactly is this son of Erin? A political chum of Gavin’s, perhaps?

          • The only comments we have had in this thread defending Barwell’s position have both come from his fellow Old Mid-Whitgiftians. The Old School ties that bind, eh?

        • mraemiller says:

          “If Gavin were to temporarily step down as Chairman of the Governors, it would firstly legitimise the idea that a conflict of interest had existed”

          I am not saying that a conflict of interest exists at the moment. I am saying that one may arise imminently. In the normal course of events this would not be much of an issue. But clearly knocking down and rebuilding Croydon’s retail centre from scratch in a three-year rebuilding programme changes the landscape on a huge scale and in a way that hasn’t happened since 1968. Literally, physically and permanently.

          We’re not talking about an application from Trinity School to build a new science block in which case there might be a slight conflict of interest. The potential conflict of interests are massive because the project is massive.

          If Gavin were to step down it would not damage the development which is going to happen regardless of you, me, Gavin and indeed the Council, because it has already gone too far down the road for central government to allow it to fail. The die is already cast – the only question is …how will it roll?

  8. derekthrower says:

    There is an assumption that Westfield’s development will be an unmitigated success. But is this so?

    I visited recently the new Westfield development at Derby and the footfall/shopping experience was of the level that the Whitgift Centre in Croydon experiences now. They had an excellent new cinema and many good service outlets, but you did not have the huge crowds of Shepherds Bush and Stratford. These are more central London locations and it is a bit of a leap of faith that Croydon will be the magnet for south London and the southern Home Counties. If you are going to travel a long way – why not go all the way to Central London?

    Secondly there does appear to be an assumption of Gavin Barwell that Croydon is the Whitgift Foundation and the Whitgift Foundation is Croydon. No doubt they have a massive economic and cultural influence on the local area, but should the Parliamentary representative solely identify his role as representing a single interest group, no matter how ethical and noble they state themselves to be.

    Gavin appears to be suffering from a touch of the Louis XIVs.

  9. davidcallam says:

    Derek: please don’t compare Croydon with Derby.

    Croydon is a south London suburb, just as Shepherds Bush is a west London suburb and Strattford is an east London suburb.

    Do you really suppose Westfield is contemplating a £1 billion investment merely to recreate the kind of lacklustre performance of the existing Whitgift Centre?

    Of course Westfield is planning a complex as successful as its other two in London; as accessible by car too, once Boris Johnson has remodelled the road network.

    • derekthrower says:

      Westfield invested the best part of £500 million into Derby in an area of low land prices.

      Stratford and Shepherd Bush border the centre of London, Croydon the border of the Home Counties. To be successful this will have to attract the top-notch retailers who themselves will have to invest a huge deal and will not be interested in failure.

      All I can detect is a certain amount of arrogance and belief this project is going to be an unquestionable success. The spectrum of possibilities has to be considered.

  10. How on earth can you deem it a “conflict” of interest? Yes its common ground, but it is this common ground that makes Mr Barwell ideally suited to represent Whitgift and Croydons [sic] interest on this very exciting development.
    Why on earth you are making such a negative fuss about great news for Croydon I just do not know or understand.
    There are so many reasons to be displeased with Croydon, but this is certainly not one of them.
    I for one whole heartedly support Mr Barwell and the Whitgift Foundation on there [sic] great work to secure the long overdue revitalisation of the Whitgift Centre and all of the knock on benefits to the whole of Croydon.

  11. There are bound to be occasions in the development of the Whitgift Centre when choices need to be made. If Gavin Barwell remains as a Governor of the Whitgift Foundation there will inevitably be the suspicion that his preferences regarding these choices are tilted towards the Foundation. This might or might not be in the interests of his constituents.

    I am also concerned about a potential conflict of interest in that Westfield are donors to the Conservative Party and Gavin Barwell is a Conservative MP. In other cases we have seen that political donors often expect to receive something in return. So again there is a worry in my mind that the interests of the public might be by-passed.

  12. davidcallam says:

    Derby is not a fair comparison with Croydon, which is as much part of Greater London as Shepherds Bush or Stratford.

    Croydon should be and will be judged by Greater London standards; it has long since ceased to be a market town or a County Borough.

    With a world-class retail management company designing, building and running its town centre shopping and leisure complex, it stands the best possible chance of success.

    That’s not arrogance; its commonsense.

  13. Jon Bigger says:

    Politics is a bit grubby isn’t it?

    Whether he should go from either the foundation or from being an MP is quite small compared to the issue of how we make our society work more effectively and increase participation so that our voices count.

  14. Pingback: Poll: Should MP Barwell resign to avoid conflicts of interest? | arnorab

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