Tony Newman, the Labour leader on Croydon Council, knew all about the back-pay claim of his Tory opposite number Mike Fisher for at least three months, a local MP claimed today.
Fisher, for eight years the leader of the council until the Conservatives’ defeat at the local elections in May, was forced to resign his party position last weekend after it had emerged that he had secretly claimed £11,000 in councillor allowances which had been “underpaid” to him over the previous 13 months.
Four of Fisher’s senior cabinet colleagues, including an adviser to London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Tories’ Croydon North parliamentary candidate, also considered making claims for back-pay under the Fisher scheme.
Today, Barwell admitted to Inside Croydon that this meeting with his former council colleague and old friend by-passed his own party’s “due process”, thus avoiding Fisher having to face a hearing of the local Tory party on Saturday.
Last week, Barwell appeared to be in a state of mild panic, “I’ve had better weeks,” he told one chum in Tory High Command, and publicly he talked of having sleepless nights over the impact which the #WadGate revelations might have on his chances of retaining his Croydon Central seat.
With Fisher defiantly telling anyone naive enough to believe him that, “I’m going no where”, Barwell, the junior whip, took time out from his Westminster duties on the day of his government’s defeat on the Bedroom Tax to meet with the Croydon leader.
Barwell had previously tried to pretend that there were few, if any, questions to be answered over #WadGate and his own role in Fisher’s eventual capitulation, but today he provided Inside Croydon with some more details on the affair which has clearly badly damaged the Conservatives locally.
We had asked which councillors knew about Fisher’s get-richer-quicker secret scheme, and when they knew. Barwell said, “All the senior members of the Conservative group have made it clear that they were not aware” of Fisher’s scheme before the local elections, which were held on May 22. This statement is likely to be closely examined by the council inquiry, announced yesterday.
But Barwell makes it clear that after the local elections, a considerable number of Croydon councillors knew that Fisher was thinking about retrospectively claiming a higher allowance. Barwell said, “Members of the shadow cabinet, other members of the Conservative group who had claimed a lower allowance than they were eligible for, the leader of the Labour group Tony Newman and possibly other members of the Labour group, depending on who Tony told.”
Last Thursday, when they were demanding the showdown meeting with Fisher (which Barwell’s intervention was to deny them), Tim Pollard and Dudley Mead, the Conservative group deputies, suggested that only the 10 members of the Tory cabinet were privy to the “scheme”. Barwell’s version extends Fisher’s “magic circle” of confidantes considerably. It includes the likes of Sara Bashford, the former Tory cabinet member who also has a day job working in Barwell’s constituency office.
Given Newman’s “ambitious for Croydon” manifesto promises of a more open and transparent council, Barwell’s claim that the Labour leader also knew about the “secret” allowances payments raises significant further questions. Newman openly and transparently did not respond to calls from Inside Croydon this afternoon.
Barwell refutes calls that Fisher has any need to refund the money claimed (it wasn’t illegal, is the Honorable Member for the Whitgift Foundation’s argument), or that Fisher should resign as a councillor for Shirley ward (Fisher deserves a second chance, according to Barwell). These terms may have been the basis of a deal which the MP brokered with Fisher in their private meeting on Friday.
Barwell also dismisses the need for an “expensive” inquiry into the #WadGate affair. Yesterday, Newman announced that the council would appoint a panel to investigate what happened, chaired by local poet Anne Smith.
Barwell’s view is more prosaic: “My focus has been on ensuring that all information about the involvement of Conservative councillors is in the public domain, but clearly some [council officials] must have known in order for payments to be made.
“However, we don’t need an expensive inquiry to find out the answer – Councillor Newman just needs to ask the Council’s chief executive.” In July, Newman announced that Nathan Elvery would be the borough’s £180,000 CEO, a job which was never advertised.
“I believe all the relevant information is either in the public domain or, as regards which [council officials] knew, could easily be put in the public domain,” Barwell said.
“We know how much everyone was paid, so we know it was only Councillor Fisher who received more than we would have expected.
“We know how it happened – a number of members were claiming less than they were eligible to claim and it was open to any of them at any time to claim more (though clearly they should have been open about doing so),” Barwell said.
“We know that four other councillors or former councillors thought about making retrospective claims after the elections, but in the end decided not to.”
Barwell does, though, make a case for a different inquiry into the whole matter of councillors’ pay – putting him more in agreement with UKIP than with those at the Town Hall, including his fellow Croydon Tories, who are drawing £1.4 million-worth of council allowances each year.
Three Croydon Conservative councillors are employed, on state-funded salaries of £27,000 per year or more, to work as assistants to MP Barwell.
“There may … be a case for a more wide-ranging inquiry,” Barwell said, “looking at whether we should pay senior councillors so much and whether they should have to declare other income as MPs do, so we can see how many hours they do for the allowances they receive. But the inquiry the council has set up is likely to take six weeks to tell us what I have set out.”
- #WadGate: Questions that Barwell has failed to answer
- #WadGate: Fisher forced to resign as Croydon Tory leader
- Tory leader Fisher is caught red-handed with £10,000 pay hike
- #WadGate: The Movie
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Coming to Croydon
- Tell Me About Your Ex, Spread Eagle Theatre, Sep 9-13
- David Lean Cinema: Camille Claudel, Sep 11
- Warlingham rugby dinner with international Richard Hill, Sep 12
- Soul Symphony Community Choir sessions, Sep 16-Dec 23
- Police question time, LNK at Centrale, Sep 17
- David Lean Cinema: Chef, Sep 18
- Norwood Society Talk: Remembering the Great War, Sep 18
- The Complete History of the BBC – Abridged, Spread Eagle, Sep 19-20
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Sep 20
- South Croydon business breakfast, Sep 20
- Open House London weekend, Sep 20-21
- David Lean Cinema: A Night At The Cinema in 1914, Sep 22
- Activity to Work back-to-work workshops, Sep 23
- David Lean Cinema: Jimmy’s Hall, Sep 25
- Streatham Common 6M race, Sep 27
- Fancy dress family funday, Sep 28
- Ukrainian choir concert, St John’s Shirley, Sep 29
- Tree Sides, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 2-4
- The Goon Show, Spread Eagle Theatre, Oct 8-11
- Norwood Society Talk: From Fire Station to Theatre, Oct 16
- Cinema Ruskin film show, Oct 18
- South Croydon business breakfast, Oct 18
- This Was The World and I Was King, Spread Eagle, Oct 23-25
- Albert Einstein – Relativity Speaking, Spread Eagle, Nov 12-15
- South Croydon business breakfast, Nov 15
- Norwood Society Talk: Lambeth’s Archives, Nov 20
- Choose Your Own Documentary, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 21-22
- The Last Sense of Sudden, Spread Eagle Theatre, Nov 27-29
- Ghost Stories for Christmas, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 3
- Fog Horn Funnies, Spread Eagle Theatre, Dec 6
- South Croydon business breakfast, Dec 13
- South Croydon business breakfast, Jan 24
Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 407,847 page views (Jan-Jun 2014) If you have a news story about life in or around Croydon, a residents’ or business association or local event, please email us with full details at firstname.lastname@example.org