Barwell claims Labour knew about #WadGate for months

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.

Tony Newman: Labour leader may have known about Fisher’s “secret” allowances claims for three months

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.

Fisher’s eventual downfall, though, only came after a private meeting on Friday with Gavin Barwell, the MP for the Whitgift Foundation.

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.

MP Gavin Barwell: knows all abouts snouts in the trough, apparently

MP Gavin Barwell: knows all abouts snouts in the trough, apparently

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.”

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This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Croydon Central, Croydon Council, Gavin Barwell, Nathan Elvery, Sara Bashford, Steve Hollands, Steve O'Connell, Tony Newman, Vidhi Mohan and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Barwell claims Labour knew about #WadGate for months

  1. davidcallam says:

    Meet farmer Barwell: a dab hand with a muck spreader!

  2. derekthrower says:

    Isn’t this a problem with Croydon politics?

    Another local MP who seems unable to represent his constituents at Westminster since his main focus is still that of a local councillor. His whole political operation appears to be about maintaining a monopoly of all power in the Croydon area.

    No wonder an authority such as Croydon with so many advantages has been run down and is secondary to the creations of personal fiefdoms.

  3. Derek Thrower has hit the nail square on the head! Being an MP these days is, for most, a question not of “What can I do for you?” but “What can this job do for me?”

    Our MP still acts like a VI Form Prefect trying to make sure that his local fiefdom is unchallenged.

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