Education spokeswoman joins Letts on Whitgift board

An overwhelming 81 per cent of respondents in Inside Croydon’s latest online poll believe that veteran Labour councillor Tony Letts should resign her position on the board of governors of the Whitgift Foundation to avoid conflicts of interest in her Town Hall role as cabinet member for economic development.

The multi-million-pound educational charity is among the borough’s biggest landowners, which includes it being the majority freeholder of the Whitgift Centre, the shopping mall that is the focus of the £1 billion redevelopment of the town proposed by Westfield and Hammerson. Seven of the 17 governors appointed to the board of the Whitgift Foundation are councillors, or politicians, or are closely related to local political figures.

Toni Letts speaking at a Develop Croydon event - but on behalf of the council, or the Whitgift Foundation?

Toni Letts speaking at a Develop Croydon event – but on behalf of the council, or the Whitgift Foundation?

It was announced this week that the local government department had received more than 130 objections to Croydon Council’s compulsory purchase orders for the redevelopment site. A public inquiry before a judge is expected to be held in February next year.

Since Inside Croydon’s report last week, Letts’ public profile on the council website has been updated to include mention of her appointments to a range of other worthy bodies and outside interests which the Selhurst councillor holds. But the profile still fails to mention her role with the Whitgift Foundation.

This contrasts with Letts’ council front bench colleague, Alisa Flemming, an Upper Norwood councillor, who does list her position on the Whitgift Foundation board on her council profile.

Flemming has recently been added to the Foundation board as a council appointee. This shows that Tony Newman’s Labour group on the council, which advocates “openness and transparency”, to be oblivious to the possibilities of conflicts of interest arising with a body which profitably operates three large private schools in the borough and the council’s new cabinet member responsible for… education.

Croydon Council’s Code of Conduct states: “You must not place yourself under a financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence you in the performance of your official duties.”

And: “You must declare any private interests, both pecuniary and non-pecuniary, which relate to your public duties and must take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.”

It seems impossible for Letts or Flemming to be able to guarantee to fulfill the council code of conduct’s requirements to protect the public interest while also being members of the Whitgift Foundation.

Not that they are alone on the Foundation board…

  • Last year, 65 per cent of Inside Croydon readers voted that Gavin Barwell, the Trinity School old boy and Conservative MP for Croydon Central, should resign his position on the Whitgift Foundation board because of similar concerns over conflicts of interest.
  • Dudley Mead: one of seven Whitgift Foundation members with connections to Croydon Council

    Dudley Mead: one of seven Whitgift Foundation members with connections to political figures or Croydon Council

    Also on the board is another Trinity old boy, Councillor Dudley Mead, for now the deputy leader of Croydon Tories.

  • Keeping it in the family is Margaret Mead, also a Tory councillor and also on the board.
  • One of Croydon’s newest councillors, Labour’s the Hon Emily Benn, has a family connection with the Whitgift Foundation board: her mother, the Viscountess Stansgate, also known as Nita Clarke, is a long-time governor.
  • And also keeping it mum, so to speak, is Rosemary Jones, who is a governor following 22 years’ service as a teacher, ultimately as head teacher, at one of the Foundation schools, Old Palace. Her daughter is Sarah Jones, the Labour candidate for Croydon Central.

The only family member missing from the board, it seems, is Caesar’s wife. She, at least, was above suspicion.

With Letts and now Flemming on board, too, looks like the Foundation is keeping its influence over Croydon nice and tight…

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6 Responses to Education spokeswoman joins Letts on Whitgift board

  1. britasjo says:

    So much for new brooms. Looks more like same old wine, different bottles.

  2. What is breath-taking among all these politicians piling into the Whitgift Foundation is their complete lack of educational expertise.

    Whitgift is an educational charity. It is one of the richest educational charities in the UK. It should be at the forefront of educational research and innovation. It should be giving out to the community.

    It is not. It is a fortress of social advantage.

    It is inert in its old-fashioned, out-of-date, conservative resistance to change.

    Croydon is young, it is entrepreneurial, the community is hungry for excellent education for all. Whitgift and the politicians that hover around its flame are not serving the needs of Croydon.

    Whitgift needs a really thorough educational audit by a robust independent educational auditor, like the chief schools inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw. It should be open and transparent. It would be painful for the organisation, but massively healthy for Croydon.

  3. davidcallam says:

    It depends how you judge education, of course.

    The state sector has more so-called education experts than enough and consistently does an average job of educating our children.

    The private sector has fewer experts and better results.

    And much as Charlotte may wish it otherwise, may I remind you that the Whitgift Foundation is a charity, regulated by the Charity Commission, with no public obligations to Croydon whatsoever.

    That said, it spends large sums of money on generous bursary schemes that allow many academically bright children from less well off families to benefit from its curriculum.

    • A couple of myths that do not stand scrutiny to reality in there David.

      The Charity Commission is not a regulator at all. It is a mere depository for the accounts of charities. It does not have the staff to monitor or check even if those accounts are filed accurately and in a timely fashion. Investigations of charities’ activities are undertaken only when the public register their concerns – as happened in the matter of the Tory-run council’s failed takeover bid of the Fairfield Halls recently, following reports on Inside Croydon:

      As to the matter of the Whitgift Foundation’s generous bursaries, the quantum (never disclosed) may be true, but the talents of the recipients are also rarely made clear.

      The policies vary between the three schools, but at Whitgift, charitably funded bursaries have been used as a recruiting tool for more than a decade in a schools sports transfer market, competing for the best 13- and 16-year-old rugby and hockey players, the top cricketers and footballers of their generations, to keep the South Croydon school at the top of a different sort of league tables.

      Is that appropriate use of charity funds? Is that deserving of the vast tax breaks which private schools enjoy?

  4. davidcallam says:

    There is a good argument for reforming the whole nature of charity status, but it isn’t going to happen while large numbers of our legislators benefit directly in terms of their own education or that of their children.

    The Foundation’s schools are in a competitive market for students. Would that the same were true of our many underwhelming state schools. In that situation, I assume the Foundation uses sports bursaries as another way of promoting itself to parents who can choose where to send their children (again, would that parents of state school pupils had a similar choice).

    • “There is a good argument for reforming the whole nature of charity status, but it isn’t going to happen while large numbers of our legislators benefit directly in terms of their own education or that of their children.”

      So you accept the argument that the likes of Gavin Barwell MP and Councillor Toni Letts, while holding elected public office, ought not to be members of the Whitgift Foundation’s governors as well. Thank you.

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