Mead speaks out at cabinet on behalf of his “inner circle”

In an extraordinary outburst of arrogance, entitlement and pomposity, Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the Conservative group on Croydon Council, last night underlined exactly why neither he, nor any other councillor with vested interests outside the Town Hall chamber, should be allowed to compromise their positions as elected officials by holding seats on the boards of some outside bodies.

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

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

Veteran councillor Mead, a former Mayor of Croydon and ex-leader of the council, was speaking at the first council cabinet meeting after the summer break. But he really wasn’t speaking on behalf of the residents of Selsdon and Ballards, the ward he was elected to represent.

For it was clear that Mead was speaking on behalf of the Whitgift Foundation.

The conflicts of interest are abundant. The Whitgift Foundation is among the borough’s richest land-owners, and they own the majority of the freehold of the Whitgift Centre and have engaged Westfield, acting together now with Hammerson, in a £1 billion commercial redevelopment of the town centre.

Mead, as he admitted to the less-than-packed meeting last night, looks after the finances of the Whitgift Foundation, a registered charity with income of £50 million per year and assets amounting to £240 million, according to the latest figures available from the Charity Commission. The Foundation’s investment portfolio is likely to undergo something of a transformation over the next few years.

For the first hour of yesterday’s meeting, Mead had been pretty quiet. But then the agenda moved on to an “update” on something entitled the “Strategic Metropolitan Centre”, which to most people is known as the town centre.

Mead was quick, loud and proper to declare an interest as a member of the governors of the Whitgift Foundation.

Another in the council chamber, someone with a woman’s voice, echoed Mead’s declaration of interest, though the council’s webcast is slow to react and identify speakers – especially when they fail to switch on their microphones as they as supposed to do.

The "Whitgift": Foundation and Trust at loggerheads over its development

The Whitgift: Foundation and Trust at loggerheads over its development

This person muttered something about “non-pecuniary interest”, and thereby  demonstrated that they really have no idea about proper standards of transparency and ethical conduct in public office: the Whitgift Foundation is at the heart of a £1 billion commercial redevelopment, and this person holds a public office that will determine much of its outcome. So the declarer was probably Labour councillor, Toni Letts, who is only the cabinet member responsible for economic development.

There were one or two other murmurings of interest from the body of the chamber which the webcast failed to pick up and which the chairman of the meeting, council leader Tony Newman, did not bother to identify.

It is interesting to note that there is no mention of his important position with the Whitgift Foundation on Mead’s official council website profile, as might be expected and is legally required of him. As far as the council’s most important publicity tool is concerned, Mead has opted to draw a veil of secrecy over his deep involvement with the Whitgift Foundation, as if it is some shadowy Masonic organisation.

Mead was the first to speak to the council report about the latest developments, or rather the lack of them. But Mead did not concern himself with the substance of the report. Oh no. He had far more important things to whine about on behalf of the Whitgift Foundation.

Mead was positively popping with indignation that the council report was unclear that the “Whitgift Trust” was different from the “Whitgift Foundation”.

“I want to make that very, very clear,” said Mead, struggling to add extra emphasis. “The Whitgift Foundation are in favour of the proposal.” No shit, Sherlock.

Mead, and the Whitgift Foundation, may be getting a little nervous about the stalled rate of progress on the scheme. There have been 130 objections to the Compulsory Purchase Orders – to be paid for in the first instance, at least, by Croydon Council – of large areas in and around the current Whitgift Centre to allow the Hammersfield redevelopment to go ahead.

Smugness abounds: Tim Pollard, looking far too pleased with himself, as Maria Gatland addresses last night's council meeting

Smugness abounds: Tim Pollard, looking far too pleased with himself, as Maria Gatland addresses last night’s council meeting

Mostly, the objections have come from an alliance of various businesses under the banner of the “Whitgift Trust” who have sought a Judicial Review of the CPOs, which is due to go to court in February, a troublesome brake on the Foundation’s development plans.

This is a passage from paragraph 3.3 of the council report, to which Whitgift Foundation governor Mead took such offence that he used his position as a Croydon councillor to raise the matter at a cabinet meeting:

“… solicitors acting for (1) Equiom (Isle of Man) Limited (2) Almark Limited (3) Whitgift One Limited and (4) Whitgift Two Limited (“Whitgift Trust”) had filed a claim for judicial review in respect of the grant of outline planning permission and conservation area consent. The Whitgift Trust holds long leasehold interests in the Whitgift Centre. It is the immediate landlord of most of the occupational tenants and has management control of
the Whitgift Centre. The Whitgift Trust had objected to the planning permission and is now objecting to the CPO”.

Seems clear enough. But not to Trinity School-educated Dudley Mead.

Mead whinged a couple times more on behalf of the Whitgift Foundation and their commercial partners, concluding, “We need to define these terms precisely for those outside the inner circle,” he said, confirming that there is, indeed, an “inner circle” running our borough.

Anyone attending last night’s meeting unaware of recent “circumstances” might have assumed that Mead was the leader of the Croydon Conservatives. Because the 200lb gorilla that wasn’t in the room was Mike Fisher, the Tories’ leader until he got caught with his hand in the allowances cookie jar.

And the point is? Council leader Tony Newman took time out from chairing last night's cabinet meeting to have his picture taken with Uncle Hilary Benn

And the point is? Council leader Tony Newman took time out from chairing last night’s cabinet meeting to have his picture taken with Uncle Hilary Benn

No one mentioned Fisher by name all meeting. The Labour group could barely control themselves, but did, just. The Tories tried to carry on as if nothing had happened at all – even Steve “Three Jobs” O’Connell had the audacity to speak about financial responsibility at some point.

And through it all, Tim Pollard, who expects to be appointed the new Croydon Conservatives leader by a version of Papal acclamation on Saturday, sat there with little to offer by way of opposition, but grinning inanely like a boy who’s just been allowed his first half of shandy.

Mead had been the first to interject before the meeting got underway, seeking to alter the agenda order for more important matters, like budget shortfalls and 500 council job cuts, but Newman hijacked a Croydon council meeting to give the floor for a 10-minute lecture on local authority powers from “Uncle” Hilary Benn, the Labour front-bench spokesman. It was really quite dull. Newman described it as a “powerful contribution”.

Newman opened the floor for questions, and there came none. Not even from Benn’s niece, the Hon Emily Benn, now the Labour party’s choice for Croydon South, who sat on the back benches making barely a peep all night, not even bothering to try to assert herself as a parliamentary candidate.

Uncle Hilary did not mention any conflicts of interest with the Whitgift Foundation, although he might have said that his sister-in-law, the Hon Emily’s mother, Viscount Stansgate, is also a governor with Dudley and Margaret Mead, Letts and Alisa Flemming.

If only the Labour MP had directed Mead, Letts and the rest of Croydon’s councillors to his own father’s five questions for those who hold office:

  1. What power have you got?
  2. Where did you get it from?
  3. In whose interest do you exercise it?
  4. To whom are you accountable?
  5. How can we get rid of you?

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This entry was posted in "Hammersfield", Allders, Business, Centrale, Croydon Council, Croydon South, Dudley Mead, Education, Emily Benn, Jo Negrini, Mike Fisher, Planning, Property, Selsdon & Ballards, Steve O'Connell, Tim Pollard, Toni Letts, Tony Newman, Whitgift Centre, Whitgift Foundation and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Mead speaks out at cabinet on behalf of his “inner circle”

  1. davidcallam says:

    It is unfortunate, though inevitable, that the name Whitgift will be bandied about by everyone and anyone involved in the town centre redevelopment.
    To that extent Dudley is right: we need to distinguish between the Foundation, working for the long overdue redevelopment of Croydon town centre, and the Trust, a bunch of malcontents doing their best to stop the development to suit their own selfish ends.
    I can’t imagine why any councillor who also sits on the Whitgift Foundation wouldn’t be proud to declare the same to all and sundry. It is an entirely laudable position for any public figure.

  2. Although nothing to do with Croydon anymore I am a Trustee of two charities (president of one) and have been asked to serve on two others. Furthermore I was asked to stand in local elections.

    Many people who give time to public service are involved in more than one organisation (often with overlapping interests) and providing they declare this at the appropriate time, and act in an ethical way, then that should not be a problem. There is a shortage of capable people willing to “serve” and to unnecessarily limit those that do would be a loss to society.

    • Davids, both…

      Is that the sound of the closing of Establishment ranks, which has guaranteed the continued control of so many tiers of society by a small, self-serving clique?

      David W: Volunteering work is immensely valuable, of course. Probably more valuable that the paid work which Town Hall politicians perform. Have you never asked yourself why so many third parties seek to influence or lobby our elected representatives?

      “To unnecessarily limit” those who can work, blamelessly, in both spheres suggests that you believe that such restraint is not necessary. That is at odds with the views of modern public bodies.

      Back bench councillors probably can reconcile the demands of being a governor of a multi-million-pound landowner (which is fortunate to benefit from charitable status) at the same time as conducting their duties as an elected representative.

      But influential MPs? Leadership figures on the council? Cabinet members? And cabinet members who look after economic development or education?

      Please advise how anyone could ever possibly reconcile their public duties with such outside interests when they have signed up to a council code of conduct which makes the following demands: “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.”

  3. Matthew 22.21?

  4. “The politician doth protest too much, methinks.” Hamlet

    Which goes rather nicely with that other Hamlet quote that makes direct reference to Whitgift himself: “With witchcraft of his wit, with traitorous gifts —
    O wicked wit and gifts, that have the power
    So to seduce! ….”

    It all seems so appropriate even today!

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