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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- What power have you got?
- Where did you get it from?
- In whose interest do you exercise it?
- To whom are you accountable?
- How can we get rid of you?
- To read last night’s council report on the “Strategic Metropolitan Centre”, click here: Town Centre update report
Coming to Croydon
- 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
- Croydon 10km road race, Oct 19
- 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
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