Sports and community groups in south London have expressed concerns that Dame Tessa Jowell has been hired by a company founded by Mrs Thatcher’s former spin doctor, and which has strong connections to backers of the controversial Garden Bridge project and has advocated the demolition of athletics facilities at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre.Jowell, who is 67, retired from Parliament in May. When she was still the MP for Dulwich and West Norwood, the former Olympics Minister was one of the most senior voices to speak out against the Tory Mayor of London’s plans to bulldoze the National Sports Centre.
But now Jowell has been appointed as the non-executive chair of a company owned by Chime Communications. It was another Chime subsidiary, CSM Strategic, which conducted the heavily criticised Crystal Palace NSC consultation on behalf of London Mayor Boris Johnson.
Jowell’s appointment as executive chair at Chime Specialist was announced earlier this month. The company is a subsidiary of Chime, the global communications and sports marketing firm which was founded by Tim Bell, the former PR adviser to Thatcher.
CSM Strategic’s executive chairman is Sebastian Coe. Lord Coe chaired the London Olympic organising committee. Chime subsidiaries were among the companies which bid for, and won, contracts around the staging of the London Olympics.
Jowell is the leading contender to be the Labour party’s candidate to stand for London Mayor next year. She has the backing of Lambeth South/Croydon North MP, Steve Reed OBE, and her campaign team includes some of the staff who worked on Sarah Jones’s failed attempt to win Croydon Central for Labour at the General Election.
When Jowell’s new job was announced, a Chime statement said, “The role as executive chairman of the Chime Specialist Group will be entirely separate of any activity relating to the Mayor of London 2016 candidacy.”
But according to a report in The Grauniad this week, at the time of her appointment, Jowell had already accepted a generous £10,000 donation for her Mayoral campaign from her former government colleague, Mervyn Davies. Davies just happens to be the chairman of Chime Communications.
The lobbying transparency group, Spinwatch, has described Jowell’s appointment to Chime Specialist as “inappropriate”.
The Guardian quoted Spinwatch director Tamasin Cave as saying, “The job, on the back of a large donation, underlines the closeness of Jowell’s ties with Chime. I don’t begrudge her a job, but the relationship clearly has the potential to benefit Chime and its clients.
“It also inevitably leads to speculation about whether she shares the views of Chime’s chair, Mervyn Davies. As well as being a City figure and champion of the financial sector, Davies has recently lobbied for large infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail 2, and the proposed, privately owned Garden Bridge.
“Is his assessment of the needs of London shared by the vast majority of Londoners? Probably not,” Cave told the newspaper.
A spokesperson for Jowell told PR Week: “Her contract with Chime is paid employment on a very limited and part-time basis.”
Community groups in Crystal Palace are not reassured by this, and fear that an influential figure who had previously supported their interests may now adopt a different position.
Just over six months ago, when still an MP, Jowell wrote to City Hall to protest at the way CSM Strategic had handled the consultation for the National Sports Centre.
All four of the options in the CSM-managed consultation involved the demolition of what Jowell then described as the “iconic” sports centre and athletics facilities, including an indoor training area included in post-2012 Olympic Legacy plans for sport in south London which had been drawn up when she was Olympics Minister.
“There is widespread concern over data used to inform the options,” Jowell wrote last November.
“It is, in my view, absolutely critical that the integrity of Crystal Palace Sports Centre, which is both iconic and continues to be used by many community groups in the area, is maintained, and that means retaining the running track but most particularly retaining a warm-up track which, were it to be removed, would significantly limit the sort of events and activities that could take place at the centre.”
Read the full text of Tessa Jowell’s letter of complaint about the CSM-run consultation here: Tessa Jowell Palace submission
“The chances are that the long-term future of the National Sports Centre, Crystal Palace Park, the proposed free school and the top site will be on the new Mayor of London’s desk on their first day in the job next May,” one community activist told Inside Croydon.
“Tessa was very supportive of our position before. But we’re beginning to worry that ‘Olympic Legacy’ might be taking on an entirely different meaning.”It is not the first time that Jowell’s family has attracted controversy over outside business interests.
In 2006, when Jowell was Culture Secretary in Tony Blair’s Government, her husband, David Mills, faced court action in Italy, charged with accepting a £430,000 bribe from the former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. Mills was Berlusconi’s tax adviser and lawyer for more than 20 years; his conviction came to a head at the height of the “bunga bunga” scandal, when Berlusconi’s sex parties were exposed.
Jowell and Mills separated at that time, but have since reconciled.
Mills’s conviction was quashed in 2010 when the Italian Supreme Court ruled that too much time had elapsed under the country’s statute of limitations. But a civil court order imposed on Mills for “bringing the office of prime minister into disrepute” remained in force.
According to a report in the Mail on Sunday, “… Mills has still not paid this €250,000 penalty and … Italy’s government is considering legal action to recover it”.
Which might explain why Jowell has been busy setting herself up with a tidy, part-time second job with Chime.
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