Steve O’Connell, the very well-paid London Assembly Member for Croydon and Sutton, clearly has no belief in the old adage that “There’s no such thing as a free lunch”.
The elected representative is the star turn at a local business forum’s event at Croydon’s Hilton Hotel next month, where tickets cost a mere £68. The food better be good, because the company…
The “Executive Club Lunch” organised by the Croydon Chamber of Commerce offers as their guest O’Connell who, they say, has “a wealth of experience and connections in Croydon”. The implication of buying influence seems pretty clear.
Stressing that O’Connell sits on the Greater London Assembly, the organisers say that their Executive Club Lunch provides an opportunity to hear the Conservative AM’s “views, priorities for Croydon and Sutton and working with the new Mayor of London”. Members of the local Chamber of Commerce can get their lunch tickets for a mere £44 (including business deductible VAT, of course).
Yet access to the AM, who is also a councillor for Kenley ward, should be available to all residents for nothing more than the cost of sending an email or making a phone call to his office.
O’Connell, a mortgage salesman before he became a full-time local politician, trousers £17,986 in councillor allowances from Croydon, despite having had one of the worst attendance records for official meetings at the Town Hall.
As an Assembly Member, O’Connell also receives a salary of £55,161 per year from City Hall.
That total of £73,000 per year for being a local representative is a big drop in income since the heady days of 2011, when he was receiving £118,000 from various public bodies, enabling O’Connell to be decried by the Daily Mail as “Britain’s most over-paid local councillor”.
“I’m worth it,” Tory O’Connell maintained then, a tad arrogantly.
O’Connell, who was first elected to City Hall in 2008 and was re-elected last May, has declared only a couple of “free lunches” in his time as an AM over the past few years, although he happily accepts plenty of free tickets to watch Crystal Palace play football.
Among other gifts that O’Connell has accepted in the past were match tickets to see Croydon Athletic, given to him by the club’s then owner, Mazhar Majeed, who in unconnected events was subsequently jailed for his part in the Pakistan-England cricket Test match fixing scandal. Majeed either particularly enjoyed O’Connell’s company, or, perhaps as a property developer, possibly thought that the AM might be able to assist his business.
On this occasion, there’s no suggestion that O’Connell is being paid for attending the Chamber of Commerce lunch, although he may need to declare his meal as a “pecuniary interest” under City Hall’s strict Code of Conduct.
But some smaller local businesses, too busy to take time out of the working week to spend hours smooching over chilled Chablis off the Purley Way, are angry at the manner in which the Tory Assembly Member has allowed his potential influence in the corridors of power to be hawked around.
With so much development going on in Croydon, multi-national firms are eager to find whatever advantage they can through connections with those in positions of influence. And they have hefty budgets to help them do so.
But that’s not the case for many of Croydon’s hard-working businesses. “I can’t afford to pay nearly 70 quid for lunch for the chance to meet Steve O’Connell,” said one Croydon trader angered by the Chamber of Commerce’s use of the Assembly Member as a guest.
“We’re a small firm, working all hours, and we can’t shell out a spare £300 for membership of the Chamber of Commerce, either.
“Our representatives are elected to serve all the people, not just those who can afford to buy influence. We have massive issues with the way our business is being treated by the local council, but we struggle to get heard.
“And then we see something like this Chamber of Commerce lunch – it all smacks of the old boys’ network. It’s not what you know, nor how hard you work – it’s who you know that’s important. It seems almost Masonic.”
Anyone wishing to lobby Steve O’Connell as their London Assembly Member, and for much less than £68 (including VAT), can email him at steve.o’email@example.com, or phone his office at City Hall on 020 7983 4405.
And please do let us know how you get on: Inside Croydon is fascinated to find out whether Steve O’Connell really is “worth it”. Our email address is below…
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