It’s official: The position of a Sutton councillor on a panel to distribute £1million-worth of “hush money” from incinerator operator Viridor does hold inherent conflicts of interest.
That’s the view of Jessica Crowe, one of Sutton Council’s most senior public servants.
Crowe’s advice contradicts entirely the public position originally aired by the council, and ought to cause further extreme embarrassment for the usually shameless LibDems who control Sutton Council.
Pathumal Ali is a Liberal Democrat councillor for Beddington North ward who was recently promoted to chair Sutton Council’s influential scrutiny committee.
Last month, Inside Croydon was the first to report how Ali announced her “great pleasure” at being part of Viridor’s “Community Benefit Fund”, which will be (slowly) doling out £975,000 to causes in Sutton, Croydon, Kingston and Merton, the boroughs which form the South London Waste Partnership and which commissioned the incinerator.
The Beddington Lane area which Ali represents will have to endure nearly 700 HGV journeys every day once Viridor has its incinerator operating, the lorries trundling backwards and forwards to keep the furnaces fuelled with millions of tons of rubbish.
Meanwhile, Viridor stands to receive a total of £1 billion in payments from Croydon and the three other boroughs over a 25-year period for operating the incinerator. So the £1million “community” fund – to be distributed over the same period – is small change as part of a cynical PR exercise in a built-up, residential area where air pollution is already bad.
Crowe’s advice ought to prompt Ali into an immediate resignation, either from the role as scrutiny committee chair, or from the Viridor hush money panel.
For most people, that would be the reasonable thing to do. But Ali appears not to understand the concept of “being like Caesar’s wife”. She says that she has no intention of resigning from either position, and will instead just to recluse herself from any scrutiny discussions which might involve Viridor or decisions she took part in.
There’s a sense, though, that even Sutton Council officials, who have long tolerated the FibDems’ attitude to public interest, are running out of patience.
In what she thought was a confidential email (Ha!), Crowe, the executive head of governance at Sutton Council, was unequivocal.
“Members should not scrutinise decisions that they have made in another capacity,” Crowe wrote.
“So if there was a specific scrutiny review of the activities of the community benefit funding panel, that would be a conflict of interest and Cllr Ali would need to declare that and not take part in that review.
“More generally, if there were discussions at scrutiny about waste and recycling, or Viridor, or Beddington development policy, there might be a case for Cllr Ali to declare her role and depending on the detail of the discussions she might want to declare and withdraw from that discussion.”
Given that Viridor is currently constructing the largest civil engineering project in the history of Sutton, and that their incinerator will be burning rubbish for the next quarter of a century, Ali could find herself attending very few scrutiny committee sessions if she were to continue to do Viridor’s bidding on its hush fund panel.
For her part, Ali maintains that she objects to the incinerator, although the corporate influence of Viridor sees her referring to it as an “ERF” – the sleight of speech which laughably seeks to describe the industrial-scale furnace as an energy recovery facility.
Ali claims that being on Viridor’s panel “will ensure transparency and openness”.
Yep. Seriously. In Sutton.
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