There’s “some serious consternation”, according to sources at Sutton Council, being shown by the borough’s executive head of governance, Jessica Crowe, over the description of MIPIM, the international property show in the South of France next week, as a “booze and hooker fest”.
Crowe happens to be the partner of Jules Pipe, who is London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s deputy for housing; Pipe is due to attend the four-day property speculators’ beano.
Also mixing it alongside the billionaires’ super yachts moored in the harbour and east European oligarchs wandering along the promenade with their body guards, will be Crowe’s council boss, Sutton chief executive Niall Bolger.
As Sutton’s arbiter of council conduct, it’s unclear what is worrying Crowe more: the possibility of her partner giving new meaning to the expression “faire une Pipe” while living it up on the Cote d’Azur, or the fact that Sutton’s first visit to this festival of Mammon is being sponsored by several businesses who have recently benefited from being granted planning permission by her council or who have applications outstanding.
A Croydon-based PR agency, 3Fox International, raised £30,000 for Bolger and two Sutton council executives to make their borough’s debut at MIPIM. The cash was stumped up by “MIPIM partners” Mizen and by Barratt’s London.
Coincidentally, local developer Mizen has recently been seeking planning permission from Sutton to demolish a conveniently de-listed high street pub and build a seven-storey block of flats in its place.
Barratt’s London, meanwhile, is the division of the country’s biggest house-builders which has for the past six months been under a Met investigation over bribery allegations involving its managing director.
That may not have any connection to Barratt’s large-scale house-building projects in Sutton (the police aren’t saying what deals have been subject to their scrutiny), though the council is very keen on faire-ing some pipework with the house-builders, with Barratt’s Felnex development becoming the main customer for Sutton’s heat network scheme, linked to the controversial £1billion waste incinerator it is having built at Beddington.
Again, Sutton’s LibDem-run council would have residents believe that all this is just pure coincidence, and that Barratt’s have forked out for Bolger’s Cannes trip out of some recently discovered sense of altruism.
It’s not as if Bolger, who has been hobbling around the Sutton Council offices on crutches, needs the inconvenience of travelling all the way to the south of France to have meetings with Barratt’s London or with City Hall’s Jules Pipe.
South African-born Pipe, a former elected mayor of Hackney, last week demonstrated that the costly exercise of London local authorities going to the piss-up by the Med is a complete waste of money when he travelled to south London for the Mayor’s Question Time and then spent the evening seated next to Ruth Dombey, the Sutton council leader. And all for the price of an Oyster card top-up.
Even if Sutton’s 30 grand trip is the average outlay on behalf of a London council, it means that local government in the capital will be spending the thick end of £1million next week for the privilege of pimping out public property in Cannes. You’d think that as the deputy mayor for housing, Pipe might serve the interests of Londoners by having City Hall put on a networking event for the boroughs and house-builders, rather than their traipsing off to MIPIM each March.
Nevertheless, Sutton official Crowe’s sensitivities about the subject were on display at this week’s council meeting, when questions about why it costs £30,000 for three council staff to spend four days in the South of France, and what Sutton’s “MIPIM partners” might expect in return for their largesse, were all blocked by Dombey loyalist Richard “Bernie” Clifton.
As mayor, Clifton chairs council meetings, and his LibDem bias was on full display when he stopped a resident, Helen John, from asking questions about the £30,000 MIPIM fund.
Clifton’s manner towards the Council Tax-payer was so brusque and rude that the following day Bolger was forced into writing a grovelling letter of apology on behalf of the council to John. Apparently, Councillor Clifton refused to do so himself.
John, and the rest of Sutton’s ratepayers, still have not got any answers to her questions about Sutton’s MIPIM jolly.
Sutton officials maintain that they have to go to Cannes to be plied with drink by property speculators eager to get their hands on public property just to keep pace with the “big boys” of local government – the likes of Lambeth and Southwark, with their social cleansing schemes of council estates, and even neighbouring Croydon.
In some respects, though, Sutton is already out-performing other local authorities, because their MIPIM jaunt has got the council featured once again in Private Eye‘s Rotten Boroughs section.
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