WALTER CRONXITE reports on how the law of unintended consequences – and the rules of the Civil Service – might just be about to catch up with Gavin Barwell’s gobby fac totum
Ho! Ho! Ho! Has Christmas come early for the people of Croydon with the news that Mario Creatura, the erstwhile Tory councillor for Coulsdon West, may be barred from speaking and voting at Town Hall meetings?
Because that’s the only reasonable conclusion that can be taken from the code of conduct for Special Advisers, or SPADs, and the over-arching Civil Service code, which Creatura is now subject following his meteoric rise to become a special adviser at No10 Downing Street, where he is reunited with his old boss, Gavin Barwell.
Creatura is the third figure from Croydon to get a job in Downing Street since Barwell was hired as Theresa May’s Chief of Staff last June, following his shattering defeat in the General Election when he lost his Croydon Central seat.
But the old Croydon double act is looking more like Dumb and Dumber than the Batman and Robin paring which Barwell sought to portray in his vanity publishing election memoir, because strict public service rules – which Barwell and Creatura have played fast and loose with in the past – do not usually allow civil servants in politically restricted roles simultaneously to hold elected office, even as self-important councillors for suburban Coulsdon.
It was this rule that saw Sara Bashford, Barwell’s former constituency office manager, resign as a councillor for Selsdon and Ballards soon after the sometime teaching assistant landed on her feet in a Cabinet Office job. Barwell’s election defeat had made Bashford unemployed.
Uncertainty over his own status possibly explains Creatura’s initial coyness about announcing to the world his departure from his job for a brewer and his appointment as Theresa May’s tweeter-in-chief.
For a week after he was outed by The Times as the latest example of an egregious old pals’ act operated in Downing Street by Barwell, Creatura avoided mentioning his appointment, even when engaged by Coulsdon residents about his new job.
“I’m going nowhere,” Creatura tweeted, presumably while sitting on a stationary Southern Rail service out of East Croydon.
The official register of councillors’ interests has been no assistance in holding Creatura to account: the council’s online document, which is supposed to be updated at least once every three months, has not been amended since June. Creatura is understood to have left his job at Heineken in October (was he perhaps on three months’ notice?). Croydon’s Borough Solicitor has so far failed to offer an explanation for the failure to keep the official record up to date.
But by yesterday, Creatura could contain himself no longer and his Linked In Profile “reveals” the horrible truth. “Special Adviser at 10 Downing Street”. Barwell, now Theresa May’s bag-carrier, has got his own bag-carrier back.
For Creatura, his No10 role is almost a legitimisation of the political lobbying he was doing when being paid a public salary to look after the interests of Croydon constituents. Back in 2013, Barwell took a scolding from the compliance officer for IPSA, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, about “the future use of social media by his staff” following complaints that Creatura was spending long hours sending out party political tweets during the working day, when he was funded by the taxpayer.
Now, he can whizz off political tweets all day long to Theresa May’s 400,000 followers, and all paid for by the tax-payer.
But that’s where Civil Service conduct rules for special advisers come in to play for Creatura’s own political activities at Croydon Town Hall.
According to paragraph 19 of the code, as a SPAD, Creatura does not have to resign as a Conservative councillor. “With the approval of their Minister, special advisers may undertake, or continue to undertake, all forms of local political activity. They must comply with any conditions laid down by their Minister or the Prime Minister.” Seems clear enough.
Para 20 is where it gets interesting.
“If special advisers take part in local political activities, they must at all times observe discretion, take care to express comment with moderation and avoid personal attacks.” Creatura might struggle with that.
“In particular, if they serve on a local authority they must adhere to the following points… they should not speak publicly or in the Council, or vote, on matters for which their Minister has direct responsibility.”
And Creatura is employed at No10, where his minister is the Prime Minister (at a pinch, it might be the Cabinet Office Minister), who has responsibility for… everything in Government.
That strongly suggests that Not-So-Super Mario would not be able to speak or vote in the Town Hall on any Government matters. It might also make his role as Croydon Tories’ chief whip (worth an extra £6,747 a year in council allowances on top of the basic £11,239) a tad tricky, too. Dumb and dumber.
With a councillor unable to speak or vote on their behalf at the Town Hall, and with a full-time job in Downing Street, why would anyone want him as their councillor?
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