The combined cost of the council staff’s jaunt to the cocktails and sandals “junket” is £16,963.82. Most, if not all, will be paid by Croydon Council Tax-payers.
Croydon Council has belatedly responded to a Freedom of Information request from Inside Croydon about participation at MIPIM, the four-day property conference staged in Cannes, which begins tomorrow.
The Labour-run council’s £185,000 per year chief executive, Jo Negrini, is off to spend a couple of days by the Med again, accompanied by Shifa Mustafa, the council’s “executive director – place” (who’s on a cushty £150,000 per year), and Heather Cheesbrough, the director of “planning and strategic transport”, who’s also on a generous salary.
Alongside them will be Colm Lacey, who, too, gets a six-figure council salary as a director of development in Croydon, but who is attending MIPIM in his moonlighting role as managing director of Brick by Brick, the council’s wholly owned house-builder.
According to the break down of costs provided in the FoI response, the council is spending £1,637.53 on flights for the three council staff, £1,401.00 on AirBnB accommodation and a whopping £11,450 on conference passes.
In addition, Lacey’s flights are costing £753.18, his accommodation (also AirBnB) £272.11, and his MIPIM pass £1,450.
None of this includes the “consultancy fees” and other bills and expenses which may be accrued during the “booze and hookerfest”, where Croydon’s C15 stand will also be the base for agencies including 3Fox International and 31Ten, while another consultancy, Grey Label, will be rushing around organising booze on the beach events and brunches on behalf of the business lobby group, Develop Croydon.
In the last 12 months, 31Ten was paid at least £188,000 of public money for work for the council and Brick by Brick. 31Ten have been hired by Brick by Brick to find overseas investors in developing council-owned land for 2,500 new housing units.
The decision to spend council money and attend the MIPIM conference was made by… Negrini and Mustafa, after, according to the council’s FoI response, consultation with cabinet members.
There were no officers’ reports produced to justify the spending. “The decision was taken in line with the Council’s scheme of delegation which allows officers to make decisions,” the council said. So this report is probably the first that the vast majority of Croydon’s 70 elected councillors will have discovered how much Australian-born Negrini is spending this time around.
According to the council’s FoI response, even by Friday, “The programme of meetings is yet to be finalised. The chief executive (and other officers who attend MIPIM) are likely to hold discussions with commercial organisations to explore mutually beneficial development opportunities for the borough of Croydon.”
But despite spending tens of thousands of pounds to send the borough’s best-paid employee to Cannes to discuss the sell-off of public property to international speculators, the council refuses to divulge any details of who Negrini expects to meet on behalf of the borough’s residents.
“The council considers that details of these discussions if and when are likely to be exempt under the exemptions provided for within FoIA, in particular Sections 41 (Information Provided in Confidence) and Section 43 of the Freedon of Information Act (Commercial Interests),” they said.
The council FoI response used the same “commercial sensitivity” cop out for Lacey’s diary of meetings, although the fact that the council provided any answers about the activities of Brick by Brick at all came as something of a surprise, since the housing developer, while wholly owned by Croydon Council, is supposed to be a private company. Perhaps it’s not quite as separate as the council likes to pretend?
Curiously, the council response also claimed that there will be no agencies at MIPIM working on behalf of Croydon. This contradicts MIPIM’s own conference information, which clearly shows that 3Fox International and Grey Label are on the same C15 stand as Croydon Council, and 31Ten – another C15 co-habitee – say that they are there “highlighting significant opportunities with the following councils: – Croydon Council, Brick by Brick (Croydon) Limited…”.
Despite past requests to demonstrate how attendance at MIPIM has ever benefited anything other than the sun tans of Negrini and her colleagues, the council has always ducked behind the “commercial confidentiality” excuse for not answering a simple question.
They claim that, “The council is seeking to promote investment and awareness of development sites which will help to promote development activity which will create new employment, homes and income for the borough.
“Post-Brexit, it is more important than ever that the council explains, celebrates and promotes the successful development of the borough thus far, and presents the borough as a place of ongoing opportunity for investors.”
Yep. All that “ongoing opportunity” for the Russian oligarchs, Qatari royals and Hong Kong property speculators who frequent the champagne-soaked junket.
Yet while Negrini and her crew continue to splash the (public) cash on their now annual spring jaunt to the Mediterranean, other organisations are beginning to question the morality of the whole thing. Even bankers have more qualms than Negrini and Croydon Council.
Last week, Royal Bank of Scotland and its private wealth division, Coutts, pulled out of MIPIM.
Following the President’s Club scandal, RBS is concerned at the reputational damage they might suffer from attending MIPIM, which has also been mired in allegations of sexism, drunkenness and prostitution.
Unlike Negrini’s Croydon Council, RBS has reviewed spending on overseas conferences.
A bank spokesman said: “Following a reassessment of attendance, the bank has taken the decision that we will not attend MIPIM.”
Which will be a bit of a blow for Negrini’s networking plans (if she has any), since RBS is the biggest real estate lender in the country.
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