WALTER CRONXITE reveals a series of failures to declare interests by the Town Hall’s deputy leader, despite family links to a consultancy which has been handed hundreds of thousands of pounds of contracts by Croydon Council
Town Hall contracts worth almost £200,000 have been awarded over the past four years to a company which has close family ties to Alison Butler, the Labour councillor for Bensham Manor ward and deputy leader of the council.
And now that same firm, The Campaign Company, is being hired to run public consultations on behalf of Brick by Brick, the council’s wholly owned housing developer, for which Butler, as the cabinet member responsible for homes, has a direct responsibility.
Butler has not declared her close family connections to The Campaign Company.
TCC – whose corporate slogan is “Values first” – was formed in 2001 by David Evans, who was the Labour Party’s assistant general secretary from 1999, and who had responsibility for organising Tony Blair’s 2001 General Election campaign.
Evans has continued to utilise his political campaigning expertise, at least locally. He oversaw the campaign which saw Labour regain control of Croydon Town Hall at the 2014 local elections. It is widely understood that Evans’ work on Labour’s campaign was done voluntarily.
In the years prior to 2014, Croydon-based TCC never got much work from its local council, which had been under Conservative Party control from 2006.
But once Croydon Labour leader Tony Newman was back in office, with Butler at his side, that began to change.
In October 2014, an 18-month council consultation for something called the Fairness Commission was initially awarded by Croydon Council to Quadrant Consultants. Quadrant then subcontracted the £130,912 deal to The Campaign Company.
Chaired by the Bishop of Croydon, the Fairness Commission duly delivered its report, though it was late and mostly never heard of again. TCC put together the lavish-looking report, which used lots of lovely colour pictures, but had little else by way of substance.
“It had all the look of a soft contract handed to Evans in return for other ‘services rendered’,” a Katharine Street source suggests.
According to a Freedom of Information response by the council, from 2014 to 2017, Evans’ TCC picked up a further three council contracts, between them worth in total £64,370, and all for what amounted to just a few months’ work.
In the main, these contracts were awarded by council officers, under delegated authority, and so were never subject to any scrutiny at council meetings. It would seem unlikely, though, that the agreements were entered into without some knowledge of the council leadership, including Butler.
In one case, however, there is documented proof that Butler knew that council work was being placed with Evans’s company. The council report, from 2016, was “noted” by Butler in her role as cabinet member for homes, regeneration and planning. The contract was for a £16,100 to operate a pilot for the council’s housing department called “FairBnB”.
Butler never made any declaration in the councillors’ register of interests over TCC, even though Evans is the father of her daughter from a relationship in the 1990s.
Now, TCC is embarking into the business of developer consultations for Brick by Brick. This is the council-owned home-building enterprise championed by Butler, who at the 2016 Labour Party conference got plaudits for her efforts to end the housing crisis.
Since it was set up in 2015, Brick by Brick has so far managed to deliver precisely… zero homes.
Using £36.8million in loans from the council and building on public land – including green spaces between social housing, on a children’s playground and with in-fill and back-garden developments – Brick by Brick is beginning the process of developing a second tranche of sites, for hundreds more homes on top of the 1,000 already with planning permission.
Brick by Brick’s early schemes have been a PR disaster with residents across the borough. According to the company’s own figures, it is struggling to meet its target of providing even 50 per cent of the homes as “affordable”; nearly two-thirds of those in development so far, using council land and money, will be immediately going for private sale.
It has been suggested within the Croydon Labour Party that much of the unpopularity of Brick by Brick’s early schemes has been because of poorly run consultations, leaving existing residents hostile to the badly presented projects.
So now Evans’ The Campaign Company has been brought in to run public engagement over newly proposed sites.
Where this becomes a matter of integrity for the council, its councillors and their leadership is that, since July last year, TCC has included among its staff Jed Mohammed.
TCC intern Mohammed is Alison Butler’s son from another relationship.
As one widely respected Croydon Labour member said, “I like Dave, he’s a decent guy.
“But this is one hell of a conflict. Why do they think they can get away with it?”
Again, Butler has made no mention of her son working for a council contractor in the council’s register of interests.
While there is no suggestion that Butler has benefited financially, or directly, from the awarding of any of these contracts, that of itself is not necessarily the only consideration when making declarations of interest.
According to Government guidance on councillors’ conduct and their declarations of interest, it says, “Under your council’s code of conduct you must act in conformity with the Seven Principles of Public Life. One of these is the principle of integrity – that ‘Holders of public office must avoid placing themselves under any obligation to people or organisations that might try inappropriately to influence them in their work. They should not act or take decisions in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends. They must declare and resolve any interests and relationships’.”
The emphasis on that final sentence is provided by the Whitehall guide for councillors. It is significant that the guidance says that councillors must declare any interests or relationships.
Inside Croydon asked Councillor Butler (council allowances: £48,660) why she had never declared her close family links to The Campaign Company. The council’s deputy leader had failed to respond by the time of publication.
There is, of course, another alleged conflict of interest involving Butler and the council’s planning procedures, which some regard as Croydon’s own peculiar take on “family planning”.
Because it hardly matters how good, or bad, a job which Evans, Mohammed and their colleagues at The Campaign Company do with the consultations on Brick by Brick housing schemes, there seems little risk that any will be refused planning permission.
So far, of 43 applications, not a single Brick by Brick scheme has been refused consent by Croydon’s planning committee, which is chaired by Paul Scott.
And Scott (council allowances: £38,000) just happens to be married to Alison Butler, the cabinet member responsible for delivering on the Brick by Brick project. Trebles all round, as they might put it at Private Eye…
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