Inside Croydon has discovered that Conservative councillor Gareth Streeter managed to oversee a £1,500 donation from council funds towards a group from the Oasis academy chain – the very same Oasis chain which is associated with the Oasis charity where Streeter is employed as head of corporate public relations.
Streeter is the son of Tory MP “Sir” Gary Streeter.
Streeter’s Conservative colleagues at the Town Hall have tried to defend the councillor’s actions by claiming that, “It can’t be right that an Oasis academy should not have the opportunity for funds as any other school in Shirley simply because Gareth is a ward councillor, just because it has ‘Oasis’ in the name.”
Yet this overlooks the important fact that Streeter served last year as the chair of governors for Oasis Shirley Park – likely to be among the recipients of cash from the ward budget grant made, in part, by Streeter.
Streeter, who was elected to Croydon Council for the first time last May, together with his two fellow Shirley North councillors used their ward’s community budget to hand over a generous donation to “Oasis Community Learning Cluster”.
Oasis is the country’s third largest academy chain, running 52 state schools in England and Wales. Five of them are in Croydon, including Oasis Arena Academy in South Norwood, which is currently in special measures.
According to Oasis’s own company accounts, for the financial year ended August 2018, they had income, largely from the Education Funding Agency, of £174.8million, with reserves standing at £6.7million. The Oasis group’s chief executive is paid a salary of more than £200,000.
So it might be reasonable to suggest that there may be more deserving causes within Croydon, even within Shirley North, for the councillors’ £1,500 donation.
Streeter’s generosity with public money follows the discovery by this website that one of his Croydon Conservative colleagues, Steve O’Connell, managed to make a £1,000 donation from his Kenley ward budget to a football club that is not even in the borough of Croydon.
“This is another egregious abuse of the councillor’s position, and a dubious use of the ward budget system,” a Katharine Street source told Inside Croydon today when asked about the Streeter donation.
“What’s perhaps worse here is that Streeter’s two ward colleagues were willing participants in making the grant to Oasis, because they administer their ward budgets jointly.”
Under the council’s ward budget scheme, each of the borough’s 70 elected councillors is allocated £8,000 per year for them to distribute to good, local causes within their area.
Councillors are able to make relatively modest grants for things such as the local church roof repair fund, to help pay for the Christmas lights on their ward’s high street, or for the scouts’ latest fund-raiser.
In the case of Shirley North’s three Conservative councillors, Streeter and his colleagues Sue Bennett and Richard Chatterjee, appear to have signed off jointly on a range of deserving causes during the course of the year.
That includes the donation to “Oasis Community Learning Cluster”.
“Clearly, if councillors are able to hand over Council Tax-payers’ cash to their own favourite causes, or to organisations where they have a direct interest, there needs to be some better checks and balances in place to ensure that Croydon’s money is being spent well, and being spent within the borough the wards concerned.
“In the case of O’Connell and Streeter, that does not appear to have been the case.”
Inside Croydon contacted Simon Hall, the Labour council’s cabinet member for finance who oversaw the introduction of the ward budget system, to ask what checks were in place to oversee probity in the dispensation of councillors’ funding. Hall failed to respond.
Streeter is nicknamed “Blubber” among some Town Hall colleagues for his propensity to descend into a flood of tears on the regular occasions – before last May, at least – when the politically ambitious Tory activist has been rejected by various electorates.
Inside Croydon also contacted Streeter to see whether he could justify allocating funds from his ward budgets to a cause linked to his own employers and the school at which he was chair of governors. Streeter failed to respond.
Instead, he got one of his ward colleagues, the culpable Chatterjee, to make his case for him.
“I think there is scope for a misinterpretation of a recent funding request made by Shirley North councillors,” Chatterjee said.
“Gareth does not work for Oasis Community Learning, who run the academies, but he works for a sister charity. My understanding is that Gareth does not have a position of control or benefit with Oasis Community Learning.
“We Shirley North councillors have approached all three schools in our ward and look forward to working with all of them, and funding appropriate activities.
“It can’t be right that an Oasis academy should not have the opportunity for funds as any other school in Shirley simply because Gareth is a ward councillor, just because it has ‘Oasis’ in the name.”
Chatterjee either did not know, or Streeter failed to inform him, that his fellow councillor has been a long-standing governor and chair of Oasis Shirley Park.
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