WALTER CRONXITE, our political editor, on the nexus of connections between a senior Town Hall figure, an ex-councillor’s charity and local Tories
It almost looks like she’s getting the old gang together again.
There today, in the official records of Companies House, is Alison Butler’s name, listed as a director of something called Fat Beehive Foundation. Also on the directors’ list is Mark Watson, the erstwhile Croydon Labour councillor.
Fat Beehive is a relatively newly registered company, having been formed in 2018. The official records show us that Butler was added as a director at the end of October last year. Under “Occupation”, Butler lists “Deputy Leader Croydon Council”.
Today, three months later, and there is still no official declaration of interest of that directorship listed on Butler’s councillor profile on the council website – as is required by law.
It is not the first time that Butler has, perhaps conveniently, overlooked her legal responsibilities in so far as her declarations of interest are concerned.
Back in 2018 her son, Jed Mohammed, landed himself a cushty little trainee job at a Croydon-based PR company, The Campaign Company. TCC is run by David Evans, a former senior adviser to Tony Blair, and the father of Alison Butler’s daughter.
In the first four years of the Labour administration at Croydon Town Hall in which Butler is a leading figure, TCC was handed public-funded contracts totalling £200,000. And when Jed Mohammed was working at TCC, they were also commissioned to work for Brick by Brick.
As the council’s wholly-owned in-house house-builder, Brick by Brick comes under the supervision of Alison Butler, the council’s cabinet member responsible for housing.
Butler has never made any declarations of interest about her son Mohammed working at TCC, nor TCC and Evans’ extensive range of work for Croydon Council and Brick by Brick.
And TCC continues to get regular contracts from Croydon Council.
Only last week, at the first “Citizens’ Assembly” – a charade only likely to generate more hot air than do anything about the climate emergency – there at the front of the room, alongside council leader Tony Newman, was TCC’s David Evans once more, his company benefiting from yet another five-figure lump of council largesse.
And still Butler has never made any declaration of interest in respect of TCC.
Within days of Butler having joined the board of directors of Fat Beehive Foundation, it was also registered as a charity. Butler, Watson and the six other company directors are all listed as trustees of the charity.
Watson has made a career out of working in the charity sector (he remains, for instance, a board member of Croydon Pride). In 2018, he stood down as a councillor when it was apparent that he would not gain sufficient support from Labour members in Addiscombe to be re-selected, because of anger over his role in the disastrous handling of the one-way traffic schemes near his home on Lebanon Road.
Denied his £40,000-plus Croydon allowances as a cabinet member – it was Watson who mishandled the £1.2million refurbishment of Surrey Street market – he now holds a senior position at Fat Beehive, whose business is in the design of websites for charities.
According to the Charity Commission, the Fat Beehive Foundation, based at an address in Lant Street, SE1, exists to “promote the efficiency and effectiveness of charities and voluntary organisation in the voluntary sector for the public benefit in particular…”, clear so far?, “but not exclusively, by providing grants relating to their use of information technology.”
So it might be a bit of a worry to discover that if you click on the link Watson has provided to the Charity Commission for Fat Beehive Foundation’s website: it doesn’t currently have a functioning website…
Fat Beehive Foundation is so new, it has yet to provide any accounts or records of its financial activity.
Intriguing for avid Croydon-watchers is the identity of one of the other directors and trustees of the Fat Beehive Foundation. Because listed alongside Butler and Watson is the name of Ahzaz Chowdhury.
This could prove embarrassing for Watson and Butler, two of the paragons of Croydon’s Blairites, who probably wouldn’t want people to realise that their fellow Fat Beehive board member runs the Croydon-based PR company the Nudge Factory, established by Tory MP Paul Scully.
Scully stood down as a company director of the Nudge Factory shortly after he was elected to parliament as the Conservative MP for Sutton and Cheam in 2017. But his colleague Chowdhury continues to run the company, alongside his fellow director Emma Scully, the wife of the MP.
Nudge Factory has some interesting clients – such as the land-owners in Love Lane who spent much of last year fencing in and destroying parts of a community garden.
Paul Scott, Butler’s current husband, claimed that it would be impossible for the council to carry out a Compulsory Purchase Order – at a cost of less than £150,000 – on the Love Lane garden, to turn it over to the community who had so lovingly restored it into use over the previous five years or so. No explanation has ever been offered why that would be so difficult.
And while other Labour councillors, including Newman, stood by impotently, doing nothing to protect the green space, Chowdhury at Nudge Factory was providing briefings on the situation to Mario Creatura, then the prospective Conservative candidate for Croydon Central. Nice.
Of course, the idea of an open and transparent council requires all councillors to abide by the legal obligations and make full and open declarations of interest, something Alison Butler apparently struggles to do.
We asked the council’s deputy leader to offer some explanation for this latest oversight. After all, it’s not as if Croydon Council’s website is maintained to the sort of levels professionalism you might expect from, say… Mark Watson. It could be something as innocent as an administrative oversight.
Inside Croydon approached Butler to seek her explanation for this apparent oversight, or latest breach of the law. As she failed to respond, we will just have to let the borough’s residents draw their own conclusions.
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