CROYDON IN CRISIS: West Thornton councillor Stuart King says he intends to continue with his cabinet tasks overseeing potentially hundreds of millions of pounds of council assets. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
Stuart King, the deputy leader of the Labour-run council, has landed himself a job in public relations, working for a developers’ lobbying firm. But he says that he intends to continue serving Croydon by working on his cabinet brief, which includes the cash-strapped council’s asset disposals, its capital programme and Growth Zone.
King, a former Labour parliamentary candidate, has been a councillor for West Thornton ward since 2014. He is generally regarded by Town Hall colleagues from both sides of the Croydon political duopoly as one of the less incompetent councillors from the group that bankrupted the borough.
In October last year, just days before the council issued a Section 114 notice to declare itself effectively bankrupt, King was chosen by fellow Labour councillors to become Hamida Ali’s deputy leader at the crisis-hit council.
Amid all the Town Hall turmoil, King was also affected by the covid-19 pandemic, and in November 2020 was made redundant from his day job at the Dods Group, where he had worked since 2006.
With a young family living in South Croydon to support, King joined the Terrapin PR group in April of this year as a senior account director.
As the law currently stands, having an elected councillor working for lobbyists is all entirely possible and allowed.
It’s just that it presents those involved with what one Katharine Street source described today as “a really challenging juggling act”, between their public position and the interests of their employers and their clients.
In King’s case, he made all the necessary declarations to the council immediately after he was hired. What King did not do is share the news of his good fortune with all his council colleagues. Even some members of the ruling Labour group at the Town Hall had no idea that Councillor King had a new job.
Today, King told Inside Croydon, “My employment with Terrapin has been registered in accordance with council and local government regulations. I have no involvement in any work undertaken on behalf of Terrapin’s clients in Croydon. This is something specifically written into my contract of employment with Terrapin.
“I discussed my new role with the council’s Monitoring Officer and agreed that were any potential conflicts of interest to arise I would seek advice from her and recuse myself from involvement in any decision-making process if that were advised.”
A source close to King said, “Stuart regards his personal integrity as a matter of utmost importance.” According to the council’s website, there is no record of King accepting a single gift, ticket or any form of hospitality during his last three years as a Croydon councillor.
But King does serve at a local authority where the councillor in charge of planning, Paul Scott, a director at a firm of architects, was allowed a special dispensation that meant he never had to declare an interest over planning applications for six years.
Given the potentially conflicting demands of King’s wide-ranging council cabinet brief, where he is in charge of “Croydon renewal”, and the interests of Terrapin’s profit-hungry development clients, it is clear that his integrity could be sorely tested.
On its website, Terrapin lists among their clients more than 40 major players in the development business, most of them seeking sites, planning advice and new openings and opportunities for mega-profits.
On Croydon Council’s website, the various aspects of King’s “Croydon renewal” cabinet brief are listed as including asset management, as well as the capital programme, something described as “corporate improvement and financial recovery”, the thorny issues of Council Tax and business rates, plus “Transformation” and the council’s moribund Growth Zone.
According to King today, he may have to exclude himself from any council negotiations on matters relating to his cabinet portfolio when Croydon officials meet some of the biggest property developers in London.
“With the best will in the world,” a Katharine Street source said today, “that does not seem credible.” They added, “And then there’s Stuart’s new boss, Bingle.”
The Terrapin Group was formed in 2012 by Peter Bingle. The company has been involved in lobbying on behalf of major developers – including the likes of Lendlease, Barratts, Pocket and Delancey – over some of the most controversial estate redevelopments and “social cleansing” programmes ever witnessed in south London.
On its website, the Terrapin Group describes how they operate: “Public affairs is an art form. In a post-Brexit world, a public affairs practitioner has to combine a penetrating insight into how the political system really works with a deep and wide network of key decision-makers and opinion formers.
“The objective is clear – to deliver added value and a competitive advantage for our clients.”
And they also say that they are a “market leader working in the arena of politics, property and development…
“We love helping our clients to succeed.”
Read more: The man from ‘the PR firm for despots and rogues’
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Nice article. I do sympathise that we want our politicians to be in touch people with real jobs rather than career politicians, people who work to support their families rather than relying on privileged backgrounds; but that is often going to come with some conflicts for skilled people in industries which are often surprisingly small and well-connected.
I eagerly await the IC comments section to confidently inform me of the solution!