More Tory sleaze, after a complaint from an iC reader leads to a finding that the politician broke the rules over his business declarations… and his Lordship isn’t saying whether his ‘leave of absence’ is in connection with something far more serious. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
“Lord” Gavin Barwell, the former Chief of Staff to Theresa May when she was Prime Minister, has taken indefinite leave of absence from the House of Lords, just as he has been found in breach of the House’s code of conduct for not registering clients to his personal consultancy business.
The investigation into Lord Barwell’s conduct came after a complaint was filed in November last year by Anthony Miller, an Inside Croydon reader, who told this website, “I found it odd that one can find out more from Lord Gavin’s Twitter feed about who he works for than you can from the Lords Register of Members interests.”
Barwell was the Tory MP for Croydon Central from 2010 until 2017. He was ennobled in Theresa May’s resignation honours in 2019 as Baron Barwell, of Croydon in the London Borough of Croydon. Which is nice.
Since May was ushered out of No10 Downing Street by Boris Johnson and his band of Brexiteers, Barwell has done much to distance himself from his party colleagues. In the chaos created by the Tories last year, Barwell even declared himself to be “politically homeless”.
He now appears to be politically jobless, too.
His leave of absence – which Barwell is taking without offering any explanation as to why – gets him off the hook as far as the Standards Commissioner is concerned. After updating his declarations while the investigation was on-going, his declarations page was erased last week, when he began his leave of absence.
He won’t be much missed in the Houses of Parliament. Official records show that he last voted in the House of Lords more than a year ago. He last spoke in the chamber at the House of Lords in November 2020.
By taking a leave of absence, Barwell is now free to carry on lobbying for the wide collection of business interests he has accumulated, most of which are in the housing sector, including the severely maladministered Clarion Housing Association, where he is a political adviser.
Before Barwell zapped his parliamentary declarations page, the official record showed that he held directorships in “Gavin Barwell Consulting Limited (provides advice on current affairs and UK public policy specialising on housing)”, and as a non-executive director for Clarion Housing Group and Clarion Futures.
He had received “remunerated employment, office, profession etc” as a member of the Public Policy Panel for the British Venture Capital Association and for a speaking engagement in May 2022 at “Social Enterprise UK, Birmingham”.
He listed himself as a “person with significant control of a company” at Gavin Barwell Consulting Limited (“provides advice on current affairs and UK public policy specialising on housing”), where he also has significant shareholdings.
Companies House records show that GBCL has just one director, Gavin Laurence Barwell, and that he holds 75per cent or more of the company’s shares. According to the latest published set of accounts (to October 31, 2021) for Gavin Barwell Consulting Ltd, registered at Eagle House on Cranleigh Close in Sanderstead, his Lordship’s business had net assets of £237,730. That was up £210,000 on the previous year.
In Lord Barwell’s parliamentary declarations, before he did a bunk and erased them, he also listed under “non-financial interests” that he is a member of the advisory board of The Work Foundation (which he helpfully described as a “think-tank”) and vice president of London Councils. He was also listed as a trustee of The Barratt Developments PLC Charitable Foundation. House builders. And charity…
Those belatedly updated declarations, though, appear to be only the start of it.
As Miller said, there was much more detail on Barwell’s Twitter profile, where he appears to tout for business by boasting that he is an “adviser” to PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the Big Four accountancy firms, as well as multi-national law firm DLA Piper, at Arcadis, the Dutch-owned engineering consultants (who even have an office in Croydon), plus Canopius, a global reinsurance firm, Community Fibre and… drum roll… house-builders Barratt Plc. None of which ever got a look in on his parliamentary page.
In the nine-page report from the Standards Commissioner, it notes that the complaint about Lord Barwell’s conduct was that as he was “the sole director, employee, and shareholder of ‘Gavin Barwell Consulting Limited’ it was therefore a personal service company. Accordingly, as Lord Barwell had not registered its clients, he was in breach of the House of Lords Code of Conduct.”
Barwell did his best to squirm out of the complaint. “I am the sole director of GBCL,” he wrote to the Commissioner last month, “but I am not the sole employee or shareholder.
“However, given that:
a) the other employee provides administrative support rather than
services to clients; and
b) the other shareholders are members of my family
“I think GBCL meets the spirit of the definition… even if not the precise letter (I am the largest shareholder, but not the “sole or main” one if “main” means “majority”).”
The day before he’d sent his feeble defence, Barwell had prepared his exit strategy, writing to the Clerk of the Parliaments on January 12 to request leave of absence.
As the report states, “This request was granted by the House on 13 January and took effect on 1 February. As a result, under paragraph 5 of the Code of Conduct, Lord Barwell is no longer required to register his interests for the duration of his time on leave of absence.”
Throughout his career as an MP, Barwell had ducked and dived his way through the parliamentary rule book, getting off lightly with a string of complaints over his fast-and-loose attitudes to the House of Commons.
And it looks like he’s gone and done it again.
In his findings, the Standards Commissioner let Barwell off with a stern bit of finger-wagging. “I conclude that as ‘Gavin Barwell Consulting Limited’ is a personal service company, Lord Barwell should have registered all its clients.
“As it is the responsibility of members to ensure that their entries in the Register of Interests are correct and up to date, Lord Barwell is therefore in breach of paragraph 12 of the Code of Conduct…
“I do not believe that Lord Barwell was seeking to avoid disclosing his clients. This is evidenced by his decision to publicise the clients in question on his Twitter profile. However, making this information available through social media is no substitute for complying with the Code of Conduct’s registration requirements.
“I also note that this is Lord Barwell’s first breach of the Code of Conduct.”
Barwell, who well-deserved his nickname of “Gaffe-prone Gav” during his parliamentary career, got off with writing a snivelling, obsequious two-paragraph letter of apology to Baroness Manningham-Buller, the chair of the conduct committee.
“I feel very strongly about the importance of transparency in public life, which is why – as the Commissioner recognised – I declare the clients of my business on my social media accounts even though I did not believe I was required to do so on the Register. I am writing to apologise for the mistake, and to assure you that my declaration of interests has been updated.”
Barwell failed to mention that he was getting the declarations all erased within a matter of days.
Lord Barwell failed to respond when approached by Inside Croydon to offer him an opportunity to explain his leave of absence. It’s fair to say that he has not vanished from the interweb, as he was out again yesterday, fulminating at the absurd lack of self-awareness of his former parliamentary colleague, Thick Lizzie Truss, in the Sunday Torygraph.
Barwell’s silence has prompted some speculation that his withdrawal from the Lords is in anticipation of the solid matter hitting the air conditioning with the publication of the Grenfell Inquiry report, expected later this year.
“It is around now that the letters will be going in to parties who will be subject to criticism in the report,” one insider suggested to Inside Croydon.
On June 14, 2017, 72 people died after a fire engulfed the 24-storey Grenfell Tower block in North Kensington.
Barwell had been housing minister from July 2016 until June 9, 2017 – the day of the General Election in which he lost his Croydon Central parliamentary seat.
During his time as housing minister, Barwell failed to respond to several warnings about fire safety as housing minister.
Giving evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry in April 2022, Barwell admitted that he was “embarrassed” by delays responding to a series of letters sent by the All-Party Parliamentary Fire Safety Group chaired by the late Sir David Amess MP.
Like previous ministers who appeared before the inquiry, Barwell admitted never having read the recommendations which followed a coroner’s inquest into the fire at Lakanal House in 2009, despite being responsible for implementing them. Those are our italics.
In 2019, the website Inside Housing published correspondence that showed that Barwell, and his ministerial predecessors, had failed to act on pressing fire safety recommendations.
Former ministers Barwell, Eric Pickles and James Wharton have all been rewarded by being made Tory peers.
Inside Housing described their failure to act on housing safety as “one of the greatest public policy failures anywhere in the modern world”.
Inside Housing found that between 2014 and 2017 the APPG wrote to ministers 21 times calling for action to be taken to implement the findings of the Lakanal review.
Inside Housing reported: “These messages were not received well by ministers – who would frequently reply to lengthy letters with a brief two or three-paragraph response.”
A bit like Lord Barwell’s terse non-apology last month to Manningham-Buller.
Read more: ‘Barren’ Barwell is not fit to sit on housing association board
Read more: Business is booming for housing lobbyist ‘Barren’ Barwell
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Sleazy Tory bastard
In the past I’ve worked with Conservative Politicians at all levels. While we disagreed politically, it was clear that some of them believed that they were acting in the best interests of the people they were elected to represent. I thought they were wrong but I could respect their good intentions.
However, in the past ten years it feels like the Conservative Party has just become a gang of crooks and liars who are only interested in what they can get out of the system for themselves and their friends…….and they keep proving me right.
I genuinely don’t see how people can support them or vote for them.
Barwell seems to enjoy creating extra work for the regulators of our Parliamentary democracy. Not a year seems to go by when he is ignoring rules or in his role as a Minister seeking to undermine standards to decreases the bottom line for his sponsors.
Any reforming Government surely should offer constituents of his local area where he has inflicted great harm the opportunity to recall him from his permanent tax payer funded sinecure for the rest of his life and curtail his malign influence on decision making.