CROYDON IN CRISIS: Recently published declarations of interest from the borough’s elected Mayor show someone who enjoys a free lunch and just doesn’t know when to say ‘No’. EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
There’s hardly an official opening or a charity visit that goes by at which Croydon’s elected Mayor, Jason Perry, won’t accept a gift, a free meal or a bottle of gin, it seems…
Freebie tickets to Selhurst Park to see Crystal Palace play, a meal for four (for four!) at Croydon’s poshest restaurant, lavish entertainment courtesy of one of the country’s most notorious developer lobbyists, and a neck tie from a former Labour councillor are among the various gifts that Mayor Perry has declared in the time since his election, according to official documents released by the council this month.
Croydon’s first elected Mayor, who gets paid £84,000 per year for the job, has accepted gifts worth hundreds of pounds during his first months in office.
While there’s understandable shock and anger over the latest Westminster row about how MPs greedily accept invitations to prestige events or generous donations (though why anyone should be surprised at all is a mystery), here in deepest south London, Croydon’s part-time Mayor is doing his best to show that, when it comes to sticking his snout in the trough, he’s as bad as the next politician.
None of what Perry has done may be corrupt, per se, but the Mayor has managed to show very poor judgement in accepting many of the often nou doubt well-intentioned gifts. As Alex Beatty, of Spotlight on Corruption, said this week of the Westminster scandal, “Hospitality enables private interests with the deepest pockets to access and potentially influence…
“This can undermine the quality and integrity of the decision-making away from the public interest and towards whatever company forked out for the strawberries and cream.”
Perry accepted a council pay rise earlier this year around the same time he was increasing Council Tax by 15per cent and axing all grants to the borough’s charities and voluntary groups. But apparently, even his generous salary – more than 50per cent more than used to be paid to the old-style council leaders – is not enough.
They show that from May 2022 to August 2023, he has been supplementing his income with dozens of gifts, ranging from a £6 coconut from a Surrey Street stall-holder, through to more than £800-worth of tickets and meals in three separate trips to Selhurst Park.
There is no suggestion of impropriety on the part of Perry, although his acceptance of many of the gifts may well give rise to questions about quite what was being expected in return from the Mayor for the various favours.
For example, in his election campaign materials, Perry claimed to be a Crystal Palace season ticket-holder, so has no real need to accept any freebies or hospitality at the ground, unless those providing it are in some way seeking to influence the borough’s executive Mayor.
On October 29 last year, Perry attended the Palace game against Southampton. His declaration fails to state who provided the tickets, or how many tickets he accepted. The declaration says “£125 per ticket (Mayor paid for the tickets)”. The declaration makes no mention of what Perry did with his own season ticket for that game – perhaps he let someone else use it for nothing?
Eleven days earlier, he had attended the match against Wolverhampton Wanderers, receiving “tickets and dinner” this time. Again, no mention of who was so generous as to invite the Croydon Mayor, though this gift was estimated to cost £300.
There’s a little more (but not much) clarity surrounding Perry’s invitation to Selhurst Park on May 22, 2022: those tickets were provided by “CEO CPFC” and had an “estimated value” (no price on the tickets, Jase?) of £180. That must have been a belter: Perry had just got elected a fortnight earlier, and here he was, hob-nobbing it in the posh seats, seeing Wilf Zaha score the winner in the last match of the season against Man United. Oh happy days!
Where this is more than a tad awkward, and in some ways questionable, is that at that time, Palace were still in discussions with the planners over planning permission for their £100million new main stand.
Of course, Mayor Perry will say that he had no say over the granting of planning permission for such an important scheme.
But this was not the only time when he accepted freebies from organisations with active planning applications.
And just what was going on last month when Mayor Perry was taken out for a meal by the Terrapin Group? This website has reported before on the dark arts practised by Peter Bingle, the former Bell Pottinger PR-iste who set up Terrapin in 2012 to help developers get their schemes approved with a minimum amount of fuss, or public opposition.
Terrapin were hired in by Crystal Palace FC last year to smooth the way for their new stand scheme, when they kept Selhurst residents excluded from key meetings.
But they have also been active in Croydon since, helping another client make massive profits from buying the Croydon Park Hotel site from the cash-strapped council at a knock-down price.
The buyers, Amro Partners, reckon the development could be worth at least £200million. They purchased the Croydon Park Hotel from Croydon Council for a mere £24.9million.
That’s all business under the bridge, though. So just why was Bingle’s Terrapin wining and dining Mayor Perry last month?
Perry’s declaration is more than a little vague on that very important matter, just offering a laughably low estimate of the value of his meal: “Dinner £50-£75”.
“Ha!” said one Katharine Street source when told of this potentially dangerous liaison. “The first bottle of wine at a dinner with Peter is rarely less than 50 quid…”.
Perry clearly needs to do some work on the accuracy of his value estimates.
His declarations show that he made a visit to flash new, private membership hotel Birch (Selsdon) in May. No date is given, but it is presumably this year, soon after the plush venue – what used to be the Selsdon Park Hotel – opened its doors for the first time.
With memberships costing £2,100 per year (including joining fee), Birch is going for the top-end, corporate market, both in terms of its accommodation, activities and bistro and restaurant: “Elodie is Birch (Selsdon)’s flagship restaurant and a focal point for Michelin-starred chef Lee Westcott’s farm-to-fork and flavour-to-fun ethos.”
What they call “a seasonally focused five-course menu” costs £69. Per person. Drinks are extra.
According to Mayor Perry, on May 6 he was treated to “Dinner for 4 people – £100”. What a bargain!
There’s no Royal Opera House tickets or days out at the races on Mayor Perry’s declarations. Not yet, anyway.
But what Jason Perry’s declarations seem to show is that (a) he does enjoy a lunch or a burger whenever he’s offered one; and (b) even on the briefest of visits to schools, places of worship or charities, he is unable to say “No” whenever offered a box of chocolates or a personalised Monopoly set from one of the borough’s developers.
Jamie Driscoll, the elected North of Tyne Mayor, says he’s been offered “tickets for the executive boxes at St James’ Park, expensive dinners by lobbyists, hospitality for sporting events – and I turn them all down”.
Driscoll said, “I just think it is wrong to take perks when you’re elected to do a job.”
What Croydon Mayor Perry has done in the first year and four months in post might not amount to low-grade graft at all. But what it does look like is just simple, straightforward stupidity.
Read more: K-erch-ing! Lobbyists consult on £200m scheme for hotel site
Read more: Crisis for Selsdon charity hard hit by council’s double-whammy
Read more: Here’s the Mayor and 33 Croydon Tory councillors who THREE times voted in favour of hitting you with a 15% Council Tax hike
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