The Tory MP for Croydon South insists he has no business interest in the £100m scheme to build 245 flats in the heart of his constituency. But he also admits he hasn’t got a clue who does. By STEVEN DOWNES
Chris Philp, the Conservative Government minister who is MP for Croydon South, says he has no idea who is behind Polaska Assets, the company registered in the off-shore tax haven of the British Virgin Islands that wants to build 245 flats in a “retirement community” on property in Purley where the freehold is owned by Croydon Council.
Philp, who describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur”, insists that he has absolutely no financial interest in the development of the site of the former supermarket, multi-storey car park and old Purley Pool and leisure centre. But when asked for independent verification of this, he was unable to provide any.
Inside Croydon reported yesterday how the long-term leaseholders of the Purley site is a shadowy company registered in offices near a place called Treasure Island. Polaska Assets Ltd BVI is subject to extremely light-touch regulation, does not have to publish accounts or identify its directors through Companies House in London, and is likely to avoid paying most, if not all, tax in the UK on any profits it might make from the Purley project.
It is just over a year since Philp was the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the second most important finance minister in the Government. But he was in the Tory Government of Liz Truss and KamiKwasi Kwarteng which trashed the economy in six short weeks.
Despite his elevation to such a senior Treasury job, Philp has refused to publish his tax returns, as several senior Government ministers, including Conservatives, have done. Philp is believed to be a millionaire, and his declarations suggest he has made his fortune from running companies that finance development firms overseas.
In an unscientific poll of Inside Croydon readers last year, 83% said that they wanted to see Philp publishing his tax returns.
As the MP for the Purley area, Philp has a responsibility to represent his constituents and look out for their best interests. He spent five years campaigning against a 17-storey block of flats in Purley town centre which he dubbed “the Purley Skyscraper”.
But late last month he was emailing his constituents with enthusiastic support for the latest major scheme in Purley, which aims to build 20% more flats than was ever proposed in the project he previously campaigned against.
Not that Philp mentioned in his email the huge number of flats being proposed under the Polaska scheme. Nor that the long-term leaseholder is a British Virgin Islands-registered tax-dodging operation.
Philp’s focus, as part of the distraction strategy being followed by Tory Mayor Jason Perry and the developers, was almost entirely on the provision of a new swimming pool.
“I am pleased to say that a development agreement was signed off at a Croydon Council cabinet meeting on [October 25] between the council as the freeholder and the long-leaseholder Polaska to deliver the new pool and leisure centre.
“The project will see a brand new six-lane pool, training pool [he actually means a teaching pool], 80-station gym, studio facilities, café and car park as well a new public square and open route between the station and high street.”
Almost as an after-thought, Philp added: “There will be housing built on the site too, reserved for older people (many of whom will likely downsize from local larger houses, making those available for young families).” Which is nice.
“I understand … that the full planning application is likely to be submitted in a matter of weeks. The project is due to be completed in just over two years from now. I will obviously study the planning application carefully when it arrives, but the delivery of a new pool and leisure centre is clearly to be welcomed in principle.
“I’d like to thank Executive Mayor Jason Perry and the local Conservative councillors for their work on this project so far, which I have been supporting.” Our italics, for emphasis.
Yet it turns out that MP Philp, who has a parliamentary and constituency office staffed at tax-payers’ expense, has conducted no due diligence of his own into the company behind these plans.
And he is clearly not at all bothered that Polaska BVI won’t be paying their fair share of tax to the Exchequer.
Inside Croydon had contacted Philp yesterday to request the names of Polaska BVI’s directors, past and present, and for his best estimate of how much money a developer could make from building, and selling, 245 flats (especially when they are also seeking to dodge any requirement to provide any affordable housing, as planning rules usually demand).
He contacted us last night, wanting to distance his name from his any direct financial interest in the scheme (which was, carefully, never actually suggested in our article).
“I have no financial interests in Purley Pool as my previous messages on the topic would have made clear,” Philp wrote.
“That wasn’t the questions asked,” we replied, referring to our request for the directors, past and present, of Polaska BVI to be named, whether by the MP or the council.
Referring to the passge in our report which stated: “It has not been possible to confirm whether either man [Philp or Mayor Perry], or their business partners or associates, have any financial interest in the development proposed for council-owned land in Purley town centre”, Philp wrote: “It is possible now.”
We disagreed with the serial entrepreneur: “No. Independent confirmation would require the council, or you, to make available records equivalent to what is accessible from Companies House.
“How a minister in the Government is supporting a development intended to avoid millions of pounds in tax is a matter you should also answer.”
Philp responded to admit he has done no checking of his own into a business registered off-shore that is proposing a £100million development in the heart of his constituency.
“I don’t know who is behind Polaska,” Philp wrote, demonstrating a worrying lack of reasonable curiousity.
“The Mayor has told me that due diligence has been completed on Polaska to the council’s satisfaction…”. Yep, that’s the council that checked out the “smart” bus shelter company, and the council that did all the necessary checks on the company that wanted to “change the face of entertainment” in the old Allders building.
“I do not have sight of that,” Philp wrote of the diligence report into Polaska. “Only the council does.” Oddly, it had not occurred to the Tory MP to ask for such a report.
He wittered on: “I’m not sure how I am supposed to prove I don’t own something.
“I can categorically tell you I have no financial interests at all in this, which I would be grateful if you would report in future.” Which we are happy to do, on the basis that we only have Chris Philp’s word for it.
We responded: “Chris, you are a government minister in a Government which is daily being proven to have only a fleeting relationship with the truth. If you want the public to take you at your word, then perhaps you should use your office to make the information widely available.
“In the meantime, I’d be interested in your explanation for supporting a scheme designed to avoid [paying £20million tax to HMRC.
“I am referring here to Polaska in Purley, and not the off-shore deals by your own companies.”
The government minister replied: “I’m afraid I don’t know anything about Polaska’s tax arrangements (although the council might).” Again, he did not appear to have bothered asking.
“Polaska has owned the site for years – since long before I was even an MP – and the site needs developing. I await their actual planning application with interest.”
We replied: “Chris: it’s a £100million scheme in your constituency. It is literally your job to know. Ignorance really isn’t an excuse.”
We haven’t heard from him since. And Croydon Council has still not responded to our request for the names of the directors of the British Virgin Island-registered company.
Read more: Set-back for MP Philp as Purley tower gets green light
Read more: A good week and a bad week for Croydon’s Tory MP Philp
Read more: Croydon South’s Tory MP called a ‘liar’ 16 times on national TV
Read more: Taxing questions on business for Philp the parachutist
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