Tag Archives: mipim

Generous to a fault

24 Feb

89651226 sirrobinwales

By Alan Combe

If he fails to win the nomination this year, Sir Robin will miss the hospitality almost as much as wearing the mayoral collar.

One of the perks of being the Mayor of a borough which is “open for business” as he might say – and probably has – is the manner in which the corporate world queues up to offer you hospitality. And gifts. And opportunities to travel, business class sometimes, to exotic far flung places – and West Ham United FC.

In his 16 years as Mayor, Sir Robin has benefitted from a significant number of invitations from companies keen to do business here. In the last four years alone, Sir Robin has been invited to China, Australia, Germany and France.

He has dined in some of London’s finest restaurants including the Terrace Room at the Royal Horseguards Hotel, Cabotte, the Arts Club, the Cinnamon Club, the Mansion House, Simpsons in the Strand. And at West Ham United FC (which may or may not count as fine dining).

In the last four years Sir Robin has enjoyed hospitality at West Ham Utd on 20 occasions, usually as a guest of the club but, on occasion, London City Airport picked up the bill.

His published list of gifts & hospitality starts in 2006 and his close relationship with West Ham Utd is clear from almost the first entry, which records that he received tickets to that year’s F.A. Cup final (Liverpool vs West Ham), which was held in Cardiff. It was rumoured that the club actually flew him to the match.

In March each year, the town of Cannes in southern France plays host to the international property event known as MIPIM. The Independent newspaper recently described this as the place “where estate agency professionals and wealthy investors cavort around five-star hotels and champagne receptions in the sunshine, while ruminating about the housing crisis many of them benefit from directly”. Sir Robin often attends.

Newham Council Taxpayers do not actually pay for this jaunt. It is funded by “sponsors”. These are not usually identified on the list of Gifts and Hospitality. Perhaps they should be because that have included over the years, London City Airport, Westfield, and a number of housebuilders who all have an interest in growing their businesses in Newham.

Sir Robin has visited China, at other people’s expense, on a number of occasions starting in 2007. He went back in 2008 for the Beijing Olympics and his more recent trips have been funded by ABP London the company developing a new business district on a 35-acre site in the Royal Albert Dock.

I was puzzled that according to his gift declarations, Sir Robin didn’t attend the opening of the Rio Olympics in 2016, but it turned out that he was busy visiting Hong Kong and Perth & Sydney in Australia at the time. The Sydney leg of the trip appears to have been funded by a group of businesses called the “Committee for Sydney”.

Of course, it’s not all travel and dinners. Sir Robin has been invited to, amongst other events, Rugby World Cup matches, the IAAF World Athletics Championships, the Henley Regatta, the UCI Track Cycling World Championships, the Wireless Festival and a concert by Adele.

Over the last four years the most “generous” donors would appear to have been ABP London, who have picked up the bills for trips to China and a number of dinners in London; West Ham Utd, who have since moved into the expensively re-purposed London Stadium as the anchor tenant; London City Airport, whose expansion plans were supported by Newham even when the previous London Mayor, Boris Johnson, tried to put a halt to them; and the mystery “sponsors” who have picked up the bills for Mayor Wales (& Cllr Ken Clark) when they visited Cannes for the international property events.

I struggle to understand what benefit these donors could possibly have enjoyed as a result of this generosity!

If you want to check out the details for yourself, Newham’s website helpfully lists all the gifts and hospitality enjoyed by Mayor Wales and all his Councillor colleagues, dating back to 2006. The list however does not give us the cost of each gift or meal or trip, it merely tells us if the cost exceeded £25.00. It should also be stressed that the obligation to report the receipt of gifts and hospitality rests with the Mayor personally.

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Holidays in the sun

2 Aug

Sir Robin at MIPIM 2017

Every March the French mediterranean resort of Cannes plays host to MIPIM, an international property event. According to Wikipedia

The event aims to facilitate business between investors, corporate end-users, local authorities, hospitality professionals, industrial and logistics players and other real estate professionals.

It is tailor-made for the big swinging dicks and wannabe Trumps of the property development racket. So obviously the mayor of Newham would want to be there.

And according to a recent FOI response, he was, accompanied by deputy mayor Cllr Ken Clark, Director of Regeneration and Planning Deirdra Armsby and Head of Regeneration Robin Cooper.

But fear not. Your council tax was not funding a penny of this.

All expenses were paid for via sponsorship from Westfield Group, Berkeley Group, Telford Homes, English Cities Fund and ABP (London) Investments

How very generous of them. 

Flights, accommodation, the conference tickets, plus feeding and watering four thirsty delegates would have set them back a few quid. Sadly, we don’t know yet exactly how much as the mayor and Cllr Clark have neglected to update the register of gifts and hospitalities with the information.

At the risk of repeating myself, this is what I wrote back in 2012 when the mayor made a similar, commercially sponsored trip to the south of France:

…if there was a genuine and compelling reason for Newham to be present at this conference I’d have no objection to the trip being funded from public money. I’m entirely prepared to believe the trip was a worthwhile way for Sir Robin and his entourage to spend their time.

In fact, if the mayor’s presence was so vital it absolutely should have been paid for by the taxpayer. Drumming up business for Newham is part of his job…

…If going to a global property conference is the best way to meet developers, then that’s the place to be. The fact that the event took place in the south of France is neither here nor there. Sir Robin didn’t choose the venue.

Public officials travelling on public business should have their expenses met from the public purse. That way everything’s above board and there’s no question about whose interests they’re representing.

But this trip wasn’t funded with public money. And that is extremely worrying. No-one provides hospitality on this scale without some expectation of getting something in return…

…Perhaps Sir Robin is pleased with himself for saving the public purse a few pounds, but it may end up being a poor bargain for Newham.

Until we know who paid for his trip the mayor must recuse himself from all discussions about regeneration and redevelopment in Newham and from consideration of all planning applications.

Otherwise how can we tell if he’s doing the right thing by residents or repaying a debt to his generous sponsors?

Five years on, the same concerns apply.

UPDATE

I have been sent a copy of another FOI response on a similar topic (sadly not available online), which was released in June. This says that the Cannes party included the council chief executive. If he was indeed there, the cost to the sponsors (and the implied obligation) is even greater.

It also raises a question about quality control in the information governance team. How could two virtually identical questions, asked within a few weeks of each other, result in two different answers?

Cannes Update

30 Apr

The Newham Recorder has published the list of sponsors for the Mayor’s trip to Cannes.

These were:

  • Bougyes Development
  • Strand East
  • Westfield Stratford City 
  • Countryside Properties 
  • Swan New Homes
  • the Ballymore Group 
  • Capita Symonds
  • the Cathedral Group 
  • the University of East London
  • Ardmore Construction
  • Urban Initiatives, and 
  • Savills

According to the Recorder, all “have denied any suggestion that their involvement in the trip would mean they received favourable treatment when it came to future development opportunities.”

They’re all just very generous, public-spirited people… obviously.

 

Cannes of Worms

17 Apr

Back in March, Ted Jeory, writing in the Sunday Express, reported that various local councils in the UK had been represented at an international property convention in Cannes, a resort town on the French riviera, including Sir Robin Wales at the head of a 6-man delegation from Newham council.

The story was repeated by Mike Law on his blog, highlighting the presence of Sir Robin and the revelation that the trip had not been funded by local taxpayers but by private interests.

The Newham Recorder picked this up and asked who had paid for the trip. Predictably, the council declined to say. The Recorder’s reporter claims this has been followed up by a request under the Freedom of Information Act, though as far as I know no response has yet been forthcoming.

In a comment posted on Mike Law’s blog I said that if there was a genuine and compelling reason for Newham to be present at this conference I’d have no objection to the trip being funded from public money. I’m entirely prepared to believe the trip was a worthwhile way for Sir Robin and his entourage to spend their time.

In fact, if the mayor’s presence was so vital it absolutely should have been paid for by the taxpayer. Drumming up business for Newham is part of his job. And there’s plenty of building to be done around the Olympic Park, plus a large number of brownfield sites across the borough that could be usefully redeveloped. If going to a global property conference is the best way to meet developers, then that’s the place to be. The fact that the event took place in the south of France is neither here nor there. Sir Robin didn’t choose the venue.

Public officials travelling on public business should have their expenses met from the public purse. That way everything’s above board and there’s no question about whose interests they’re representing. 

But this trip wasn’t funded with public money. And that is extremely worrying. No-one provides hospitality on this scale without some expectation of getting something in return. The fact that Newham is refusing – so far at least – to disclose who picked up the tab indicates that they feel there’s something to hide. 

Perhaps Sir Robin is pleased with himself for saving the public purse a few pounds, but it may end up being a poor bargain for Newham.

Until we know who paid for his trip the mayor must recuse himself from all discussions about regeneration and redevelopment in Newham and from consideration of all planning applications. Otherwise how can we tell if he’s doing the right thing by residents or repaying a debt to his generous sponsors?

It is a mystery to me why Sir Robin has chosen put himself in this position. It is a massive lapse of judgement.

UPDATE:

The mayor’s register of gifts and hospitality has been updated to include the trip to Cannes:

 

  • 07/03/2012 – Hospitality: Olympic Park Legacy Dinner. offered by Olympic Park Legacy Company, 29-35 West Ham Lane, London E15 4PH; Hospitality received at MIPIM 2012 International Conference, Cannes. Value: at least £25.00 ; Value £25
  • 06/03/2012 – Hospitality: Olympic Park Legacy Lunch offered by Olympic Park Legacy Co., 29-35 West Ham Lane, London E15 4PH; Hospitality received at MIPIM 2012 International Conference, Cannes. Value: at leat £25.00 ; Value £25
  • 06/03/2012 – Hospitality: City of London – The London Reception evening event. offered by City of London, Guildhall, PO Box 270 London EC2P 2EJ; Hospitality received at MIPIM 2012 International Conference, Cannes. Value: at least £25.00 ; Value £25
  • 06/03/2012 – Hospitality: London First Cocktail Evening Reception. offered by London First, Whitcomb Street, London WC2H 7HA; Hospitality received at MIPIM 2012 International Conference, Cannes. Value: £25.00 ; Value £25
  • 05/03/2012 – Travel from London to Cannes France: MIPIM 2012 Internatiional Conference offered by Various sponsors.; Travel via Eurostar – St. Pancras to Cannes, via Paris. Value: £362.28p ; Value £25
  • 05/03/2012 – Accommodation at the Croisette Beach Hotel, Cannes; MIPIM 2012 International Conference offered by Various sponsors.; x3 night accommodation 5-7 March 2012. Value: £687.00
  • 05/03/2012 – Hospitality – London First evening reception offered by London First, 3 Whitcomb Street, London WC2H 7HA; Hospitality received at MIPIM 2012 International Conference, Cannes. Value: at least £25.00 ; Value £25

 

Although the people paying for the various meals and receptions are named, the big ticket items – the cost of travel and hotel accommodation – are listed as “offered by various sponsors.” And there’s no mention here of a conference registration fee. The MIPIM 2012 website states visitor registration as being €1,590 (excluding VAT). That’s £1,312 at today’s exchange rate, plus French VAT at 19.6%.

Taken together these come to over £2,361 (excluding the VAT on the registration fee). Assuming all the other members of Newham’s delegation travelled together, stayed in the same hotel and attended the conference these “various sponsors” have stumped up well in excess of £14,000.

I repeat the question: who are these people and what do they expect in return for their largesse?