“Home builders’ lobbyist pushed council leader to ‘sort’ and speed planning”

Is this any different to having a (Tory) COUNCILLOR in charge of planning running his own planning consultancy AND chairing an influential business forum? And if this expose came about from a Freedom of I formation request about events in Wandsworth in 2011 and 2013 …..

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9920971/If-I-cant-get-planning-nobody-will-says-Devon-councillor-and-planning-consultant.html

“A lobbyist for some of the UK’s biggest property developers used a direct communication channel to the leader of a flagship Conservative council to help push through planning applications for luxury apartment developments.

Peter Bingle used his longstanding relationship with Ravi Govindia, the leader of the London borough of Wandsworth, in attempts to circumvent council officials he believed were being obstructive to his clients, including over the size of payments due to public projects.

Bingle’s access has been revealed in a cache of emails released under the Freedom of Information Act that show him asking Govindia, a former flatmate, to smooth the passage of planning applications for hundreds of luxury homes between 2011 and 2013. Govindia responded in some cases by promising to chase officials and fix meetings.

Berkeley calls affordable housing targets ‘unviable’ as chairman earns £174m

Bingle is a former Conservative councillor at Wandsworth and was chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Affairs, once one of the country’s biggest lobbying firms. He set up Terrapin Communications, whose clients have included Ballymore and Bellway, the housebuilders, and Royal Mail when it was selling off its land for housing.

When Royal Mail complained about the junior rank of the planning officer assigned to its application and having to repeat details of its plans to officials, Bingle emailed Govindia: “This wouldn’t have happened under the old regime. Your help would be appreciated in sorting things out.”

Bingle later forwarded the Royal Mail’s plan for its presentation to the Wandsworth planning committee to Govindia asking “What’s your advice?” Govindia replied two minutes later: “Will call as soon as I finish this meeting”.

Nearly 100 London councillors have links to property industry

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing, but the correspondence provides a rare window on the methods developers use to apply pressure to politicians behind the scenes to speed up high-stakes planning decisions and to reduce infrastructure payments. An investigation last week revealed how Berkeley Homes, one of London’s largest developers of luxury homes, routinely told local authorities that their affordable housing targets were unviable.

In April, the Guardian revealed planning lobbyists regularly entertained Robert Davis, Westminster city council’s former planning committee chairman. Davis received hospitality or gifts 893 times over six years, frequently from developers and their agents, including Bingle. He has since resigned as deputy leader.

The emails relate to when Bingle was working as a lobbyist for the Royal Mail, which had submitted plans for a 1,800-home development on its site close to Battersea Power Station. In one email to Govindia he lambasted the council’s handling of a negotiation about how much his client should pay to the public purse as “chaotic and shambolic”. He told Govindia it “does nothing for Wandsworth’s reputation in the property world … Something has gone seriously wrong.”

The planning application was eventually approved. Royal Mail last year sold part of the site to US investors for £101m.

Bingle chased Govindia for updates on progress of another 252-home application at Battersea for another client, complaining about “non-committal” planning officials. He applauded the leader when a separate application for 104 private flats in Putney by Berkeley Homes was approved, signing off an email: “Many thanks for a great result.” It had no social housing.

Bingle has denied exerting any undue influence and Govindia said he made no apology for delivering more homes for Wandsworth.

Public records show Bingle has entertained at least 31 councillors in different London boroughs in recent years, taking some out for lunch or dinner more than a dozen times. When Govindia, who was among those he entertained, was awarded a CBE in 2017 Bingle said: “Never has an award for services to local government been more deserved.”

Govindia did not sit on Wandsworth’s planning committee, but Bingle repeatedly urged him to help, often simply forwarding on complaints from property developers.

In January 2012, Royal Mail was concerned about what the council wanted in terms of payments for schools and education. Bingle forwarded an email about that directly to Govindia saying “Ravi, Views?”

Govindia replied later that day: “I will chase the education chaps”.

By March, the development consultant on the scheme asked Bingle to “prod Ravi that we need to get on with this”. Bingle forwarded the email to Govinidia saying “I thought it simplest just to forward this to you”.

When Bingle sent an email asking: “Leader, Can we get a meeting with you in the diary for next week? This scheme is now stuck,” Govinida replied: “I have asked for an update from planners next week.”

Asked about the relationship Bingle said: “The fact that this information came from a freedom of information request shows that it was always available for scrutiny in the public domain. And rightly so. Having been a long-standing friend of Ravi I know it is impossible for anybody to have undue influence over him. Since his earliest days on Wandsworth as a backbench councillor he has always resolutely defended his own viewpoint even if it meant voting against the Conservative group.”

Govinidia said: “It is first and foremost the job of any council leader to press those on all sides to deliver improvements to their borough and improve the lives of their residents. To do the job effectively you need to listen to all voices and make sure that when problems or snags arise that you are on top of them and that you can secure solutions to drive forward and deliver these improvements. I make no apology whatsoever for fulfilling my role as a council leader to deliver more homes, more jobs and more opportunities for our residents.”

He said the Royal Mail development will deliver 318 new affordable homes, a higher number than the developers were originally offering.”

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/sep/13/home-builders-lobbyist-pushed-council-leader-to-sort-and-speed-planning

Those MP dodgy links – this time vaping

“MPs who backed calls for looser laws around vaping are attacked over their links to the industry.

MPs who called for restrictions on e-cigarettes to be relaxed have been criticised over their links to the vaping industry.

In a controversial report, they said bans on vaping in public places – such as in hospitals and restaurants or on buses – should be considered.

The report, by the Commons science and technology committee, also said that ministers should carry out a review to make it easier to get the devices on the prescription.

MPs who called for restrictions on e-cigarettes to be relaxed have been criticised over their links to the vaping industry.

It emerged yesterday that the committee’s chairman, Norman Lamb, spoke at an industry forum held by the UK Vaping Industry Association. The forum focused on how to boost the market for e-cigarettes.

He was also photographed next to John Dunne, the association’s director, at the launch of another report and told the audience: ‘I was horrified when the EU went down the route of health regulation [of vaping products]… I thought it was a complete own goal.’

Professor Simon Capewell, of Liverpool University, said: ‘The committee has concentrated solely on ‘experts’ who are e-cig champions.’

Mr Lamb said yesterday that it was unfair to say the committee has a pro-vaping bias.

‘I reject this assertion,’ he said. ‘The committee carefully considered evidence from more than 90 organisations including a range of academics, NHS professionals, NICE [the clinical guidelines watchdog], and government departments to inform the report.

‘It is my responsibility as chair of this committee to speak to a range of organisations and individuals about our work.’ “

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6072919/MPs-backed-calls-looser-laws-vaping-attacked-links-industry.html

” ‘Culture of impunity’ among MPs over hospitality from corrupt regimes “

“More than £330,000 was spent on flights and accommodation for MPs to visit Azerbaijan between 2007 and 2017, and 12 MPs were paid more than £90,000 to appear on Russian state TV, according to a report by Transparency International UK.

The report focused on parliamentarians who had accepted hospitality from corrupt and repressive governments while providing political access and lobbying.

It said many of the MPs and peers had been given all-expenses-paid trips to such countries paid for by the host government.

The publication of the report follows the suspension of the DUP MP Ian Paisley last week after he admitted he had failed to declare £50,000 of family holidays paid for by the Sri Lankan government.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards found that Paisley had breached the rules on paid advocacy by writing to David Cameron in 2014 to lobby against a UN resolution on human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, after receiving holidays from the country’s government.

Transparency International UK’s report also found that two MPs had provided advisory services to the king of Bahrain over the period the government enforced a brutal crackdown of Arab spring protesters in 2001.

The authors of the report say that not only have some MPs actively supported corrupt and repressive governments, but that there is also a “culture of impunity” regarding such practices.

“The activities of the Azerbaijan lobby in parliament has become so infamous that it is seemingly tolerated as almost an eccentricity,” the report said.

Steve Goodrich, Transparency International UK’s senior researcher officer and one of the authors of the report, said: “This is not the first time that the inappropriate behaviour of foreign regimes in lobbying UK parliamentarians has been exposed. But our report shows that this has become a systemic pattern of behaviour, with many MPs and peers completely ignorant or knowingly dismissive of these problems.

“This type of engagement between parliamentarians and corrupt and repressive regimes can no longer be kicked into the long grass because it’s politically convenient. It is a detriment to the UK’s standing as a beacon of democracy and the rule of law.”

Following the publication of its report, Transparency International UK is calling for an inquiry into the conduct of MPs and peers in legitimising corrupt and repressive governments.

The group recommends that MPs and peers should also be banned from taking trips paid for by foreign states and their lobbyists over £500 in value. Instead, the group suggests that a list of organisations should be agreed in parliament for whom paid trips over this amount are acceptable.

Transparency International UK also recommends that MPs should be prohibited from providing paid or voluntary services to foreign governments and state institutions, and that the register of members’ financial interests should be published as structured open data.

Duncan Hames, director of policy at Transparency International UK, said it was “time to end the discredited practice of our parliamentarians enjoying generous foreign hospitality”.

He said: “International visits can certainly aid informed parliamentary debate, but when these trips are offered by foreign governments they undermine the independence of those MPs accepting them.

“Our politicians are elected to work on our behalf, not the interests of foreign states who increasingly have subversive desires. Global scandals have exposed the activity of foreign states meddling in the affairs of others and we need to shore up our defences against this sort of activity.” …

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/30/transparency-international-uk-hospitality-corrupt-regimes-azerbaijan

Russians give May’s Tories £800,000

“Theresa May could be forced to come clean on the source of Tory cash linked to Russia.

A report on meddling in UK politics by Vladimir Putin’s regime urges the Electoral Commission to devise “more stringent requirements for major donors to demonstrate the source of donations”.

The intervention by MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee comes after a Mirror probe revealed the Prime Minister accepted a £50,000 donation from the wife of a former Russian minister – on the day she blamed Moscow for the Skripal poisoning.

In total, Mrs May has let more than £800,000 from Russia-linked sources into Tory coffers while PM.

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Jon Trickett said she should hand it all back, adding: “Serious questions must be answered about why she thinks it is appropriate to accept this money after warning about Russian interference in the UK.”

And Lib Dem spokeswoman Christine Jardine said her “refusal” to explain donations “threatens the integrity of our democracy”.

A Tory spokesman said all donations are properly declared and comply with the law.”

http://flip.it/D1jX6R

US donors courted by Tory ultra-right wing think-tank

“A rightwing thinktank has been offering potential US donors access to government ministers and civil servants as it raises cash for research to support the free-trade deals demanded by hardline Brexiters, according to an investigation.

The director of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) was secretly recorded telling an undercover reporter that funders could get to know ministers on first-name terms and that his organisation was in “the Brexit influencing game”.

Mark Littlewood claimed the IEA could make introductions to ministers and said the thinktank’s trade expert knew Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, David Davis and Liam Fox well.

The IEA chief was also recorded suggesting potential US donors could fund and shape “substantial content” of research commissioned by the thinktank.

This could hugely benefit US farmers by lifting the ban on the sale in the UK of beef from cattle treated with growth hormones and chlorine-washed chicken.

Speaking about what kind of Westminster access the IEA could provide donors with, Littlewood told the investigator: “I have absolutely no problem with people who have business interests, us facilitating those.”

The investigation, undertaken in May and June, also revealed the thinktank had already provided access to a minister for a US organisation.

The disclosures are likely to raise fresh questions about the independence and status of the IEA, which is established as an educational charity. Charity Commission rules state that “an organisation will not be charitable if its purposes are political”. …”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/29/rightwing-thinktank-ministerial-access-potential-us-donors-insitute-of-economic-affairs-brexit

“Revealed: Tory donors who paid £7m to socialise with Theresa May”

Owl says: hedge funds expect to make squillions from Brexit.k

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner, Brexit backers and wife of Putin minister among benefactor

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s business partner, a string of Brexit backers and the wife of a former senior minister to President Putin are among the Conservative donors who have paid more than £7m to socialise with Theresa May since the general election.

Eighty-one party benefactors have paid a total of £7.4m to the Conservative party for access to the prime minister at dinners, post-prime minister’s questions’ lunches and drinks receptions since July 2017, records show.

Party insiders say the large amount raised over just nine months from a single revenue stream is evidence that the Tories are aiming to be “election ready” for the autumn.

At least 10 of the donors, who joined the Leader’s Group for £50,000 a head, are supporters of a hard Brexit.

Dominic Johnson, who attended two of the group’s events in 2017, is the co-founder of Somerset Capital Management – an investment firm set up with Rees-Mogg, a hard Brexiter and the chairman of the European Research Group [ERG].

Somerset was recently reported to be warning its clients about “considerable uncertainty” as a result of Brexit, and set up a fund in Ireland, which benefits from EU financial passporting rights.

Sir Michael Hintze, the hedge fund billionaire who gave £100,000 to Vote Leave, is a familiar figure in Conservative circles and attended at least one dinner in 2017 with the prime minister, sources said.

Hardy McLain, a retired US hedge fund manager living in London, attended events in 2017 and 2018. He previously donated £20,000 to the Vote Leave campaign.

It is the first time since July 2017 that any details of dinner guests of May’s Leader’s Group have emerged. Their identities have been quietly released by the Conservatives this week.

Receiving campaign donations is a routine activity for politicians. But each gift carries with it a potential conflict of interest if the prime minister’s policies appear to benefit those who made the donations.

Edmund Truell, who attended dinners in 2017 and 2018, owns a Swiss-listed private equity business called Disruptive Capital, whose mission statement is to “exploit market uncertainty” to generate returns.

Only two women are among the Leader’s Group donors disclosed in the documents.

Lubov Chernukhin, whose husband, Vladimir, was the deputy finance minister of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, was given access to the prime minister between last July and September. She has given £626,500 to the Tories since 2012, including £160,000 to play tennis with Boris Johnson and £30,000 to dine with the defence secretary, Gavin Williamson.

Alisa Swidler, a US philanthropist and friend of Bill Clinton who has given £336,686 to the party, also attended an event with May.

The party’s chief executive, the mining tycoon Sir Mick Davis, told a meeting of donors in September that the party needed to raise an additional £6m through the parliamentary cycle if it was to win the next general election.

The party spent £18.5m on last year’s election, when the Conservatives lost their working majority, compared with £11m by Labour. Sources told the Guardian the Tories are aiming for a 40% annual increase in the party’s budget – money that will be spent on up to 100 local campaign co-ordinators.

Records show that Lord Ashcroft, the former Conservative party treasurer who gave millions to the party under William Hague’s leadership but stopped donating during Cameron’s premiership, appears to be back in the fold and is a member of May’s leader’s Group. He was joined by the former government adviser and investor in payday loans, Adrian Beecroft.

May appears to bring cabinet members to each event. She was joined by Amber Rudd and the party chairman, Brandon Lewis, at events between the election and the end of September; the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, accompanied her to Leader’s Group meetings in the autumn; between January and April this year, May was joined by Johnson, Michael Gove, Liam Fox and four other cabinet ministers.

The Conservatives had not updated details of donors who attended events since July 2017. Cameron pledged to release donors’ data following an outcry over the Leader’s Group dinners and whether they were allowing the rich and powerful to buy access to the cabinet.

The documents were spotted this week by campaigners for a second referendum on membership of the EU. Chris Bryant, the MP for Rhondda and supporter of the People’s Vote campaign, said: “People will rightly be angry to see the government listen to Brexit donors in return for donations to the Tory party while denying the British public a vote on their deal.”

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/jul/20/revealed-tory-donors-who-paid-7m-to-socialise-with-theresa-may

Another summer, another sleazy Tory fundraising ball for toffs

“Millionaire Tory donors blew tens of thousands of pounds to secure luxury dinners with ministers, ­private hunting trips and a ride in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bentley during a ­lavish fundraiser.

Guests paid up to £1,500 a head for the annual Summer Party, held on Monday at London’s exclusive Hurlingham Club and hosted by PM Theresa May.

As her Cabinet teetered on the edge of implosion over Brexit, desperate ministers had to rattle the Tory donation tin.

Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove, Liz Truss and Gavin Williamson were seen “working the room”, getting rich supporters to part with their cash. …

And items up for auction included:

A ride in Jacob Rees-Mogg’s Bentley
Dinner cooked by Michael Gove, in his kitchen
University Challenge with David Lidington
Wine tasting with Brandon Lewis and Matthew Jukes
Own a David Cameron lectern
Dinner with Stephen Hammond
A museum tour with Boris Johnson
Regency weekend for 4 in Cheltenham
Night in Central Mayfair
Villa for 10 in Phuket
Week in Provence for 12
Namibia cheetah experience
Pheasant shooting in Leicester and quail hunting in Texas

https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/tories-auction-ride-jacob-rees-12848491