Thursday 25 June 2020 / 2:36 PM Local Government / Steve Reed

Labour demands further answers in Westferry ‘cash-for-favours’ scandal

Labour has today written to Robert Jenrick to come back to the House of Commons to explain major discrepancies between the account he gave Parliament about his role in the Westferry cash-for-favours scandal and the documents Labour forced the Government to publish on 24 June.

Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed has also called on the Secretary of State to publish all remaining documents not subject to Freedom of Information laws in the interests of transparency over the growing scandal.

The documents reveal that Mr Jenrick initiated further contact with Mr Desmond via text message after they dined together at a Conservative Party Fundraising dinner. They also show that he failed to notify officials immediately about the dinner as he is required to do, and that he appears to have broken the code of conduct by acting on direct instructions from Mr Desmond to rush through the decision to save the billionaire Conservative Party donor £30-50m in tax due to Tower Hamlets Council.

Steve Reed MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, said:

“These breathtaking documents raise far more questions about the Secretary of State’s relationship with Richard Desmond than they answer. Whether the Prime Minister likes it or not, this matter is far from closed.

“An explosive and unprecedented case of a Secretary of State quashing his own unlawful, biased decision to approve a “cash-for-favours” planning decision that saved a Conservative donor over £150 million demands the utmost transparency.

“That is why the Secretary of State must come back to the House of Commons to explain himself and why he must publish all remaining evidence. The public need to know there is not one rule for the Conservatives and their wealthy friends and another rule for everyone else.”

Ends

Note to editors:

Steve Reed has written to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to ask for further clarification about his role in the Westferry “cash-for-favours” scandal:

Dear Secretary of State

Westferry Printworks Development

Thank you for releasing documents relating to your decision on the Westferry Printworks Development following yesterday’s debate in the House of Commons.

I recognise you agree that transparency is important in allowing proper democratic scrutiny of the way you exercise your powers as Secretary of State. In that spirit, a number of questions arise from the documents and I would be grateful for your response.

1. In a memorandum dated 20 November your private office contact MHCLG officials in the following terms:

“Morning (and you thought you wouldn’t hear from me over purdah!!!)! Quick thing from me, SoS has flagged a case in Westferry London Docklands (redevelopment of a printworks or something like that?). He understands a ministerial decision on this is likely to be coming up soon and also that there may be some sensitivity with timing of final decision. Given this he has asked that advice be prepared for the first few eays of the new Gov so a decision can be made and communicated before xmas. Does this all sound ok?”

Please can you explain the following:
Does the ‘sensitivity with timing of final decision’ refer to the date that Tower Hamlets CIL was due to come into force?
Given that this email was sent from your private office to MHCLG officials you clearly did not receive information from officials about this ‘sensitivity’, but the email is sent two days after you sat next to Richard Desmond and executives from Northern & Shell and Mace at a Conservative Party fundraising dinner. It seems likely this was the source of your information but you have not declared this, so please can you confirm what the source of this information was?
2. You eventually quashed your decision on the Westferry Printworks Development for reasons of ‘apparent bias’ but you have never explained what, precisely, this ‘apparent bias’ was. I presume this reason arises from advice you received from MHCLG officials or legal advisers when they advised you of the likely outcome of Tower Hamlets’ judicial review of your decision. Please can you share the advice you received detailing the exact nature of the ‘apparent bias’ that made your decision unlawful?

3. You have released documents relating to the Westferry case that would have been subject to FoI. In the interests of transparency and given the controversy surrounding this decision, will you now also release the remaining relevant documents that would not have been subject to FoI?

4. Please can you confirm what contacts you had with other ministers or their representatives about the Westferry decision, including in person or by electronic means such as texts, and disclose the content of those communications or conversations?

5. There is a significant discrepancy between your reports and Mr Desmond’s of how long you viewed a promotional video about Westferry on his phone. Please can you confirm whether Mr Desmond is correct in claiming that you viewed the video for three or four minutes and then thanked him for showing it to you?

6. Please can you confirm who in MHCLG you notified about your dinner with Mr Desmond and why you did not notify them at the earliest opportunity?

I look forward to your reply.

Steve Reed
Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

Text of Robert Jenrick’s speech to the House of Commons on 24 June: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-06-24/debates/062FA715-C506-4F43-9F2B-0DBDF51331C3/WestferryPrintworksDevelopment#contribution-E08AB5FD-FEC6-4CD4-9BB3-09CDA047E0C0