Lack of transparency and questions over councillor’s new job
05 October, 2017
Councillor Phil Jones
THE decision of Councillor Phil Jones to take up a position with a firm of planning consultants, Turley Associates, a global company that is part author of the controversial developments of tower blocks in Swiss Cottage and Somers Town, raises moral and ethical issues.
There are strict rules and guidelines governing relationships between council officers and elected representatives and those connected with companies seeking planning permission.
This is a difficult terrain for both sides and it is possible for participants to find themselves sliding about unintentionally and unconsciously. Rules exist to separate them. Walls are meant to rise up between them.
In other parts of the world “back-handers” and other forms of corruption are common – in this country they are rare, thanks in part to the high level of impartiality of the civil service and the thickets of rules that are operable.
But in recent years all has not been well at government level with the appearance of the “revolving door” syndrome, whereby former ministers gain high posts with companies they had been negotiating with while in office. Mr Jones’s case is different. Though he has stepped down as a council planner he insists on remaining as a councillor and has therefore put himself in a position where at any moment – considering his contacts in politics, business and, now, in planning – there could arise a conflict of interests.
Why is he putting himself in that position?
Questions abound in the Jones affair because there has been so little openness – questions about when and how he came to be offered a post by one of the biggest companies of its kind. It has 13 offices in Britain, employing a large number of planning experts, many believed to have been poached from local authorities. Investigations by this newspaper show that key Turley employees have come from Islington and Westminster. Michael Lowndes, the senior director of the company’s London office, is a former Westminster principal planner. This is the company Mr Jones has joined.
Did Turley approach him or he them? Would there not have been close contact over a long period between him and Turley while he was in touch with them over the Somers Town and Swiss Cottage developments – and to what extent was this known by officials and fellow councillors?
In his email to fellow councillors (see page 15) he coyly fails to name the company he joined at the end of September.
What is disturbing is that such is the passive mood in today’s Labour group that the affair does not seem to have exercised any minds – as if it is of no significance. When in fact it is. The morality of the governing party is all – or it is nothing.