James Thomson, Public Perceptions of Probity & Jobs for the City Boys

The City of London’s lack of transparency when it comes to potential conflicts of interest is evident yet again in a letter about concrete repairs sent to leaseholders on the Golden Lane Estate. This is one of two council estates within City of London boundaries. Constructed in a question and answer format and attributed to Asset Programme Manager David Downing, this May 2018 missive reads in part:

The City awarded the contract to ENGIE (Keepmoat Regeneration) because they achieved the highest scoring tender when assessed on the basis of cost (40% weighting) and quality (60% weighting)… the bid from Barwin scored poorly against quality criteria and as (sic) was priced so low (more than 50% below estimates) as to raise significant concerns as to the credibility of the bid considering the high standard of works required…

(Q.) Why were only two quotes presented for consultation? Was the tender run properly? (A.) …In addition to being advertised on the open market, three contractors, as nominated by leaseholders during the pre-tender consultation, were directly invited to tender for work; these contractors declined to do so….

(Q.) The rising costs and Keepmoat’s performance on the recladding contract at Great Arthur House is a cause of concern. Why have they been allowed to bid for the concrete repair contract? (A.) The progression and cost escalation of the external repairs to Great Arthur House is a cause for concern. However, this is a very different contract with very different challenges….

(Q.) Is there a conflict of interest in having a member of Keepmoat’s board of directors as a Common Councillor? (A.) I can confirm that the Member to which you refer has had no input, bearing or influence on this tender evaluation whatsoever.

The member in question has a name and it is James Thomson. The fact that the City doesn’t identify Thomson in this letter is less than transparent. When angry leaseholders raised the issue of escalating costs and poor work by Keepmoat on Great Arthur House at a Cripplegate ward meeting earlier this year, no one from the council mentioned Thomson or his director role with their contractor; despite it being obvious that at least one of those expressing anger about the matter didn’t realise this Walbrook ward councillor was a Keepmoat director. It isn’t good enough for the City of London to baldly state Thomson had no influence on the tender evaluation, an independent inquiry into whether Thomson’s status as a friend and colleague of at least some of those who made the decision would seem much more appropriate.

The scoring system on which these tenders are assessed appears less than transparent. Likewise Keepmoat have won recent renovation contracts on the Golden Lane Estate despite putting in bids that were much higher than rival firms, while their repairs to Great Arthur House are publicly perceived as substandard. Regardless of whether the City of London’s tender system is rigged or is scrupulously honest, public perceptions of various issues related to it are such that it is widely viewed as lacking probity; and this may account for the reluctance of many firms to spend time and money putting in bids for City of London public works. This local authority doesn’t just need to obey the rules as regards conflicts of interest, it also needs to be seen to be doing so. The most suitable way for the City of London to address the matters raised here is to ditch Keepmoat as a contractor, while simultaneously addressing the various potential conflict of interest issues that have swirled around Thomson and other City of London councillors recently. For example, issues pertaining to the granting of planning permission for Taylor Wimpey’s luxury apartment development on the City’s section of Golden Lane. This is The Guardian’s take on the matter:

The story follows a by-now-familiar plot. In May 2017 planning approval was given to Taylor Wimpey, despite strong opposition from local residents and businesses. During this process it emerged that the chair of the City’s planning and transportation committee, Chris Hayward, is a director of Indigo Planning, whose clients include Taylor Wimpey. Deputy chair James Thomson was formerly deputy chief financial officer and chief operations officer of Cushman and Wakefield, commercial property and real estate consultants, which marketed and sold Bernard Morgan House to Taylor Wimpey. The committee member and former lord mayor of London Sir Michael Bear was appointed chair of the planning consultancy Turley Associates – which also acts for Taylor Wimpey – a few weeks after planning approval was granted.

Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton, The Guardian, 10 October 2017.

Unfortunately it seems likely the City of London will continue to treat local residents with complete condescension while stonewalling their concerns for as long as 80% of its members are elected on undemocratic business votes. This is a matter that requires urgent democratic reform because only councils that are answerable to a local electorate are likely to sympathetically address public anxiety over issues of probity. It certainly feels like the City of London council only cares about the interests of the financial sector. British MPs in a recent report suggested the Carillion collapse was down to ‘recklessness, hubris and greed’ with select committees accusing Carillion’s directors of putting their own rewards ahead of all other concerns; the big four City accounting firms were also singled out for criticism by MPs as regards the collapse of this company. For many local residents, the City of London appears to hold the same values – or rather lack of values – as those whose interests it represents. Its failure to satisfactorily address concerns over potential conflicts of interest is symptomatic of this local authority’s blatantly undemocratic culture and structure.

Pippa Henslowe.

ThomsonCityBoysSmall
Keep Keepmoat Out Of The City – Say No To Walbrook Councillor & Keepmoat CEO James Thomson!

Notes.

Developers are using culture as a Trojan horse in their planning battles by Anna Minton: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/oct/10/developers-culturehousing-luxury-homes-art-artists

Recklessness, hubris and greed’ – Carillion slammed by MPs by Rob Davies: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/16/recklessness-hubris-and-greed-carillion-slammed-by-mps

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