Councillor insists he hasn’t broken any rules after freebies exposé
Pressure grows on former planning chief over lavish gifts and hospitality
23 February, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Cllr Robert Davis
UNDER-FIRE Robert Davis has defended the lavish entries on his gifts and hospitality register, insisting: “I have not broken any rules.”
The council’s business chief, deputy leader and former senior planning chief, referred himself to Westminster’s “monitoring officer” after taking a pummelling in the nation- al media this week.
In a statement, Cllr Davis said: “I am absolutely clear I have not broken any rules but, given recent attention, I believe this is the right step to take so that can be shown to be the case. Throughout my 36 years at Westminster City Council, I have had only one aim: to serve the people of Westminster.”
He added: “I have always been scrupulously open in my register of interests precisely to ensure transparency.”
The Extra has printed stories in the past about Cllr Davis’s receipt of gifts and hospitality. The most recent, in September, revealed his disclosed meetings with rich and powerful developers, theatre trips and lunches. Included was a two-day trip to the Gleneagles luxury golf and spa resort with his flight, hotel and food paid for.
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by Cllr Davis, whose senior role allows him to travel around and meet external groups and companies interest- ed in expanding their enterprises into Westminster.
The council has said that it is quite natural for a cabinet member to have a “large number of meetings”, adding: “The idea that any councillor has been ‘bought’ by the property lobby is demonstrably untrue.” It added: “Where hospitality is offered, these meetings are all declared in the register of interests and have absolutely no sway on planning decisions.”
However, the lavish nature of some of the entries, with 514 listed over three years, raised eyebrows at Westminster City Hall. One entry included “two bottles of champagne” he received from former council leader Colin Barrow “in gratitude for hosting a seminar on local government for the University of Southern California”.
It is hard to find any of his council colleagues with any- thing like the number of entries. Leader Nickie Aiken has just a handful of gifts, including a “candle” from the developer Lodha, and disclosing tickets to Wimbledon and also a Taylor Swift concert.
Opposition leader Adam Hug said that, if elected, a new Labour administration would give residents more of a voice in the planning process and “create a new strategic projects planning committee with a larger than normal membership to prevent major applications being dominated by the whims of over-powerful individual councillors”.
A year ago the council changed its rules around planning chiefs meeting developers. The new guidance included that the chair of planning could hold meetings with developers “providing they are accompanied by a planning officer”.
“There also has to be a record kept by the councillor of any advice given,” the council said.