As an employee of the council, you’re perhaps not used to being addressed by members of the public. You have no need to seek votes or favour. You’re not an elected official. Your role is not political.
In spite of that it has become increasingly clear to all concerned that in the absence of the mayor you are the driving force at Lewisham council behind what is currently the most politically divisive piece of business in the borough.
The Compulsory Purchase of land in the Surrey Canal area will evict not just Millwall Football Club Community Trust but local residents and businesses. This kind of power is usually reserved for infrastructure works that benefit all. In this case the benefit will go to a private developer at the expense of a community football club.
Are you happy, Barry, that you are acting within the bounds of your power in pushing this through? Is this democratically sound?
The Association of Millwall Supporters (AMS), members of the public and observers in the wider world have also been concerned about the historic relationship between the council and the parties who stand to gain from this use of public powers.
In order to address these doubts you have produced an email from your former colleague and associate Mushtaq Malik, someone we know you communicate with on a personal level.
This is an email, not a statement under oath, or anything that can be cross-examined. It comes from a source whose entire professional set-up is based around a network of opaque companies, the only point of which is to hide the truth, to conceal ownership and activity.
Anyone who can maintain that while Renewal (IHL) knew about the Lambert Smith Hampton sales brochure and the rest of Renewal did not, is expert at dancing on a pin when it comes to transparency of information.
Just the briefest glance at this email is enough to dig out an obvious massaging of the truth straight away. On Dave Sullivan Mr Malik says “between July 2002 and August 2007, Dave Sullivan was a director and minor shareholder in Renewal”.
Whereas in fact Company House records show Sullivan owned 24% of the company. He was also asked to leave Millwall’s board when the extent of his property acquisition with Renewal became clear. Such carelessness with the details on such a small matter will naturally colour the idea that Mr Malik’s email can be taken at its word as a complete record of all the facts.
More widely, Barry, can you see how this looks to every other person in the room? Mr Malik’s email is intended to reassure the world that no kind of covert corruption has taken place. Is it right the council has even been put in a position where its chief executive is reduced to publishing emails from a third party actively denying that inside deals, murkiness and personal relationships are in play?
Is this why you got into public service? Do you not feel any doubts, a pang of conscience that, just maybe, all those people out there saying this looks wrong might be right? Or at least that as an unelected administrator it’s not your part to evict residents and community assets in the face of such public disquiet?
It is hard to imagine you don’t feel that a little. In its report Lewisham states there is a “compelling case in the public interest” for this CPO to go ahead. On the same page the profound concerns and doubts of your own Overview & Scrutiny committee are dismissed without a backward glance. Why do you think they are objecting to this process? And what makes you so sure it is right to overrule them?
More specifically there are unanswered questions which Millwall’s supporters, local residents adversely affected and the wider community would like to know the answers to:
- Has Renewal’s owning trust been involved in any similar projects as a financial backer, given Renewals poor record in the UK?
- Is the trust the ‘sole’ controller or are there other parties involved in the BVI Co?
- Has the trust got liquidity to meet development costs? We note that a previous development in Southend was abandoned.
- Has the trust funded any of the land purchases?
Mr Malik’s reference to his family trust as an “ultimate owner” still leaves room for other owners and beneficiaries. The sole reason for operating behind a BVI company is to create anonymity. Email or no email, how can you justify granting public powers to a company that chooses to work like this, both as a matter of probity and more specifically as an elected Labour council?
As Millwall supporters and local residents we remain committed both to our club and to the improvement of the borough. We hope and trust that your priorities are the same, without prejudice or favour. We call on you to do what is objectively the sensible thing, to ensure all parties work together to protect not just the interests of developers, but those of local residents and Bermondsey’s outstanding community asset, Millwall FC.
Failure to listen to genuine concerns could, we fear, lead to Millwall Football Club’s loss of academy status as recognised by the EFL and, ultimately, the club being forced to relocate from the London Borough of Lewisham.
The Association of Millwall Supporters.