Barking Council boss receives nearly £10,000 worth of West Ham tickets after studio deal | local government

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A town hall leader who wants to become an MP has accepted nearly £10,000 in free Premier League tickets from a Los Angeles film company after its council approved plans for its new film studios.

Darren Rodwell, the Labor leader of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham, has been entertained 19 times by the MBS Group in a luxury corporate box at West Ham stadium following deals paving the way for MBS and to its parent company, Hackman Capital Partners, to create 12 sound stages at former industrial sites.

Rodwell has been a strong supporter of the Eastbrook Studios project, describing it as the “real deal”. This involved the Borough selling key land to studio operators and changing planning restrictions.

Since September last year, he has regularly attended West Ham games, sometimes twice a week, as an MBS guest, with each visit valued at £526. Rodwell, a committed West Ham supporter who has his own subscriptions, has seen games against Manchester City, Liverpool, Spurs, Chelsea, Manchester United, Brighton, Newcastle United, Burnley, Watford, Leeds and Southampton as well as Genk, Viborg, Dinamo Zagreb, Eintract Frankfurt and Steaua Bucharest.

Hackman Capital Partners has studios around the world where productions such as The Sopranos, ET and The Late Late Show with James Corden have been filmed.

The arrangement – which Rodwell described as ‘co-hosting’ – has raised concerns that it could lead to the ‘perception, if not the reality, of undue influence’ and ‘risk of reputation” for him and the council to accept gifts from those who would benefit from their decisions.

The council’s code of conduct states: “Public office holders shall avoid any obligation to any person or organization that may attempt to influence them inappropriately in their work. They must not act or make decisions for the purpose of obtaining financial or other material advantages for themselves, their family or their friends.

Rodwell strongly denies any conflict of interest or that he violated the code. He declared corporate hospitality, said he used the box in part for the benefit of the community by inviting people with learning disabilities and children in care, and added: “It will help businesses in the borough, that’s what I’m here to promote as head of the council”.

MBS said it bought the box to entertain film and TV customers and business and community leaders as part of its drive to bring content production businesses to the east London area.

For several years Rodwell supported plans to build film studios on the site of a former pharmaceutical factory acquired by the council.

In October 2020, after “strong interest from several private sector organizations”, the borough entered into a 250-year lease of the site with HCP. He also agreed to lease a separate dock site for the studios, and his planning committee agreed to a change in use.

In November 2020, the board announced that it had signed a deal with HCP to “make Hollywood in London”. The project team is led by MBS.

Rose Zussman, policy manager at Transparency International UK, an anti-corruption charity, said: “Decision makers accepting large amounts of gifts and hospitality can lead to the perception, if not the reality, of undue influence. . There is a reputational risk to individuals themselves as well as to the board when they accept gifts from those who could benefit from their decisions, and this can have a long-term negative impact on public trust.

Rodwell strongly denied any suggestion that he pushed through the deals in hopes he would be dealt with by the studio companies. “All the major deals were done before they got the box and the planning is different from what I can do, I’m the executive.”

He said selling the site “was a business decision. It was a site we bought knowing we would sell later [it] on, and the public treasury profited from [it].”

Ian Sherborn, marketing director for MBS Equipment, said he bought the box more than a year after he was selected to buy the studios site from the council.

“We are lucky that [Rodwell] has on occasion been happy to co-host our box, meet our guests and help us showcase the benefits of the Barking and Dagenham community as a place to work and live,” he said. he declares. “He also constantly introduces us to many different businesses and local leaders, always with the goal of building relationships that will enhance job growth, civic engagement and education.”

A council spokesman said the sale was unanimously agreed to by the firm and overseen by a law firm “to ensure due process” and Rodwell did not sit on the planning committee.

“It’s their box, it’s not my box,” said Rodwell, who pointed out he would have been at the games anyway. “They want to show that there is a good relationship with the local authority, but at the same time my main objective is to make improvements in my community. When they have the spaces, I’m able to [invite] community groups and others.

He denied that his use of the box left the impression that studios could reimburse him for overseeing helpful deals. “No,” he said. “People might perceive it that way, but if there was something sneaky, I wouldn’t report it. I declare it.

He also denied that he derived any benefit from inviting people to the box and said that when he used it he would give away his own subscriptions. “If I brought in corporate partners, I would agree with you, but I don’t,” he said. “I bring the community.”

A spokesperson for Barking and Dagenham council said: ‘Councillor Rodwell derives no personal benefit from the box. When using the box, which he declares openly, he offers his subscriptions to local residents on a first-come, first-served basis via his social network pages. Recently, this included a mother and son who had fled domestic violence. »

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