Secrets and libraries: Croydon adds to shabby reputation

And so a decision to spend £30 million of public money was taken at Croydon Town Hall last night by the Conservatives who control the council.

Croydon’s Conservative group leader Mike Fisher: wedded to secrecy over Laing deals. What has he got to hide?

But because of council leader Mike Fisher’s group’s aversion to openness and transparency, the details of this significant use of public money remains a strictly guarded secret by our paranoic borough leadership and its chief executive, Jon Rouse.

The Town Hall’s public gallery was cleared, Labour councillors were threatened (as usual) with expulsion for daring to question the lack of openness, and Croydon’s Tory councillors all duly did as they were told and voted to privatise the borough’s public libraries.

We are not even supposed to report the unnamed company that was awarded the deal, even though we reported more than a week ago … that it was all stitched up for John Laing Integrated Services.

This was all so predictable.

Last week, we wrote:

“Of course, those running Croydon Council, such as the leader of the Conservative group, Mike Fisher, or his deputy and the cabinet member now in charge of libraries, Tim Pollard, could end any damaging speculation about the way they have handed a £30million public procurement contract to the most expensive bidder simply by publishing the documents and all the figures.

“But they won’t.”

At times like this, Croydon Council resembles something between Stasi-run East Germany and Alice in Wonderland.

In choosing Laings, Croydon’s Tories threw out of the window the tissue of an argument they had presented about cost-saving economies of scale that they had offered for going into the competitive tendering process with Wandsworth.

Wandsworth – also Tory-run, remember – last week announced, in public, that they had chosen Greenwich Leisure on the grounds that theirs was the best bid and the cheapest bid. Wandsworth rejected Laings as being the worst tender of the three bidders.

Croydon’s hastily cobbled-together report said that they had rejected GLL because it has really poor staff management practices.

This is firmly in the realm of Lewis Carroll now, given Croydon Council’s own appalling record with its employees – allegations of bullying are widespread, and it now uses public money to pay for a priest to come into Taberner House to counsel stressed staff. Inside Croydon understands that our council is facing at least three potentially expensive and embarrassing challenges at Employment Tribunals in coming months.

But there is also a pattern when it comes to our council’s secret contracts…

  • The council’s new headquarters building is estimated to be costing £150 million. Details of the costs and contracts remain a secret. The work is being undertaken by John Laing the builders.
  • The council’s urban regeneration vehicle – URV – is a piece of property speculation on the rates. Croydon Council refuses to release the contracts for this public-funded enterprise, even to elected councillors. The council has had to take out loans worth hundreds of millions of pounds to lend-on to its commercial partners. The deal involves at least £450 million of public property. The URV is being run by John Laing the builders.
  • Croydon’s public libraries are about to be privatised, using the worst bidder after a tendering process that lasted more than a year. Worth £30 million over eight years, the library contract has been handed to a subsidiary of John Laing the builders.

That’s getting on for half a billion pounds of public money directed to one commercial organisation and its subsidiaries, all without any of the contracts ever being in the public domain.

And to think that “Call Me Dave” Cameron has decided to scrap the National Audit Office to “save costs”. Instead of having some degree of accountability through an independent body, scrutinising the use of public money, local authorities such as Croydon can now hand-pick who they want to go through their books and secret deals.

How convenient. Who has Croydon Council appointed to audit its activities? Grant Thornton: the same company which advised that our council could not afford to repair Taberner House but needed to build a new headquarters building.

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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in Croydon Council, Greenwich Leisure, John Laing Integrated Services, Jon Rouse, Libraries, Mike Fisher, Property, Tim Pollard, URV and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Secrets and libraries: Croydon adds to shabby reputation

  1. Last week, outside London, there were elections for Police Commissioners (a role undertaken in London by the Mayor of London). The Government were concerned about the record low turnout (between 12% and 20%, and at least one polling station where there were no voters). There is a similar problem of low turnout for the local council elections.

    However, when you see councillors permit major decisions, such as this, being made in secret then it is easy to see why the electors become disaffected with politicians in general and do not bother voting. The public get to think “what is the point of voting, it will not make any difference”, and “the councillors will do what suits them rather than consulting me”.

    The councillors should seek to involve the public more in important decisions; not make them behind closed doors.

    Peter Staveley
    Chairman
    UKIP Croydon

  2. derekthrower says:

    There are just too many coincidences happening now. Something is starting to reek!

  3. Starting to reek! It’s been stinking for ages.

    Just review previous important Council decisions. It shows that our elected members don’t give a monkey’s for Joe Public. This Council is one of the most devious and underhanded we’ve had and giving that we’ve had some shite in previous years, that should tell you something.

  4. Spring forward caped crusader Tony Newman, saviour of the library service, underpants worn over tights, brandishing an order for a judicial review.

    Posh Boy No1 may want to change the law in this respect, but he hasn’t done so yet. In the meantime, presumably Messrs Fisher and Rouse can be compelled to reveal all the details of their hole-in-the-corner arrangement with the unnamed contractor; starting, of course, with a formal announcement of the contractor’s name.

    I assume they can also be asked to explain why they apparently chose the most expensive of the three tenders – in local government, where price is everything, that is a truly remarkable decision.

    Like so much else about this council, over many years, this decision stinks.

    I look forward to reading that Mr Newman has put Labour’s money where his mouth is and resorted to law, but I won’t hold my breath.

  5. More should attend these meetings to witness the farce.

    The majority of the questions raised at last night’s meeting were blocked, deemed as divulging information that is “commercially sensitive”, including the names of the short-listed and preferred bidders and any details of the service level to be provided. Cllr Tim Pollard told the meeting, in all earnestness, that to divulge details would be like giving away all the bidders secrets! Does he really think we were born yesterday?

    When the public were asked to clear the gallery four of us remained seated, in silence, in protest at the awful secrecy and total lack of transparency The committee reconvened in another room in order to continue the meeting without the press and public to witness any discussion or decision.

    Croydon deserves more than this shabby and wilful disregard for democracy.

  6. It was a farce and anything worth talking about could not be discussed as it was deemed to belong to Part B of the agenda, the secret part.

    There were 5 people in the gallery, each representing groups. We were told to leave the gallery when Part B was about to start.

    4 women stayed. 1 man left.

    The invitation was repeated. We remained seated whilst councillors looked worried because they did not know what would come next. No sensational or lurid details to report here: we remained seated, did not chain ourselves to the handrail or throw ourselves or any object from the gallery.

    We were Council Tax-payers whose money goes to cover the allowances of the elected representatives, whose money will be squandered in this 8 year,renewable, contract with Laing and who had a right to know what the Council was planning to do in our name.

    The chair then sent security (1 man) and a member of staff who were very polite and dared not touch us.

    I tried to explain our point but the chair curtly answered that the public could not speak. The answer to her was: “Then we will not move”.

    The chair and the Con councillors picked up their secret and confidential papers and retreated to another room. Labour councillors followed after a while.

    Shame on Croydon Council for squandering £250,000 in a make believe procurement exercise.
    Shame on Croydon Council for privatizing a public asset and 2 years of lies.
    Shame on Croydon Council for the contempt they show towards residents and the democratic process.

    This is the only the beginning: we will get the transparency and accountability we demand from people who begged to be elected to serve.

  7. Well done Elizabeth for staying put. There is no excuse for Croydon Council to be hiding the names of the bidders. It is our money that they are spending (or saving if you believe the Council).

    I am surprised that Council did not call the Police to clear you from the gallery.

    Were any Labour Group members permitted into that secret meeting?

    Peter Staveley
    UKIP

  8. They had no right to remove us, Peter, as we were doing nothing wrong; they did not have a leg to stand on, and they knew it! We just wanted transparency for Croydon. Is that so much to ask?

    It is our money and our statutory services that Croydon toys with. We have every right to understand the figures, options and decisions made, even if Croydon refused to take on board residents’ views to advise the process.

    We need more people willing to stand up for what is right and I’m proud to have met with fellow residents, all women, who were willing to take a stand on the night to highlight the issue.

    Shame the local press did not chose to cover it as it was not sensational enough. Sensation was never our aim. We held firm as we felt the secrecy was an injustice for Croydon as a whole. Residents’ views are not being represented and this needs to be addressed urgently.

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