Reflecting on the events in Croydon Town Hall this week leaves one wondering whether the glass is half empty or half full in terms of our local democracy.
On the positive side, that we have finally opened up the full council meetings to live broadcast coverage again is a good thing, as is the fact that at this week’s budget meeting, both local trades unions, disability groups and others were present and making their voices heard, even if they had to witness the increasingly discredited Croydon Tories vote through their cuts budget at the same time as increasing our Council Tax.
The challenge though is how far we still have to go to make Croydon a truly transparent, open and lively local democracy.
Because on Tuesday night we also saw nothing less than an abuse of power, as the supposedly neutral Mayor, who chairs the council meetings, allowed the Tory front bench to announce the collapse of their flagship libraries privatisation policy but then banned Labour councilors from asking questions on the issue.
This libraries sell-off involves millions of pounds of our money as Council Tax-payers being potentially handed over to Laings, who are building the Conservatives’ luxury council HQ, as they are, in Councillor Mike Fisher’s opinion, the best people to run our much-loved public libraries.
It is a situation that is, frankly, a disgrace. Labour councillors will be calling an emergency meeting of the council to expose further this sordid tale.
An incoming Labour council in 2014 is committed to reinstating immediately live webcasts of all council meetings and encouraging continued broadcasting.
Equally importantly, we will publish all papers for all council meetings at least a week in advance and we will expose immediately for public scrutiny all the remaining papers that conceal the truth behind the Laing contract, both in terms of the £140 million luxury council offices and, if it ever proceeds, the libraries sell-off.
Enough is enough. Something has to change, and it will.
- Library deal collapse leaves “£1m black hole” in council budget
- Laings quit £30m Croydon libraries privatisation deal
- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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- Whoops… Council setting the agenda for blunders (insidecroydon.com)
- Council tax revolt forces up bills (telegraph.co.uk)
- Council tax up despite incentives (bbc.co.uk)
- Eric Pickles faces town hall revolt as councils refuse to freeze council tax (guardian.co.uk)