Croydon’s Conservative-run Council wants to put professional wrestling and Roy “Chubby” Brown on the rates.
At a meeting of the ruling Tory group’s cabinet tonight, proposals to take over the Fairfield Halls and the London Mozart Players will be discussed. And, no doubt, approved.
It is not yet known whether these plans include re-naming the orchestra the Croydon Mozart Players, and after 50 years re-titling the venue as the Dudley Mead Empire.
Croydon’s Tories, despite cutting arts funding for most other activities in the borough, closing the David Lean Cinema, axing the modest grant to the Warehouse Theatre and cancelling the annual Mela music festival, have continued to pump more than £1 million a year of public cash into the Fairfield Halls’ and Mozart Players’ running costs.
They have also agreed to spend £27 million (the latest published figure) on a redevelopment for the struggling arts centre.
The takeover proposals have no public mandate, Croydon’s residents have never been consulted, and the council paperwork ahead of tonight’s Town Hall meeting was not revealed until late last week. But the Fairfield Halls and LMP have eagerly agreed to the council taking over a 75 per cent controlling stake of the organisations.
This could all be indicative of how deep the Fairfield Halls’ financial crisis has become.
The council takeover may be designed to protect the interests of property developers’ multi-million pound schemes for building “luxury apartments” (or over-priced two-bedroom flats) centred around its “Fair Field Masterplan”.
By taking over the Fairfield, the council may also be looking to remove the pension fund burden which has been saddled on the Halls since it was removed from local authority control.
Certainly, the move flies in the face of the ConDem government’s 2011 Localism Act, which provides a right for charitable trusts, voluntary bodies and others to apply to councils to carry out services provided by the council. In this case, Croydon’s Conservative-run council has managed to get that arse-about-face.
And then there is the stunningly obvious conflicts of interest, mostly surrounding Councillor Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the council and cabinet member responsible for “capital budget and asset management”, who also happens to sit on the board of… the Fairfield Halls.
For many in Croydon, the first they may have known about the re-nationalisation of the Fairfield Halls was in an announcement on the local Tory party’s own website last week.
“The Conservative-controlled council in Croydon is set to join forces with Fairfield and the LMP in a bid to support these much-loved local cultural institutions and safeguard them for future generations,” they said. “Both organisations believe that working more closely with the council will help secure their future and long-term prosperity.”
It does not take much reading between the lines to see that as a council-funded bail-out of an arts venue in financial crisis.
According to the Tories, the borough has plans to “put Croydon on the map” (it’s already there, guys, right between Sutton and Bromley) “as a major cultural destination”. This from the people who have managed to shut down or withdraw funding from most other arts organisations within the borough.
The move raises some fundamental questions about the legal and charitable status of the Fairfield Halls, since there is nothing in the council paperwork that demonstrates any consultation with – never mind formal approval from – the Charity Commission, which would need to clear any change in status of the Fairfield Halls and London Mozart Players.
Given Croydon Council’s past, lamentable record for raising funding from third parties, such as the various arts councils and lottery funds, there must be doubts whether a council takeover of the Fairfield Halls will also jeopardise any ambitions of securing investment from outside the borough.
But at least Dudley and Margaret Mead, the Terry and June of the Croydon Establishment, will still get their free tickets to all the pro wrestling and tribute acts that they want.
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- Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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