Things must be getting bad for florid-faced Mike Fisher, the Conservative leader of Croydon Council, who this morning announced at a poorly attended media briefing that he is to offer the borough’s residents a £3 million bribe – paid for out of their own money.
The move was described as “holding Croydon residents in contempt” by the Labour opposition.
Fisher wants to give a £25 Council Tax rebate to every household in the borough if he and his Tory group is re-elected at the local elections in May. That works out at less than 50p a week for each household.
“That’s less than the price of Ken Livingstone’s walnut whip,” one seasoned local political observer remarked. “Fisher’s taking the piss if he thinks he can buy people’s votes for 50p.”
Fisher was announcing the budget plans of his divided Tory group, and it is clear that he believes he has a stiff election coming up.
This morning’s announcement was aimed at two audiences. Obviously, there is the Croydon electorate who go to the polls in Town Hall elections on May 22. But perhaps more importantly for Fisher, it was an announcement intended to try to placate his own group of councillors, who are desperate to cling hold to control of the borough which they have run for eight years.
Politically, Fisher has been holed below his water line ever since he put himself up for nomination as the Croydon South prospective parliamentary candidate and was dumped on by a selection panel including half a dozen of his own councillors, failing even to make the short list.
One faction of Croydon’s Tories – understood to be led by Phil Thomas – wanted to offer a Council Tax cut before the election. This from the same Tory-run council which last year hiked Council Tax by close to the maximum they were allowed, 1.8 per cent.
Even after that increase, which has cost households paying Band D Council Tax £21.28 in 2013-2014, Croydon Tories are set to overspend on their own budget this year by at least £1 million, according to Kenley councillor Steve O’Connell. For 2014 and onwards, in common with local authorities across the country, Croydon faces even more swingeing reductions in its central government grant.
Council Tax in Croydon and across London is set for a modest decrease in 2014-2015, as a result of a 1.3 per cent reduction in the share taken by the Greater London Authority, as Tory Mayor Boris Johnson does his bit to help his Conservative colleagues in the boroughs – at the expense of closed fire stations and police stations across the capital.
The details of Fisher’s election bribe will be included in the council budget, which will go before the cabinet on February 24.
Other goodies that Fisher wants to dangle in front of the electorate before the polls in May is a two-week “rent holiday” – conveniently available in April – for council tenants, who will then be whacked by a £220 rent hike if the Tories are returned to power.
“Responsible management of our budget means we have, for the third time in four years, been able to ensure council tax bills will not rise,” Fisher said this morning.
“But we understand how tough times are for many families at the moment and we want to help as much as we can. That is why we are going a step further this year and offering all Council Tax-payers a discount on their bills.
“As well as easing the pressure on household spending this injection of cash should also benefit local businesses and help to support continued economic growth for the borough.”
But Tony Newman, the leader of the Labour group at the Town Hall, was scornful of the move: “This is a desperate election bribe from Croydon’s out-of-touch Tory council, who have blown £140m on Fisher’s Folly, their luxury HQ offices. That building has cost each household in Croydon the equivalent of £1,000, at least.
“When Fisher took over at the Town Hall eight years ago, the borough owed £154 million. By Fisher’s own figures, after eight years of Tory control, Croydon Council will soon have total debts of £1 billion – and now he wants to pile another £3 million on top of that debt mountain to try to save his own political career,” Newman said.
“Families are facing massive increases in energy bills and the overall cost of living, but Fisher’s election bribe is the equivalent of less than 50p per week per household. It will mean a cut of £3 million from vital council services.
“This money could have funded schools crossing patrols that have been cut, it could have paid for extra street cleaners, or it might have supported vital care services for the elderly.
“Does Fisher really hold the people of our borough in such contempt that he believes he can buy their votes so cheap, for less than 50p a week?” Newman asked.
“Only last year, he took this money off people in a council tax increase – costing more than £20 to anyone living in a Band D home. Now in a panic, he thinks Croydon Conservatives can con us all by offering us our own money. Come May 22, the people of Croydon, people who are truly ambitious for Croydon, will be able to show that it was the last political act of a desperate man.”
Coming to Croydon
- Edward Keszkiewicz art exhibition, Jan 21-Feb 1
- Lake Conan Doyle re-naming ceremony, Feb 1
- Give and Take Day, Surrey Street, Feb 1
- An audience with John O’Farrell, Feb 1
- Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, Feb 3
- Babylon at the Spread Eagle Theatre, Feb 4-6
- Steve Knightly at Stanley Halls: Feb 5
- Purley Swimathon: Feb 8 and 13
- Mark Steel at Ashcroft Theatre, Feb 12
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Feb 20
- Mr Pooter comes to Croydon, Feb 20-22
- Stop the Incinerator fund-raiser, Feb 24
- Coulsdon and Purley Debating Society, Mar 3
- Norwood Society talk, Upper Norwood Library, Mar 20
- Croydon Half-marathon, Mar 30
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