Questions continue to mount over political influence at council

There is mounting evidence that some of Croydon Council’s most senior officials are behaving in a dubious manner in respect of the local elections later this month, when they have tens of thousands of pounds of public money at their disposal which potentially could be abused to favour one party over all others.

Some of the conduct is at best questionable, but there is also evidence that leading figures from the local Conservative Party, including senior councillors, have managed to blur the distinction between officials’ proper conduct, to the benefit of Tory candidates.

The latest issue of Your Croydon: a "neutral" council publication, or straight from Tory party HQ?

The latest issue of Your Croydon: a “neutral” council publication, or straight from Tory party HQ?

Council employees, such as Nathan Elvery and Julie Belvir, owe their positions, and their generous six-figure public servant salaries, to the likes of florid-faced Mike Fisher, the leader of Croydon Tories, and his henchman, Phil “Two Permits” Thomas.

Belvir is the borough solicitor who has always seemed most reluctant to take any disciplinary action over the  conduct of Tory councillors. Such as when a member of the planning committee sent out job applications using her official council email address and offering her planning “expertise” to the potential employers. Belvir found an excuse to avoid acting on an apparent abuse of public office.

Elvery is the “interim chief executive” of Croydon Council. He also acts as the returning officer for the borough, supposedly overseeing the fair conduct of the local elections on May 22. Entrepreneurial Elvery’s appointment as the borough’s CEO, with its accompanying £200,000-plus salary, is still subject to confirmation. This may depend on which party wins the election in three weeks’ time.

The council’s employees are supposed to be strictly neutral and separate from the political process, and public money is not supposed to be used to favour any political party. But there have been a number of occasions when that supposed neutrality can be called into question.

This week, we have reported how Elvery has chosen not to use any civic buildings – such as the £140 million new council headquarters in the heart of the borough – but instead spend thousands of pounds of public money to hold the election count in a private school, where the chairman of governors is a local Conservative MP and one of its most notable Old Boys is the deputy leader of the Tory group on the council.

Then there were the Council Tax leaflets which were sent to every household in the borough in March and the latest edition of Croydon’s very own “Town Hall Pravda“, as government minister Eric Pickles would call it, the council’s Your Croydon magazine, which all looked like something produced straight from Conservative Party headquarters. And all published at the expense of Croydon Council Tax-payers.

There were even suggestions that the original design of the cover of the March edition of Your Croydon, featuring emergency services working on the Kenley floods, was withdrawn, apparently on the order of senior Town Hall figures, to be replaced with a soft-focus image of the Hammersfield development and graphics that were almost identical to those appearing in Tory election materials. More than mere coincidence?

Now Inside Croydon has obtained copies of emails sent in the past week which show how a senior Tory councillor contrived to get council directors and other officials to give a “heads up” to (as yet unelected) Conservative Party candidates, potentially assisting in their campaign on a key issue in one of the battleground wards which could determine who wins control of the council later this month.

Nathan Elvery: Croydon's interim CEO. Does his permanent appointment depend on which party wins the elections on May 22?

Nathan Elvery: Croydon’s interim CEO. Does his permanent appointment depend on which party wins the elections on May 22?

The correspondence stemmed from an article published by Addiscombe’s Labour councillors about (what else?) fly-tipping in their ward.

As opposition councillors, Sean Fitzsimons and his Labour colleagues have had to watch over the past four years as the flawed policies and service cuts implemented by the Tory-run council have halved the frequency of bin collections, seen contractors Veolia allowed to monitor their own work (it saves on paying council officials to do so, but is the council equivalent of marking your own homework), and in 2013 saw the council bring the grand total of no prosecutions cases against fly-tippers.

Phil Thomas, the Conservative cabinet member responsible for the state of the borough’s streets, began the chain of emails at the start of the week when he wrote from his private account jth6767518philip@aol.co.uk , apparently to a council official: “Can you please get the fly tipping removed from Alexandra Rd on Tues ? There are numerous Veolia orange bags there attracting all sorts of rubbish. Thanks, Philip”.

So far, so good. It seems that even Thomas is beginning to acknowledge how bags of crap left on random street corners by his contractors attract ever more bags of crap. 

Thomas had had the Addiscombe councillors’ website article pointed out to him by Mario Creatura.

Creatura is another public servant who is supposed to behave politically neutrally while he works on the Westminster staff of Croydon Central’s Conservative MP Gavin Barwell.

Creatura’s party political activity while on the public pay-roll has drawn regular complaints. His indulgent boss reckons Creatura always does his party work during his breaks from work.

Creatura also happens to be standing for election on May 22 as one of the Tory candidates in the safe Conservative ward of Coulsdon West, although before he was parachuted in as a candidate, he had no obvious ties with the area. So from May 23, he’ll be adding at least £12,000 a year in council “allowances” to the generous taxpayer-funded salary he already receives as the “gobby factotum” for Barwell.

He had written to Thomas about the Addiscombe fly-tipping from his official Westminster email account, mario.creatura@parliament.uk.

The street scene on Alexandra Road, Addiscombe last weekend. Even Tory councillors accept privately that this is unacceptable

The street scene on Alexandra Road, Addiscombe last weekend. Even Tory councillors accept privately that this is unacceptable. “The dumping of any rubbish is strictly prohibited”, unless, it seems, you happen to be using the council contractors’ orange bags

A few hours later, Thomas was on the case again. Still using his private email account (was he writing as a Croydon councillor, or as a Croydon Tory?), at 9.58am on April 29, Thomas wrote to Anthony Brooks. Brooks is the director public safety and public realm at the council.

“Tony,” Thomas wrote, “Can we please target this road to catch the people fly tipping?”

Thomas copied his email to his Tory cabinet colleague Simon “I’m Cheap But I’m Not Free” Hoar, Creatura and his boss, Barwell, and to Andy Opie, another council official, the “head of community safety services”.

Significantly, the final name on the list of recipients of Thomas’s email was David Harmes, one of the three Conservative candidates in Addiscombe who are challenging to win back this key ward. At no point until now had Thomas sought to involve either the elected councillors for the ward, nor any of the candidates standing in the local election from other parties, such as the Greens, UKIP or LibDems.

Just after midday on Wednesday, Councillor Thomas got a formal response from Croydon Council, sent from Opie’s personal assistant. This was also sent to Fitzsimons.

It said: “I understand that you have both raised the issue of Veolia bags left in Alexandra Road in Addiscombe; thank you for bringing this matter to our attention.  This matter was passed to the ISC Streetscene team for clearing yesterday, and I have also referred the matter to the Enforcement Team for further investigation.  As soon as I have more information I will update you.”

Also copied in was Councillor Hoar and as yet unelected Tory candidates Creatura and Harmes. The email was addressed to “Councillors”. Maybe someone inside the council’s offices has some advance information about the outcome of the election on May 22?

Inside Croydon’s recent coverage of the local elections:

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 2014 council elections, 2015 General Election, Addiscombe, Anthony Brooks, Coulsdon West, Croydon Central, Fly tipping, Gavin Barwell MP, Julie Belvir, Mark Watson, Nathan Elvery, Patricia Hay-Justice, Peter Staveley, Phil Thomas, Refuse collection, Sean Fitzsimons and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Questions continue to mount over political influence at council

  1. Can’t help noticing the date on that cheque!

  2. davidjl2014 says:

    This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done. Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have. And Croydon’s Council Tax payers finish up paying the bill for it!

  3. east1956 says:

    Pie-Crust Promises in Addiscombe!
    The rubbish issues are #3 in the Conservatives 7 Point Plan for Addiscombe.
    #1 width restrictions, one-way systems and speed cameras are all included in the Tory’s promises to the voters in Addiscombe ward. No doubt many will be cheering as they proceed into the booth to cast their ballot. However it does seem odd that the Conservative led council hasn’t implemented this before as residents have been complaining for at least a decade.
    #5 money for Cherry Orchard Rd to bring the standard of the area up to that of the Addiscombe shopping area (recently the target of massive investment to make it beautiful & its lovely!). And the Leslie Arms are to be brought back into active use! But there’s no money for this fantasy and Croydon planners make secret of the fact that Cherry Orchard Rd has largely been abandoned as a local retail area.
    The Tories seem to be promising a lot for the elections fearful of being undermined by UKIP and of Labour’s growing reputation locally.

    But these are pie-crust promises, the lot of them. They will all be broken as soon as the election is declared.
    Pie-Crust promises; Easily Made & Easily Broken : Mary Poppins

    Cllr Thomas wont let any changes to traffic management occur if it means that some of that traffic starts using Tories stronghold streets instead or that impedes drivers from the Tory wards racing through the narrow streets of inner Croydon. (less than 10% of cars moving through the streets in question bear Residents Parking Permits, so they are not locals!) Allegedly Cllr Thomas blocked closing Lebanon Rd to traffic entering from Addiscombe Rd, despite petitions and requests from residents over the years, because ……… (well that would be speculation)

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