Mike Fisher could be in big trouble if one of his Conservative party leaders, Grant Shapps, gets to hear what’s been going on behind the scenes down here in Croydon.
“It is not justifiable for hikes in councillor allowances when public sector workers are facing a two-year pay freeze,” said Shapps in a statement issued by his Communities and Local Government ministry. “We’re all in this together, and those who hold public office need to lead by example.”
You reading this, Mike? “In this together”? And did you get the “lead by example” bit?
Our regular reader will need no reminding that Mike “I’m not in this for popularity” Fisher and his Conservative party mates who run Croydon Council have just voted themselves massive hikes in their allowances. Mike topped Croydon’s pay rise league table, with a sweet 22 per cent rise.
Fisher and his colleagues will of course point out that they have all agreed to “defer” taking the rise for a whole year. Now that’s real leadership.
Not sure it will be quite good enough for Mr Shapps, though…
“In an era of localism, councillors will have an increasingly important role to play in holding town halls to account on behalf of their residents,” Shapps says. “But councillors must remain arms-length volunteers. It will be harmful for local democracy if they become the bankrolled staff of the town hall dependant on the municipal pay packet.”
Now Shapps’s comments were aimed at slapping down the Local Government Association’s call for a mere 2.3 per cent rise in councillors’ allowances. Yes, just one-tenth of the rise that Croydon’s Conservative have awarded to Fisher. Whoops!
Shapps’s department’s statement continues: “Local councillor allowances are a matter for local councils, and Ministers have no legal powers to intervene. But Ministers are calling on councillors to freeze their allowances in line with public sector workers.”
Oh dear, Mr Fisher.
The more you read Shapps’s statement, the worse things become for our Mike.
“The new Government will let the sunlight of openness into councillor allowances to allow the press and public to hold elected officials to account more…
“The Government believes that it is time for a fundamental shift of power from Westminster to people. Our country will only make progress if we help people to come together to make life better. We are promoting decentralisation and democratic engagement, and we are ending the era of top-down government by giving new powers to councils, communities, neighbourhoods and individuals.”
“The sunlight of openness?” Oh dear, Mike…
Shapps’s statement was issued on the very day that Fisher’s Croydon Council was axing at least 60 jobs in the local economic development board, while cutting off all grant aid to most of the borough’s voluntary organisations.
These sensitive issues were supposed to be discussed at a public meeting of Croydon’s Cabinet. But around 50 local tax-payers were excluded from the meeting because there was not room to accommodate them at the Town Hall.
At that meeting, the increase in Croydon councillors’ allowances was not discussed.
Nor were the financial details of a Croydon plan to shift certain services from a £110-million-a-year Council department to a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC) discussed. So much for the “sunlight of openness” in Tory-controlled Croydon.
We look forward to the local Conservative party issuing an invitation to Mr Shapps to visit Croydon at the earliest opportunity. Or maybe Croydon Labour could do it for them?