The former Conservative MP for Croydon Central, Andrew Pelling, has today accused his local Tory councillors of being more interested in “the big cheque rather than the Big Society”.
It is the first time Pelling has spoken out publicly since he lost his seat at the May general election, when he stood as an independent candidate against the well-funded Tory machine, which saw Gavin Barwell returned.
Pelling today was responding to the Conservative-controlled Croydon Council’s decisions to axe grants to local voluntary and charity groups by two-thirds, when at the same time awarding their council leaders wage hikes of up to 34 per cent.
In a letter in today’s Croydon Guardian that is damning of his former council and party colleagues, Pelling accepts that Croydon is not alone among London councils in making cuts in its grants to the voluntary sector but, he says, “Croydon’s cuts are the harshest so far”. Pelling describes Croydon’s cuts as “Draconian”.
Pelling says, “A key theme for the Conservative party in power nationally is the ‘Big Society’, which is about making better things happen in society through charities and volunteers in the community.
“It is a contradiction then [that] the Conservatives in Croydon are cutting council support for charity work by 66 per cent while increasing top councillors’ pay by up to 34 per cent.”
Pelling compares his council unfavourably to Hammersmith & Fulham, also Conservative-controlled, where property has been sold to enable it to pump £2 million into local services.
“Meanwhile,” Pelling writes, “Croydon has been buying buildings and putting these buildings into a financial special purpose vehicle jointly owned by a commercial partner so it can invest any speculative profit from awarding planning permissions for these sites and developing these sites to subsidise the building of a new town hall.
“Property speculation in fragile economic times and the town hall grand project are higher priorities for Croydon Council than working with the community to meet our town’s immediate caring needs.”
Before he became an MP, Pelling attended Trinity School and after university he went into investment banking. As well as serving on the London Assembly, Pelling was a Croydon councillor for 24 years until he stood down to fight the Central Croydon seat in 2005, winning by just 75 votes from the incumbent Labour MP, Geraint Davies.
In September 2007, Pelling was suspended from the Conservative party whip in Parliament after a domestic incident saw him taken into police custody, although no charges were ever brought against him.
While Pelling continued to take his seat in the Commons as an independent, he initially decided not to contest the seat again. When he announced earlier this year that he would stand after all, the local Tory party had already selected Barwell as its candidate.
Facing a three-way fight for a marginal seat, Croydon Conservatives spent a considerable portion of their £35,000 election budget distributing a letter from Tory leader David Cameron which was seen as an attempt to smear Pelling.