Croydon’s opposition group has reacted with outrage at plans to merge some of the council’s key services with operations in nearby Kingston, Richmond, Sutton and Merton.“Judging by the public comments already made by the leader of Richmond council it’s clear that this is a potential first step to Croydon merging with a number of south London councils,” Tony Newman, leader of the opposition Labour group, told Inside Croydon following our report on Friday.
The subject is on the agenda for this Monday’s Croydon Cabinet meeting, even though according to reports last week in the Richmond & Twickenham Times, the agreement between the five boroughs has already been signed.
The proposal before the Cabinet is to delegate responsibility to chief executive Jon Rouse, “in consultation with the Leader, be authorised to make any amendments considered necessary to finalise the South London Memorandum of Cooperation prior to its signature by the Leader at their next South London Partnership Leaders’ meeting in March 2011”.
The council’s report states: “There is increasing interest nationally, sub-regionally and locally about opportunities for local authorities to work more closely together – ranging from full scale mergers to one-off joint working. Croydon’s services are rated among the most cost effective in London and it has an established track record of working with other local authorities and developing innovative approaches to new ways of working.
“Examples of where the Council already shares services with other boroughs include our Insurance & Risk Service and our Audit & Fraud investigation functions.
“The Council has also recently moved to set up a Local Authority Trading Company (LATC), which will enable it to trade and expand its considerable expertise and track record in a number of key adult care and related support services.”
The latter appears to confirm the privatisation of the council’s adult care services, selling elements of their operation to the other four boroughs.
Although Croydon is planning some 300 job cuts under the terms of its budget, what the merger proposals won’t be doing is cutting down on any of the £100,000-plus per year directors working at Taberner House.
The memorandum of understanding says: “Some councils have taken a ‘top down’ approach to shared services – notably, by announcing their intention to share Chief Executives and Management teams. We have deliberately chosen not to take this route,” Inside Croydon‘s italics, “as we prefer to build up shared services from specific business cases that demonstrate proven efficiencies.”
The presentation of this paper at Monday’s meeting looks to be nothing more than a done deal, as according to leaders of other councils in the merger deal, it has already been signed.
Councillor Newman said: “Croydon Tories have no electoral mandate for this. and it raises serious questions about how local people will be able to hold anyone to account for how their local services are provided.
“For the people of Croydon to find out from another town’s local paper that Tory council leader Mike Fisher is selling out our town and merging it with Richmond and suburban south-west London is an insult to our precious local democracy.
“It is a disgrace and goes a long way to explaining the contempt with which he has treated Croydon residents as he has slashed and burned local services.”
The political make-up of the various south-west London councils that are part of the South London Partnership is worth a look:
- Kingston council is under Liberal Democrat control after last May’s local elections (27 LD; 21 Con; 0 Lab)
- Richmond swung profoundly from Lib Dems to Conservatives last year (30 Con; 24 LD; 0 Lab)
- In Merton, the majority group is Labour, but with five Lib Dem and Independent councillors holding the balance of power (28 Lab; 27 Con; 3 Independent; 2 LD)
- Sutton‘s LibDems improved their majority control last May (43 LD; 11 Con)
- Croydon, in case you needed reminding, is Conservative controlled (37 Con; 33 Lab).