Welcome to DudleyWorld, a parallel universe that exists only around Croydon Town Hall and the home of the borough’s “first couple”, where nothing is quite what it seems.
On Friday, the press office at Croydon Council – which, as if you needed to be reminded, is paid for by the Council Tax-payers of Croydon – must have spent several hours drafting a press release under the heading “Setting the record straight on Council Tax”. The press release began: “Contrary to recent reports, Croydon Council’s record on council tax collection is far from the worst in the country.”
“Far from the worst in the country”. Let’s remember that statement.
The “recent reports” which Croydon says are wrong would be what appeared in the right-wing Daily Express (possibly the newspaper of choice in the household of Croydon Councillors Dudley and Margaret Mead?); the comments made by Grant Shapps, a Conservative party MP and local government minister; the comments from the Local Government Association; and the research of the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA).
According to Croydon Council, these ministers and august bodies are all wrong.
According to Dudders and the council’s press office, just because Croydon Council has failed to collect “a colossal” £40.2 million in Council Tax, a greater amount of uncollected Council Tax than in any other local authority in the country, does not make it the worst local authority in the country for Council Tax collection. Oh no.
“Data released by the Department of Communities and Local Government this week claimed that at just over £40 million Croydon had one of the largest outstanding amounts of any council, making it the worst performer in the country,” says Croydon.
Note the use of the word “claimed” to suggest that it is not so (when, in fact, it is).
Also, notice the way that Croydon’s spinmasters dissemble by saying that the borough “had one of the largest outstanding amounts of any council”, when in fact it has the largest outstanding amount of any council.
Now there’s some who might say that this is sophistry. Others might call it circumlocution. It seems to us that it is deliberate misinformation.
Here are some facts: last year, Croydon failed to collect more than £40 million in council tax. That is more uncollected than any other council in the country. That’s according to the ConDem government, a government minister, a Whitehall department , the local government association and CIPFA.
But not according to Croydon Council and Councillor Dudley Mead.
Talking about Labour councils, Conservative minister Shapps described their failures to collect smaller amounts of Council Tax than Croydon’s £40 million as, “displaying breathtaking incompetence when it comes to basic financial management”.
Councillor Mead, who presides over “financial
mis-management” and the non-collection of Council Tax in Croydon, sees it all very differently. According to the council press release, because Croydon is a big borough – among the biggest in the country – it is only to be expected that they have one of the largest amounts of uncollected Council Tax.
It is the sort of self-satisfied reductive logic that ends up with £40 million in Council Tax being uncollected.
It is the sort of argument that allows an outdated collections database to exist that sends out Council Tax demands and court orders to more than 20 dead people, as happened last year in Croydon.
According to Croydon Council and Councillor Mead, because Croydon is collecting 96 per cent of Council Tax that is due, they are doing a bang-up job.
On this site last week, one Croydon Council press officer claimed that this is “almost exactly the average collection rate for London”.
Croydon’s 96 per cent collection rate is “almost exactly” worse than the 96.2 per cent average for outer London boroughs – meaning that Croydon is doing a worse job than, say, Bromley, or Sutton, or Kingston.
No matter that Council Tax is regarded as a very efficient tax to collect, and that the national average collection rate is 97.1 per cent (this is according to the Communities and Local Government Department’s figures).
No matter that six years ago, Croydon was only the second worst local authority in the country for uncollected Council Tax. Back in 2005, of 351 local authorities in England, Croydon was behind only Birmingham for the non-collection of Council Tax. Then, £9.2 million went uncollected in Croydon.
Yes: £9.2 million.
So, after six years of Councillor Dudley Mead and his chums being in charge at Croydon Council, working alongside Nathan Elvery, the “executive director of resources and customer services” (salary: £150,167.76 per year), Croydon has now failed to collect £40.2million in Council Tax.
Yes: £40.2 million.
Remember, according to Dudders and Croydon Council, that is “Far from the worst in the country”.
The worst thing about Dudders and the council’s deceit is that it is as if they do not accept any responsibility for the non-collection of £40 million, and they fail to offer any apology nor do they suggest ways of correcting such short-comings.
It could all amount to what Tory government minister Grant Shapps calls: “breathtaking incompetence when it comes to basic financial management”.