Croydon’s Chief Executive Jon Rouse has chosen to bung potentially thousands of pounds of public money to a local independent school which has three past or present Conservative councillors on its ruling committee – all at the expense of council-run venues.
This comes at a time when some council-run facilities are facing closure because of cuts being imposed by the Conservative group that is running Croydon Council.
But Rouse, or rather his staff in the Ministry of
UnTruth in Taberner House, refuse to divulge exactly how much public money is being paid, nor the reasons behind the decision to hold next month’s count on the AV referendum at exclusive Trinity School, where parents pay £10,000 per year to send their boys.
Until the elections 12 months ago, Croydon used to stage its ballot counts at the Fairfield Halls. The council also runs several other large scale buildings in the borough where such a count could be staged.
Even today, Mike Fisher, the Tory leader of Croydon Council, was quoted as supporting the staging of events, paid for by the borough’s Council Tax-payers, at venues such as the Fairfield Halls.
It is always good to see a leading local Conservative politician speaking in support of public subsidies for important local arts and culture facilities (has Fisher met Ronnie Corbett?). So here at Inside Croydon Towers, we were obviously overwhelmed with joy to see Fisher embrace the sound economic principle that, as we are subsidising them any way, the council ought to ensure that it stages as many of its public events in venues such as the Fairfield Halls.
Speaking to the Sadvertiser about staging the lavish (Tory) Mayor’s Banquet next month (“Cuts? What cuts?”), “Fisher explained the council covers the Fairfield’s deficit with an annual grant each year, and by not having the dinner at the Fairfield the venue would lose income which the council would have to cover in the long term anyway”.
Which prompts the question: so why is the council not staging the referendum count at Fairfield Halls on May 6, but using public money at a rival, and privately owned, venue?
We asked Danny Brierley, Croydon’s Burnley-supporting answer to Alastair Campbell (but without the charm) at the council’s Ministry of
It took press officer Brierley more than a day, and at least one reminder, to trudge back reluctantly to us with his usual attempt at a non-answer: “Because the returning officer has decided that is the best venue for it.”
The returning officer happens to be Brierley’s boss, Jon Rouse. So the count is at Trinity School because Rouse says so. And we’ll be getting our copies of Your Croydon handed down from the mountain on tablets of stone next.
We asked Brierley a second question which the press officer again avoided answering. “What are the charges that the council will pay for staging the count at Trinity School?” Rather than provide an honest answer, Brierley said, “The council will not pay any charges. All costs are paid through central government.”
This is untrue.
While the election count is funded by the government, the council must first pay the charge and account to central government to reclaim the costs.
With Croydon Council unwilling to explain the decision of its unaccountable chief executive, the ordinary people of Croydon can only surmise that Rouse has decided to handover a huge cheque of public funds to the burser at Trinity School simply because it is an old pals’ act.
According to guidance provided by the Ministry of Justice, in a formula based on Croydon’s population, Rouse can claim up to £7,500 to pay for accommodation costs for the referendum count, including hall hire.
The £7,500 (which is a maximum spend figure) comes from a total referendum expenses budget for Croydon of £461,925. That’s the third largest in the whole of London.
But Croydon gets the biggest amount in London attributed to a “services fee” for its returning officer, up to £11,776. That sounds like a nice little earner for the very same Jon Rouse who is already on a publicly funded salary of nearly £200,000 per year.
Yet Rouse won’t explain how he came to choose Trinity School as the venue for the referendum count.
The Trinity School website is more helpful, as it lists members of its governing committee.
This include Trinity old boy and former Croydon councillor Gavin Barwell MP; Trinity old boy, former Croydon mayor and deputy leader of the ruling Conservative group on the council, “Cuddly” Dudley Mead, and his missus, Margaret Mead, who also happens to be a Conservative councillor in Croydon.
Hard-working Dudley manages to claim £44,000 per year from the public purse in “allowances” from Croydon Council. Mrs Mead gets a similar amount, too, for her tireless work.
Since Dudders claims to be on council work from 7.15am to 11pm every day, too, it is a mystery how he gets time also to serve on the management committee of his old school.
But the ties that bind, eh?