Accountability? Not if you ask a councillor “What do you do?”

Steve O'Connell: he pockets £115,000 per year of public money, but he is against the London Living Wage for others

The monthly charade of democracy that is residents’ questions at the council meeting was rendered even more of a sham on Monday when the chairman, the aged Mayor of Croydon Graham Bass, appeared not to hear a resident’s supplementary question and so cut him off from following up on the cabinet member’s response.

And all the resident wanted to ask was: “What is it that you actually do for £115,000 of public cash?”

The problem with the Town Hall question time session is that it gives the council meeting the appearance of being a democratic process, when of course it is nothing of the sort. Party lines are maintained, a bit of petty point-scoring is undertaken, and then the ruling group on the council goes ahead and does what it likes anyway. Truly helpful answers from our elected representatives are as rare as unicorns handing out 50-quid notes on Croydon High Street.

That the people providing these responses are all being paid around £45,000pa of public money to behave in an often patronising, arrogant, pompous and contemptuous manner towards local residents only underlines how unaccountable our council establishment really is. Take a look at Monday’s session by clicking here.

The session makes no real sense. Just 15 minutes is allocated to public questions. This month there were 39 written questions, all filed in advance to receive carefully drafted, yet usually evasive responses.

Having watched PMQs on the telly, everyone thinks that they can play the same game in the Town Hall. Each questioner is supposed to have an opportunity to ask a supplementary, follow-up question. This presents a problem for “old Billy” Bass, as he tries to fit a quart’s worth of questions into a pint-sized period of time.

It also seems that if any of his mates in Our Brave Leader Mike Fisher’s top team is being given a particularly hard time, Bass has a knack of finding some excuse for moving swiftly on. John Bercow he ain’t.

On Monday, in the case of a supplementary from resident Andrew Rendle ostensibly about the London Living Wage, Bass opted to cock a deaf ‘un, offered the “Haven’t I heard that question from you already, laddie?” approach, and moved swiftly on.

So, in the interests of openness and transparency, Inside Croydon is happy to reproduce here Rendle’s original question and O’Connell’s answer.

And, as an open question to O’Connell, we can also publish Rendle’s unasked supplementary. Not that we have an expectation that O’Connell, £115,000 per year or not, will bother to provide a proper answer.

Q. Does Cllr O’Connell agree with me that all Croydon’s public sector workers, and those moved from the public to private sector be paid at least the London living wage? And what is he doing to make sure those currently under this threshold are paid the proper LLW?

Answer from Councillor Steve O’Connell: The Council does not have a policy to adopt the London Living Wage (LLW).

Excluding schools and apprentices there is one employee, who is not paid the current LLW and this position is to be adjusted for the new financial year. All employees are paid above the national minimum wage.

Although the Council is ultimately the employer for community and voluntary controlled schools, head teachers and governing bodies are responsible for managing school budgets. The increase in the pay bill from adopting the LLW is likely to carry significant operational implications for schools which have not been assessed.

Requiring contractors delivering Council contracts to adopt the LLW, has the potential to create equal pay issues for the contractors. Should the same contractor deliver the a service for Croydon and another London borough who does not implement the LLW, the contractor may be forced to pay its own employees different rates of pay for undertaking the same work or increase the rates of pay for its employees working on the non-Croydon contract. The first option may expose the contractor to equal pay claims and the second option will drive up market rates for delivering the contracts.

There are a number of far-reaching consequences from adoption the LLW which need to be properly considered before the Council makes a decision over whether or not to adopt the LWW.

And here is the supplementary question that a Croydon resident was not allowed to ask of his publicly funded local councillors.

Thank you, Mr Mayor. Cllr O’Connell: I hope you can clarify your answer to my question. I would have thought an answer to “Do you support the London Living Wage?” would be either “yes”, “no” or even “don’t know.”

This month has seen your first bulletin as cabinet member for performance and transformation where you point to a framework that will help you “be accountable for the things that really matter to our residents”.

All councillors take an allowance and how Council Tax-payers’ money is spent really matters to our residents. Therefore I suggest that what councillors do should be published.

I know that by the constitution you don’t have to do so, but perhaps an agreement from both sides could see for a start at least front bench members publish their diary.

I propose going back to the last six months of 2011 and starting there to really answer people’s concerns quickly, and updating every three months. Do you think that this will improve the performance and transform local government for the better?

  • Inside Croydon: brought to you from the heart of the borough, free of charge, an independent voice standing for freedom of speech for the people of Croydon

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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