Did Dudley Mead, the deputy leader of the Conservative group that controls Croydon Council, deliberately mislead a full council meeting last night?
Croydon’s shameful record on providing emergency housing for the borough’s homeless was highlighted by BBC Newsnight two weeks ago, when our council’s treatment of some of the poorest and most vulnerable in society, who are forced to live in squalid and cramped conditions for weeks on end, was described as “an indictment of modern Britain”. No less than the ConDem government’s housing minister, Don Foster, accused Croydon of acting “doubly illegally”.
Yet there was no sign of Mead, as the Croydon cabinet member responsible for housing, on the programme. Was he hiding? Did he lack the moral fibre and character to defend the decision to spend more than £1.5 million of council money in seven months to rent sub-standard B&B accommodation which ought to fail most inspections?
Last night, surrounded by his pals in the council chamber, Mead re-discovered his bottle and boasted that had he been allowed on the programme he “would have given Don Foster what for”. He seemed to be suggesting that the BBC producers had not offered him the chance to speak on behalf of the council.
Taking the flak for Croydon on the programme was Jon Rouse, the council chief executive. There has got to be better ways of earning a £248,000 annual salary than having to cover for Cuddly Dudley.
Sources close to the programme have confirmed to Inside Croydon that Rouse was very much their second or third choice of interviewee. Bids had gone in to the council’s press office on several occasions, by phone and by email, to request an interview with Croydon’s policy maker, Mead.
Today, the press office at Croydon Council confirmed that they had received interview requests from the producer and the reporter, adding, “They did not specify anyone in particular.” Inside Croydon understands this to be untrue.
A request for an interview was even sent directly to Mead by the BBC. To which he failed – couldn’t? wouldn’t? – to respond.
So why did Mead make such a fuss in the council chamber to suggest that he was not invited to appear on the programme when that was not the case? And are council employees now covering up for him?
Mead, who has been a loyal Conservative Croydon councillor since 1980, is easily confused by modern media. Last night, he even slandered the Sadvertiser by describing a picture in the latest edition as “fraudulent”. Perhaps the caption font, which clearly describes the image of the Selsdon councillor as being “inset” over the main picture of the now infamous Gilroy Court Hotel, was too small for his ageing eyes?
Of course, if any councillor were to be found to have misled, or lied, to the council in a Town Hall meeting, it would be a very serious offence. Getting the press office to cover for them would compound that offence. The councillors’ code of conduct demands the highest standards, including “selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership”.
Until last night, such misconduct would have gone before the council’s independent standards board. Now, thanks to “reforms” put through by the Tories’ local government minister “Big” Eric Pickles, such matters will be considered by a panel of councillors, with the majority Tory group on Croydon Council holding sway. Such a loaded committee is unlikely ever to be openly critical of such a senior member of the Conservative group as Dudley Mead.
Dudley Mead has lived and worked in Croydon all his life, having been privately educated at the independent Trinity School, and he now sits on the governing court of the influential local property owner, the Whitgift Foundation, and the board of the Fairfield Halls, one of the few arts organisations in the borough that has continued to received large wedges of council funds despite cut-backs elsewhere. Mead, a retired accountant, has had much influence over the council’s finances.
Mead lives in a comfortable house on Mountwood Close in his Selsdon ward, with his wife Margaret, who like her husband is also a cabinet member on the council and a former mayor, and has close connections with the Foundation. Between them, the couple appear to live in relatively comfortable retirement, playing a bit of golf – Croham Hurst and Selsdon Park are nearby – and having their pick of tickets for shows at the Fairfield, as they bank nearly £90,000 a year between them in “allowances” from Croydon Council.
So there’s no accommodation crisis for the Meads.
We tried to call Dudley today, to ask whether he had forgotten about his invitation to appear on Newsnight when he spoke at the council last night, also telling them that he believed the housing crisis would only last another 12 months, and that the council was not being overcharged for the squalid B&B rooms at Gilroy Court.
But there was no answer. The answer machine was on at both his council office number and home phone. Perhaps Dudley was out on the golf course. After all, he wouldn’t want to be stuck in a pokey little room all day, now would he?
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