And so a decision to spend £30 million of public money was taken at Croydon Town Hall last night by the Conservatives who control the council.
But because of council leader Mike Fisher’s group’s aversion to openness and transparency, the details of this significant use of public money remains a strictly guarded secret by our paranoic borough leadership and its chief executive, Jon Rouse.
The Town Hall’s public gallery was cleared, Labour councillors were threatened (as usual) with expulsion for daring to question the lack of openness, and Croydon’s Tory councillors all duly did as they were told and voted to privatise the borough’s public libraries.
We are not even supposed to report the unnamed company that was awarded the deal, even though we reported more than a week ago … that it was all stitched up for John Laing Integrated Services.
This was all so predictable.
Last week, we wrote:
“Of course, those running Croydon Council, such as the leader of the Conservative group, Mike Fisher, or his deputy and the cabinet member now in charge of libraries, Tim Pollard, could end any damaging speculation about the way they have handed a £30million public procurement contract to the most expensive bidder simply by publishing the documents and all the figures.
“But they won’t.”
At times like this, Croydon Council resembles something between Stasi-run East Germany and Alice in Wonderland.
In choosing Laings, Croydon’s Tories threw out of the window the tissue of an argument they had presented about cost-saving economies of scale that they had offered for going into the competitive tendering process with Wandsworth.
Wandsworth – also Tory-run, remember – last week announced, in public, that they had chosen Greenwich Leisure on the grounds that theirs was the best bid and the cheapest bid. Wandsworth rejected Laings as being the worst tender of the three bidders.
Croydon’s hastily cobbled-together report said that they had rejected GLL because it has really poor staff management practices.
This is firmly in the realm of Lewis Carroll now, given Croydon Council’s own appalling record with its employees – allegations of bullying are widespread, and it now uses public money to pay for a priest to come into Taberner House to counsel stressed staff. Inside Croydon understands that our council is facing at least three potentially expensive and embarrassing challenges at Employment Tribunals in coming months.
But there is also a pattern when it comes to our council’s secret contracts…
- The council’s new headquarters building is estimated to be costing £150 million. Details of the costs and contracts remain a secret. The work is being undertaken by John Laing the builders.
- The council’s urban regeneration vehicle – URV – is a piece of property speculation on the rates. Croydon Council refuses to release the contracts for this public-funded enterprise, even to elected councillors. The council has had to take out loans worth hundreds of millions of pounds to lend-on to its commercial partners. The deal involves at least £450 million of public property. The URV is being run by John Laing the builders.
- Croydon’s public libraries are about to be privatised, using the worst bidder after a tendering process that lasted more than a year. Worth £30 million over eight years, the library contract has been handed to a subsidiary of John Laing the builders.
That’s getting on for half a billion pounds of public money directed to one commercial organisation and its subsidiaries, all without any of the contracts ever being in the public domain.
And to think that “Call Me Dave” Cameron has decided to scrap the National Audit Office to “save costs”. Instead of having some degree of accountability through an independent body, scrutinising the use of public money, local authorities such as Croydon can now hand-pick who they want to go through their books and secret deals.
How convenient. Who has Croydon Council appointed to audit its activities? Grant Thornton: the same company which advised that our council could not afford to repair Taberner House but needed to build a new headquarters building.
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