£6.6m – but Croydon councillors refuse to record meetings

This evening, Croydon Town Hall is the venue for one of those infrequent events for which our 70 councillors cost us £6.6 million – a council meeting.

Croydon Town Hall: meetings here cannot be recorded, by order of council leader Mike Fisher. What has he got to hide?

Croydon Town Hall: meetings here cannot be recorded, by order of council leader Mike Fisher. What has he got to hide?

But if you are not able to be there, don’t expect to be able to follow proceedings, in this digital age, online. And don’t hold your breath for a transcript of the discussions to be provided by the council promptly after the event. Even the public’s written questions to the council, and the answers provided by the publicly funded councillors, are not made available to opposition councillors until a few minutes before the meeting is due to begin.

In many ways, the Conservative group which controls our council has gone out of its way to drag Croydon back into the 19th century, never mind embracing the advantages of the 21st century, when it comes to residents keeping informed of what their political representatives are deciding on their behalf.

The opening debate tonight starts half an hour earlier than usual, at 6pm, to consider the posthumous awarding the Freedom of the Borough to the late Malcolm Wicks. This will likely be a more civilised exchange of views than most of the evening’s debates, which will include the privatisation of Croydon’s libraries using a property development company which submitted the worst bid in a competitive tendering process.

Croydon Council meetings are ugly, brutish, bickering affairs, made worse this year by Mayor Eddy Arram chairing the meetings in a blatantly biased manner. The calibre of the debate is poor.

Unlike other London boroughs, the turnover of councillors in Croydon is slow; the modernisation of the council members, to a larger, graduate element, and thus higher educated council seen elsewhere, has not come to Croydon.

Under the previous administration, these meetings used to be open to scrutiny through webcasts, which were hardly cutting edge technology even a decade ago.

Perhaps to save the councillors’ blushes these webcasts were axed at the saving of £32,000 a year – hardly a major dent in the council’s budget when you consider the decision to spend £250,000 on the libraries tender process, or the £900,000 to furnish the shiny new council HQ being finished on CostUsAMint Walk.

Indeed, £32,000 is less even than the annual amount paid in “allowances” to each one of the 10 members of the front bench in council leader’s Mike Fisher’s “top team”. In that context, it seems a small price to pay for democracy.

The Tory-run council, which bans all recordings of its meetings, did not think of looking at cheaper means of broadcast, or bringing in a commercial provider who might want to record the meetings for news purposes. For a council so keen to forge “commercial partnerships” at every opportunity, it appears that they missed a trick here, since some digital stations might even have offered to record council meetings for nothing more than the value of the editorial content gleaned.

In next door Sutton, the Liberal Democrat-led council spends a mere £8,290 for the annual cost of putting the sound recordings of 37 council meetings on the council’s website. That’s for full council meetings and local committee neighbourhood meetings.

“It seems a small price to pay for the opportunity for residents to have improved access to council meetings,” Ruth Dombey, the Sutton Council leader, told Inside Croydon.

“We can’t expect them all to come along to the meetings (they’re often in the evening and people have other commitments) so we want to ensure that they have the opportunity to hear the discussions in other ways.”

Of course, it is entirely possible that cost is not the real reason that Croydon’s Conservatives have back-tracked over council transparency. Maybe they just don’t want their conduct to be seen by too many people.

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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 inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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4 Responses to £6.6m – but Croydon councillors refuse to record meetings

  1. Croydon Radio continues to offer to undertake this for free – either streaming events live or recording them for on demand listening. http://croydonradio.com/contact/

  2. Once upon a time, many years ago, I attended a Croydon Council meeting.

    Your description of “ugly, bruitish and bickering” was true then too.

    But the thing that left a lasting impression was the appalling level of ignorance shown by members on both sides; ignorant behaviour certainly – shouting abuse across the chamber – but more worryingly, woeful ignorance of basic facts.

    It concerns me a lot that such a group of people, many of whom are unfit for purpose, are allowed to make decisions that profoundly affect the lives of Croydon people, or cost us all a fortune, or both.

    I suspect Mr Fisher may have banned the recording of meetings because he is embarrassed by the childish exchanges that pass for debate between these expense-claiming time-servers. On the other hand, he is a product of the system, a graduate of the greasy pole of local politics, so maybe he doesn’t notice the childishness.

    I have never had the slightest inclination to attend another of these argy-bargies.

    But my one and only visit has contributed to my firm belief that Croydon needs to be part of a much larger, much more professionally run, sub-regional council.

    Hopefully, that would attract a higher calibre of representative as well as being cheaper per tax-payer to run.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with David Callam’s comments that the quality of debate and the manner of business just offends members of the public who attend Council meetings. It deters people from being engaged in Croydon affairs.

  4. anncreighton says:

    While I share the frustration with the poor level of councillors, I cannot agree with the comment in this post that, “Unlike other London boroughs, the turnover of councillors in Croydon is slow; the modernisation of the council members, to a larger, graduate element, and thus higher educated council seen elsewhere, has not come to Croydon.”

    A degree doesn’t necessarily imply that people have the nous which is much needed in public life. I have known many councillors with little formal education who have served their communities long and well and others with degrees who are frankly useless.

    We have only to look at MPs, many of whom have little experience other than school, university and political research before becoming MPs. We need intelligent, humane people with questioning minds in public life who will work to improve their community regardless of their formal education and, of course, regardless of their own self interesr.

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