This is one for filing under the heading “This could only happen in Croydon”.
Last night in the public question time element of the council meeting at the Town Hall, we had the Alice in Wonderland situation where a question was put by one supposed public servant who works for Conservative MP Gavin Barwell, to be answered by a councillor who also works for Gavin Barwell MP, all presided over by another who works for Gavin Barwell MP.
We highlighted yesterday how the Conservative group that controls Croydon Council prefers to hide its conduct by refusing to allow proceedings to be recorded, broadcast or played out over the interweb. Maybe last night’s shabby misuse of public time and money to provide a justification for handing over a £30 million contract to the worst bidders was an example of the sort of thing they want to keep well hidden.
What you had was Mario Creatura, who is paid out of public funds to work for the Croydon Central MP, putting a patsy question to his Barwell-employed colleague, Sara “Book Token” Bashford, all overseen by a meeting chairman, Eddy Arram, who has continued to work for Barwell despite the demands and duties of his year as Mayor.
The question was no more than an exercise in providing an easy platform for a chum who in recent months was stripped of her responsibilities for culture, sport and, significantly, the woefully mishandled libraries. Katharine Street insiders suggest that Book Token was fortunate to keep hold of the £40,000-plus per year council allowances which go with her place in the council cabinet, so poorly is she regarded within the Conservative group at the Town Hall.
The Creatura question read: “I have heard Councillor Bashford talk before…” across the desks in Barwell’s Wickham Road office perhaps? “… about social value, but I would like to know what benefit she thinks it will give to Croydon and how she will ensure it is not just used as a way to award contracts to an organisation that doesn’t offer the lowest price.”
No mention of handing over Croydon’s libraries and a 30 million quid contract to the builders at Laings, but it was transparent that this was an effort to allow Bashford to spin the decision.
Bashford’s response actually had the gall to state, “Croydon Council continues its commitment to pursuing best value for money for the people of Croydon through its Commissiong Strategy.” Is she that deluded?
After all, it was Croydon Council that spent £20 million on consultants in a year.
The same Croydon Council that is spending £900,000 on furnishing its new HQ building on CostUsAMint Walk.
And the same Croydon Council which conducted a consultation on the borough’s libraries, had to be forced to publish its results, and then ignored the findings to impose a competitive tendering process with Wandsworth, costing £250,000, at the end of which it chose to appoint the most expensive bidder.
“Contracts are not awarded on price alone,” said Bashford in her shameless apologia issued last night.
Creatura, Bashford and Arram had together managed to abuse a system which is supposed to be about “written questions from members of the public”, as three public servants once again served their own interests. In this case, an attempt to save Bashford’s stumbling political career.
Later at the meeting, the ruling Tory group finally got around to admitting that they were to hand over our public libraries to private company Laings, duly voting through something for which they never sought a mandate and which residents across the borough are overwhelmingly against.
But as an admission of what is already well-known, that Laings are a long way from being the best bidders to run Croydon’s libraries, Bashford’s response does serve to admit the point.
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- £30m libraries privatisation could be sent for judicial review (insidecroydon.com)